This article appeared in the Sunday Herald
Nest-feathering, vilification, preening, muck-racking, back-stabbing. No, it’s not your office team-bonding session, it’s journalists and publishers on the make in base coalition with unscrupulous, or simply thick, sportsmen who wish to see their own faces adorning the bookstands in Tesco. In short, it’s the ghost-written autobiography, and there are enough of the flabby things to make the manufacture of bog-roll an antiquarian curiosity.
Many sporting heavyweights, of course, do have the decency to allow at least stoppage time to elapse on their careers before getting their thoughts down. The hiatus tends to have an improving effect. The trend of late, however – at least in England – has been to have the book in every petrol station in the land well before anyone has the sagacity to suggest you may not in fact be the saviour of sport. Thus, readers have learnt over the past year or so that Ashley Cole, 26, likes money, Wayne Rooney, 22, was quite good at maths at school and Monty Panesar, 25, is a Sikh.
Some publishers have perceived, correctly, that this is all a wee bit dull, however. Controversy, dirt, stone-throwing: that’s what really sells books, right? There is certainly plenty of it in some of the memoirs to appear over the last week. Duncan Fletcher, the former England cricket coach, lays into all-rounder Andrew Flintoff for having being drunk much of the time on tour, while in the autobiographies of two now-retired members of England’s Rugby World Cup squad, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mike Catt, the national coach Brian Ashton is depicted as a clueless chump. The two latter tomes – which take us right up to Ashton getting England to the World Cup final – had their finishing touches applied by the ghost-writers just 72 hours after the pair received their medals.
Not much of a hiatus for reflection there, then, but Dallaglio made himself look even more brilliantly foolish by subsequently explaining that what he actually meant was that Ashton is “a very good coach.”
It has been pointed out that the fuss over these books has not been about the revelations themselves, but whether they should have been made at all. Those who know and are in a position to manipulate the power of words to create media interest, will no doubt argue that, people being prurient and most autobiographies of sportsmen being dull, there is a clear demand for this sort of public bloodletting. That Flintoff and Ashton are humiliated and the authors themselves now under fire, is by the by.
Nevertheless, there was once upon a time something in Britain, and not just in England, that we called reserve. It may have been a suspicious and stuffy sort of reserve, but it certainly did not encourage the confessional, self-gratifying airing of grudges that now fills even the sports pages of our newspapers.