Raising hell

Things have emphatically changed since the first soccer ghosted autobiographies began to emerge in January 1945.

If ever a footballer's autobiography has put the cat among the pigeons, bringing a cascade of obloquy on its perpetrator's head, it is Ashley Cole's. Though the savage revelations in the autobiography of Roy Keane, who has made such a spectacular start as the new manager of Sunderland, was in its own wretched way just as controversial.

But where Keane's was attacked for its repugnant glorying in brutal violence, Cole is assailed for his outrageous greed. Not to mention a string of spiteful accusations against his former Arsenal colleagues.

You may remember the distasteful circumstances in which Cole left the club he joined as a virtual child; how he and his agent, Jonathan Barnett — shortly due to be arraigned before a Football Association committee — held what they hoped would be a surreptitious meeting in a west London hotel with Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon, with the agent super fixer Israeli Pini Zahavi, hovering in the background. Cole, Mourinho and Chelsea were heavily fined.

Ten minutes past the September deadline, Arsenal at last gave way, allowing Cole to move to Stamford Bridge while themselves acquiring the powerful French international defender, William Gallas, plus �5 million.

Things have emphatically changed since the first soccer ghosted autobiographies began to emerge, to be exact, in January 1945, when my own idol, Eddie Hapgood, left-back and captain of Arsenal and England, published a memoir called `Football Ambassador'. Like the two which followed in quick succession, England centre-forward Tommy Lawton's `Football Is My Business' and Frank Swift's (England 'keeper) `Football From The Goalmouth' they were ghosted by Roy Peskett, a leading soccer journalist.

They were very readable, highly anecdotal and largely bland. Hapgood did once admit that he was upset when the Arsenal manager, rotund George Allison, farmed him out on loan to Chelsea during the War but, by and large, everything was for the best in the best of all possible words. Bar Hapgood's outraged description of the November 1934 Battle of Highbury, when he had his nose broken by an Italian; and of the way the England team were coerced into giving the Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 before they thrashed Germany 6-3.

But then, round about 1948, came the exception that proved the rule; Peter Doherty's `Spotlight On Football'. Doherty was a red-haired, greatly-gifted, inside-left who excelled with Blackpool, Manchester City and Derby County, later to become manager of the splendid Northern Ireland team which knocked out Italy, to reach the finals of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Published by an obscure little London firm called Art & Educational, it took a hard and bitter look at the professional English game and the way Doherty thought players were exploited. Beginning with his humiliation when, offered a trial match by his local club Coleraine, he was ignored and humiliated, swearing — to Coleriane's immense cost — that he would never play for them again. The book sold 30,000 copies.

It was to Art and Educational's successor firm, Ettrick Press, run by the same little Scotsman in Bloomsbury Street, that I took `Cliff Bastin Remembers', the book which I had ghosted for another of Arsenal and England heroes, in his prolific day a super outside or inside-left nicknamed Boy Bastin for his precocity, scorer of a record 33 goals from the left wing in season 1931/2, just as formidable at inside-left. Just out of boarding school but already freelancing, away from my detested clerkship at a solicitors' firm, I wrote to him and he agreed to collaborate with me. It turned out to be a highly controversial book.

But here is the difference between our book, which now changes hands at �50 a time, more than 55 years after publication, and those which flood the market today, piling on the spurious controversy and scandal in the hope of gaining lucrative newspaper serialisation.

`Cliff Bastin Remembers' was never meant by me to be controversial at all. It was an act of piety, a labour of love which happened, after all the publicity it received, to put me on the journalistic map, as a 19-year-old. If it caused controversy, it was simply because I honestly and diligently set down Cliff's views as he dictated them to me. The only time I recall him asking me to hold back was when I wanted to quote him as saying there were "too many lazy players'' in the England team which toured Europe and lost both matches in 1934. But his frequent criticisms of other players and his perfectly legitimate view of his own high abilities made it controversial indeed.

It was eight years later that I published another ghosted autobiography, `Over The Bar' with the talented Wales and Arsenal goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey. This time a fearful editor took out the most controversial, and in my view intriguing elements in the book, running scared because a previous memoir by the England goalkeeper Gil Merrick had been successfully sued by Welsh International centre-forward Trevor Ford.

In Kelsey's case, it was the story of how Alec Stock was brought to Arsenal in the hope of imposing stricter discipline as assistant manager. Alec called a meeting and to the horror of the players, told them 10 of them would be away at the end of the season.

He sent young winger Danny Clapton to tell Kelsey and left-back Denis Evan to put out their cigarettes. They defiantly tapped their ash into the proffered ashtray and smoked on. It has long been a disappointment to me that this was excised. Stock didn't last long at Highbury.