Autobiography Season

Eoghan Dalton takes a look at some of sports most influential figures book releases.

 Eamon Dunphy, Sir Alex Ferguson, DJ Carey, Sean Kelly, Dennis Bergkamp, Harry Redknapp and Cork hurling legend Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. They all represent an important aspect of their respective sports, be it showcasing a terrifying desire for success, astounding skill or even the seamier side of their chosen professions. All of them are also linked in another way; they have all recently released books detailing their lives inside and outside the manic world of their chosen sport. And just in time for the Christmas market too, those sneaky divils.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence, of course. Every year the public finds itself needing to dodge the latest ghost-written book which promises to tell the subject’s ”story”. It can all become tiresome quite quickly when the biographies are unloaded every Autumn, but there are always some which are worth putting on the letter to Mr Claus. Back from the Brink is one such piece, describing Paul McGrath’s brief stardom and desperate fall from grace,  while Donal Óg Cusack’s Come What May benefited from possessing such an enigmatic centrepiece who was willing to reveal plenty, including his homosexuality.

What makes a worthwhile autobiography though? Depending on the subject, we could be enlightened about a player once clouded by darkness, or a player whose home life gives a fascinating view of the social conditions of the time. Perhaps we could be educated about a player who reached the peak in their sport and we may even be allowed to view their philosophy and creed.

Dunphy’s autobiography shows us the awful housing in 1940s Ireland that he grew up in, and he also goes into detail about how idiotic and selfish many of the FAI officials could be. His book has the advantage over the other new releases in that he generally has more interest in the wider picture and the book shows us that he is a fine writer as well . Dunphy is so often an easy figure to mock for his on screen antics, but for those who know him purely as a shrill contrarian in love with sound bites are certain to be in for a surprise.

With regards to Carey and Ó hAilpín’s books, we see two very different and iconic hurlers discuss their lives and careers in a forthright and honest manner. Carey reminisces on his years with a fine Kilkenny team, but he’s also aware (perhaps even insecure) enough to question what role he may have played in the downfall of the team in certain seasons. At one point, he centres in on a case of ”professional indiscipline” where he missed a training session due to agreeing to partake in a golfing exhibition. Kilkenny played and lost against Wexford the next day and Carey watched the majority of the game from the side-lines after starting as a sub, which was deemed as punishment for his absence. Carey feels partially responsible for the defeat, as his inability to train meant it upset Cody’s final preparations. Maybe I’ve let years of listening to players waffle nonsense affect my judgement, but Carey’s willingness to criticise even his minor flaws is noteworthy.

He goes into similar detail about trying to run his own business and the struggles which came from his endeavours. While there isn’t anything remarkable about the book, Carey’s willingness to be transparent and writer Martin Breheny’s talent upgrade the book into a worthwhile read.

As for Ó hAilpín, his book allows us to identify with what it’s like to come from an atypical background and succeed in GAA. He speaks of his frustration of being made to play hurling by his father, before falling for the stick and ball. Ó hAilpín was part of an All-Ireland winning Cork team which had its fair share of personalities, including the aforementioned Donal Óg.

Ferguson, meanwhile, has used his book to further his status with the academic and business types that have looked to him as a role model in recent years, as well as for settling old rivalries. The monstrously long article on his talk with the Harvard Business School is available online for those interested in seeing Ferguson outline how he held so much control at Manchester United for so long. Control is (or was) central to his dictatorship, but it appears he lacks the awareness to realise just how poorly phrased some of the comments in the book have been; his desire to control who David Beckham married is astounding while the remarks about Roy Keane have attracted scorn from several observers, even if they are correct. This is the man who remarked in that Harvard talk how “if anyone steps out of (his) control, that’s them dead”.

What Ferguson’s book does teach us though is that we can often learn the most about a man from what he doesn’t say. He barely comments on his disputes with the BBC and John Magnier, while also avoiding to discuss Wayne Rooney’s contract problems from 2010. Ferguson is still sore over these matters and would prefer us all to forget about them. Magnier and especially Rooney made a mockery of Ferguson’s notions of control at United. Rooney acquired a major pay rise whereas Ferguson’s troubles with Magnier derailed United’s season in 2003/04.

It is his own autobiography though so it’s hardly surprising he wants to maintain some of that precious control, especially as any detailed inclusion of those matters would show that his grasp had slipped, if only for a brief amount of time. These have combined to dent Ferguson’s aura with his footballing peers, but probably not the executives and business professors who admire him. After all, his bowing to Rooney’s demands did mean that United’s rivals couldn’t sign him and the club could still make use of him. It is likely that, in time, most will forget about Ferguson’s book and instead focus on the stats where he truly does have control; 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League trophies tend to do that for a manager.