The premise for Niall Edworthy’s Football Stories: Bad Boys and Hard Men is very interesting. Rather than focussing on the goody two shoes in the game who apparently don’t have that much of a personality, we love the game of football because of those who live life on or beyond the edge. Those characters who know the rules and break it either because they’re good enough or bad enough to do it with no regard.
It’s an interesting premise to start a book, it needs to back it in content to make it go beyond an interesting thought. Edworthy’s book does that. Offering profiles on eight characters who fit the bill – half of them bad boys, and the other half hard men – the book is not a straightforward biography of each person, but more a celebration of what makes them so outstanding for all the wrong reasons.
Well, that’s the initial premise, as the profiles are rounded out, though, it becomes clear that as well as taking pleasure in their nasty deeds and fearsome reputations there is also an effort to actually make these men appear not as hard as their rep would indicate. So Eric Cantona might have provoked French football into kicking him out, but despite that kung-fu episode, his time at Manchester United was the epitome of the ultimate professional whose awesome footballing gift helped to kick-start the Ferguson dynasty that has ruled English domestic football for two decades. Not all that much of a bad boy after all.
George Best as a bad boy is an interesting link as well. His end wasn’t good, he had his issues when he should have been at the peak of his career, but he is beloved in the football world, even to the point of overlooking or justifying his self-destructive behaviour. Even that behaviour wouldn’t class him as a bad boy of football, more than a misguided renegade away from football.
The Diego Maradona profile, however, more than fits the bill of what the book is about when it comes to being a bad boy. As well as being one of the greatest players of all time, his place in history will always be tainted with the scandals and controversies that has plagued his career. Edworthy portrays that brilliantly in the profile piece that fits the theme of the book better than anyone else’s.
Stuart Pearce is almost domesticated to the point of merely being a fiercely patriotic player committed to giving his best for the cause. This, rather than sending shivers down the spine of the oncoming right winger at the thought of the clattering he’d receive should he dare to take on the badly nicknamed Psycho.
Brian Clough’s profile left a sense more of tragedy than the rebellious effect he had and again goes to some effort to de-mystify the aura of someone who was meant to wrought fear from those who played under him. Yet, as has been rightly noted, you wouldn’t laud a guy of whom you were afraid.
The famous Fergie hair-dryer treatment is given proper context in terms of the amazing success he brought to both Aberdeen and Manchester United and it was felt that there were depths that the writer could have explored further in considering some of his more bad-boy/hard man traits such as his media treatment.
All the profiles however, are well written giving an intriguing twist on the usual summary profiles you read about characters. That’s what makes the book worth the read especially for those interested in football. In as much as it is almost ten years old, it has not dated that badly. It would be interesting to see who Edworthy would do profiles were he to do an updated edition. For the time being, this is a worthy entry on any football lovers book shelf.