2 May 2008
I'm reading Anfield Iron at the moment, the autobiography of Tommy Smith, arguably the hardest Englishman ever to play professional football.
I'm roughly midway through what is a great footballing tale - Smith is just furnishing us with the players' reaction when Bill Shankly, the immortally brilliant manager, announced his retirement in 1974.
However, there are two issues I have so far with it.
Firstly, it does make me despair when footballers from that era bleat about the riches players earn today. It's not anyone's fault when you are born and what talent you are born with. There is some form of benign parlour game to be had by picking up an autobiography of a player from the 60s and 70s and guessing, before opening the book, how many pages it would take before today's "spoilt" stars and their fortunes would be mentioned in a jealous tone.
Smith makes comparisons a lot, and the older era - surprise, surprise - always wins. He isn't as bad as Archie Gemmill though, who as I recall from a When Saturday Comes review was having a right good whine about the trappings of today - always in list form, they are; "camera phones, iPods, flash cars" etc etc - within the first couple of pages of his book, which I haven't read. Today's players may have an unlovely element, but they earn what they earn because the game is rich enough and committed enough to pay it.
Secondly, I am mildly uncomfortable with some of Smith's revelations about Emlyn Hughes. It's never been a secret in football that the two did not like each other, but Smith goes into detail about various unsavoury incidents involving deceit, money, ego and attitude. They may be true, but as Hughes is now long deceased I can't help but think that Smith could have told these tales earlier to allow Hughes to defend himself. If his family didn't know about these incidents they would now be most upset.
Only knowing the public persona Hughes displayed after he stopped playing, I find myself believing Smith in all he says, but maybe he just shouldn't have said it. I won't go into detail for spoiler purposes (and also it defeats my argument that Smith should have kept quiet if I then repeat it all), but Hughes - so far at least - is the only person this uncompromising fellow has vitriol for; and lots of it.
Although the Hughes issues dominate the section of the book I'm currently reading, it shouldn't put any football fan off. It's great. Can't wait for the 1977 European Cup final ...