8 Crappest (But Also Brilliant) Sports Autobiographies
There comes a time in every man’s life when he realises that he can’t actually be arsed to read War and Peace. He yearns for something simpler. And there’s no simpler literary genre than sports autobiographies.
Every year, there are at least 7,000 new sports autobiographies released (a slight exaggeration perhaps, but it’s somewhere in that region). From Formula One drivers to footballers, and everything in between, it seems that every Tom (Daley), (Julian) Dick(s) and Harry (Redknapp) has written an autobiography. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 60, there’s something for everyone. Especially me.
I can’t get enough of sports autobiographies. Of the thousands that have been released, I must have read half. Maybe more. It must be a comfort thing. Each story starts the same: the struggle of being raised on the “mean streets” of somewhere that doesn’t have mean streets; the early sporting years, when they initially struggled but now owe everything to a certain coach’s help; onto the glory years, the meat of the story and always the juiciest part; and a passage on their life now, which will almost certainly include the line, “As I look around my office/study/shed and think back to where it all began, I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been…”
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They are – for the want of a better word – crap. But this dependable structure makes me love even the worst of them. So here are eight of crappest but also strangely brilliant sports autobiographies that money can buy (by which I mean a fiver from the WH Smiths bargain basket).
Big Sam – Sam Allardyce
“Big” Sam Allardyce is “one of football’s great characters” (or so a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson on the back cover reads). He is a man who lives up to his moniker by being loud, brash and, well, big.
Taking in all aspects of the former England manager’s life, from his beginnings in Bolton to his time managing West Ham and everything in between, the book could be described as poorly written and full of self aggrandising statements. But that would be missing the point.
This isn’t merely a book about football and him managing various clubs. At its big beating heart is a story about family, as proved in the final chapter, which is written by the apparently long-suffering Mrs Allardyce. Lovely.
My Autobiography – Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex won’t be winning any awards for most imaginatively titled book (he probably wouldn’t have room in the trophy cabinet anyway) but so what? He doesn’t care what folk think of him, which is obvious from this book, his second autobiography.
He takes thinly-veiled swipes at former and current managers and a few journalists, before saving his best putdown for Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, explaining why he never signed him for Manchester United: “Henderson runs from his knees, with a straight back, while the modern footballer runs from his hips. We thought his gait might cause him problems later in his career.” He runs like a wally then.
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Playing It My Way – Sachin Tendulkar
From one of the greatest cricketers of all time, who played 200 test matches for India and about a billion one-day games, you’d expect nothing less than a near-500 pages of ball-walloping action.
But it only scratches the surface of his career, as he spends large parts simply being nice about people who have helped him in his life.
Sure, it would have been good to have more on his incredible feats, but this is essential reading if you are having a bad day and need cheering up.
I Am Zlatan – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the poster boy for arrogance and egomania. His book, written in his pre-Manchester United days, is exactly the putrid ego-massaging exercise in self indulgence you’d expect.
Yet, because of this, it is also one of the most entertaining books you’ll ever read. From constantly referring to himself in the third person (who does he think he is, The Rock?) to his incredible lambasting of Pep Guardiola, this is what autobiographies are all about.
How Not To Be A Professional Footballer – Paul Merson
Yep, Paul Merson, the man who can barely string a few words together on Soccer Saturday each week, wrote a book a few years ago.
With tales of gambling addiction, booze addiction, and cocaine addiction, Merson’s wonderfully titled tome takes you to Arsenal (and the pubs), Middlesborough (and the betting shops) and Walsall (and the… erm, Midlands).
It’s funny, unashamedly honest, and it includes a (literally) cracking story about how he dropped Steve Morrow and broke his collarbone after winning the 1994 League Cup Final. What’s not to like?
An Open Book – Darren Clarke
Golfer Darren Clarke is an ordinary man. Only he’s good at golf.
An Open Book is one of those rarities that captures an author’s voice perfectly. It’s written as Darren talks – upfront, honest, and with wry humour. That style can be tedious in the wrong, well, voice, but Clarke swings through his book like he does the golf course: drives down the fairway and putts it in for two. Whatever that means.
Batista Unleashed – Dave Bautista
Before Dave Bautista starred in Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre, and Blade Runner 2049, he was a WWE superstar – you know, those lads in pants throwing each other around.
Dave’s book was released in 2007, at the height of his popularity in WWE, and the book is a stale traipse through his wrestling career so far, brought to life by dynamite passages, such as one addressed to “Sarge”, the former WCW trainer who you may remember from Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekend doc on wrestling (the guy who worked poor Louis until he was sick).
Big Dave writes: “Hey, Sarge, if you’re reading this – I think about you every day, you f’ing piece of sh*t. Yeah. You’re a f’ing piece of sh*t.”
He continues about multi-time tag team champ Bubba Ray Dudley: “I don’t have a whole lot of bad things to say about people, but Bubba Dudley will always be a piece of sh*t in my book.”
Which he’s proved by actually writing it in his book.
I’m Not Really Here – Paul Lake
There are few sports autobiographies that pack an emotional punch, but Paul Lake’s gets you in the gut.
For those who don’t know (like I didn’t), Lake was touted for greatness with Manchester City and the England squad in the early-90s, before a serious knee injury ended his career.
Heartbreaking, soul searching, and at time tearily real, this is sports writing at its very best. A true anomaly because it’s a must-read whether you’re a sports fan or not.