As you’re about to discover, I have a bit of a soft spot for footballer autobiographies. It’s a much maligned genre, and often rightly so, but I usually find the bad ones every bit as revealing as the good. So strap yourself in, get the Anfield Rap blaring on repeat, and let me guide you through a bunch of books I’ve read so you don’t have to.
#6 Steven Gerrard – My Autobiography (2006)
I hate to say it but I found this a rather charmless, self-serving, and uneventful memoir, largely lacking in revelation or insight. At its worst, Gerrard comes across as spoiled and incredibly self-obsessed but not at all self-aware, even if nothing is quite on the level of Ashley Cole’s infamous outburst about nearly crashing his car when his agent told him he would ‘only’ be earning £55,000 per week.
A lot of time is devoted to him growing up, but this could have been covered in a single, unrevealing sentence: I really, really loved playing football. The period when he was passed over to play for England kids is given a prolonged, bitter examination which is about as tedious as the equally protracted account Morrissey gives in his autobiography of his court case with his former bandmates.
On top of that there is also a lengthy justification for his near-transfers to Chelsea which led to death threats and grown men burning their Liverpool shirts. This clearly rattled Gerrard, and the book appears to have been written mainly to tell his side of the story, which perhaps explains his ‘I want to set the record straight’ po-facedness.
For the large part it’s a by-numbers retelling of events with precious few anecdotes to liven things up or add any colour.
#5 Peter Crouch – Walking Tall: My Story (2007)
Everyone loves Crouchie. The easy-going, self-effacing wit, the equally self-deprecating robot dance. Unfortunately, precious little of his natural charm comes through in this rather drab volume.
To save you some time, the main jist is: yes, I was a lot taller than everyone else from a young age but I never let this bother me one little bit. So little, in fact, that he reiterates this point again and again. He is also a tad bitter about the coaches who didn’t believe in him, which occasionally gives a slightly smug, Partridge-esque ‘needless to say, I had the last laugh’ vibe.
He defends his ‘good touch for a big man’ angle, pointing out that his scissor-kicked goals for Liverpool came not from chance but from endless practice. But sadly there is not much to recommend this lighthearted but lightweight memoir. A slightly rushed, not to mention premature, job that fails to do justice to this fondly remembered footballer.
As one Goodreads review pithily summarises: “I don’t really like biographies, footballers or tall people and this book didn’t change my mind about any of them.”
#4 John Barnes – The Autobiography (1999)
Bizarrely, this gets a real kicking on Goodreads, being the lowest rated book here by a wide margin (with just 2.93 out of 5). I haven’t read this in 15 years – and, no, I am not going to re-read it just for the sake of this article – but from what I remember this is a rather tedious slog. Which is an enormous shame, given that the subject is the greatest kicker of the round thing of all goddamn time.
Not only that, Barnes has a more interesting story to tell than most, with his upbringing in Jamaica as the son of a military officer, having to deal with vile racism, being the star of arguably the greatest Liverpool team ever assembled, then struggling with injury through the Souness years before his reinvention as a central midfielder, and his never quite transferring his sublime talent to the national team, despite scoring one of England’s very greatest goals, against Brazil, aged just 21.
I recall being quite shocked by his coverage of the racism he suffered, and this part obviously deserved serious, sombre discussion, but the book never quite slips out of that subdued tone, making this a somewhat dour affair, suffering the same fate as Crouchie’s in that very little of the great man’s charm and charisma make it on to the page. But what a baller he was.
#3 Steven Gerrard – My Story (2015)
Given my reservations about his first volume, it was with some trepidation that I sat down with this. I don’t know whether he managed to get things off his chest with his first book or if he just had a more sympathetic ghost-writer this time around but he comes across as less uptight and ill-at-ease, making for a far more enjoyable book that paints him in a much better light. He even talks about cutting his penis open which adds some welcome levity.
The narrative breaks from chronology, which saves it falling into the trap of bare fact-recounting which afflicted his first memoir: I scored this goal, and in the next game I scored another goal yadda yadda.
The story is intertwined with the 2013/14 season, the infamous year when Liverpool came close to winning the coveted but elusive Premier League title and Gerrard, buoyed by Suarez, enjoyed something of a late-career renaissance.
Inevitably, ‘the slip’ gets a lot of coverage. He tries to pass this off as just an exceptionally cruel freak accident, one of those things that could happen to anyone but befell him at the most inopportune moment possible. Yet I’d argue even this is a bit disingenuous – the slip was unfortunate, but if he had not let the ball roll under his foot in the first place… And his questioning of Rodgers’s tactics in that fateful game against Chelsea smacks of deflecting the blame and being smart after-the-fact.
Anyway, this is still an okay read, even if the whole “I’m just an honest player trying to say it how I see it” schtick gets a bit tiresome.
#2 Robbie Fowler – Fowler: My Autobiography (2006)
Undoubtedly the trashiest volume here, yet possibly the most enjoyable. You get the impression there was no prank Fowler ever thought below him, however stupid or puerile.
He says he finds the narrative that he was some street urchin dragged from the Toxteth ghetto a bit patronising, even though that’s exactly the angle his publishers chose to go with. He makes a lot of the fact that he was the first superstar of the Premier League era, and as an 18-year old thrown into an unprecedented bear-pit of exposure without any guidance or media training he was bound to make a bunch of mistakes.
Loads of autobiographies will boast about being candid, but Fowler’s really goes the extra mile. He is openly critical of former, and even current, teammates. He gleefully refers to ‘Gary fucking Neville’ and ‘busy bollocks Gary Neville’ – you can’t imagine Gerrard the diplomat doing that.
I can’t say I warmed to Fowler at all, though. His bitter attacks on Houllier are over the top and lack credibility, and his defence of his homophobic taunting of Graeme Le Saux is weak and without contrition. Nevertheless, it’s fun to remember what a phenomenon he was – not for nothing was he nicknamed God – and he drags us through the eye of that storm with a kind of blasé bemusement. He’s only just into his thirties when this came out, yet he seems to barely understand how he scored so many goals. Published in 2005, just before his unexpected return to Liverpool, it busts the myth that biographies written when the players are still playing tend to be bland, guarded affairs.
#1 Jamie Carragher – Carra: My Autobiography (2008)
Carra’s straight-talking but likeable character translates well onto the page. He is an undoubted student of the game, as his successful transition to one of the most insightful pundits demonstrates.
Whilst he accepts that his self-drive and fiercely competitive mentality meant he made the grade where others foundered, he challenges the assumption that he got by on passion alone, arguing that he could never have played at the top level for so long if this was the case.
The most thoughtful and insightful volume here, with Carra carefully arguing his points about how the game should be played, how the club and academy should be run, and offering his views on the managers he’s worked with, and other teammates he has played alongside. But lest this be mistaken for an overly academic tome, this is still Carra, and there are plenty of japes to amuse along the way. A satisfying blend of reflection and entertainment.
If you only read one (and why would you stop at one?), make it Carra.