I am the Secret Footballer book cover
I Am the Secret Footballer (2012) is the frank recounting of life as a top-flight footballer by an anonymous voice from within the game. A good amount of material in the book is taken directly from the columns written for the Guardian by the author during an eighteen month period, and deals with issues surrounding the professional game today, as well as the reality of the dressing room and the relationship of the players with the fans. Of course, big money, bad behaviour, and the media are covered too. Far from a tale of unmitigated success, the Secret Footballer reveals his own precarious financial state and his long-term depression, both of which are far from the common perception of the superstar footballer and help form an interesting perspective from which to take in the state of the national game.

What we don’t get here is the glamourous life of a footballer that is so often portrayed in the media – there are touches certainly, but on the whole this is a look at the day-to-day life of a professional – few parties, few women, few episodes of extreme indulgence. Equally, there is little gossip here with next to no names dropped – so again, those hoping for the inside scoop will be left disappointed. What I Am the Secret Footballer is, is a pretty honest look at football from the inside and fans will undoubtedly find certain things enlightening. However, there are so few specifics about the author’s career that it can be really quite hard to fully grasp his own position and the perspective from which he writes. Lost too is some of the drama of the detail – the scoring of important goals, the heartbreak of defeats. What remains is a decent insight into the game (certainly less than one might have hoped and an awful lot of what is valuable here is let slip by the Secret Footballer: unwitting remarks that reveal a great deal about the mind-set of the professional footballer today).

One gets the sense that the Secret Footballer is trying to set himself apart from his colleagues as someone who has not wholly succumbed to the temptations of his celebrity and who sees his profession for what it truly is. The Secret Footballer keeps the reader at a distance and ultimately one feels this is very far from an intimate look at the life of a professional sportsman. There is also a recurring criticism of the opinion of those who haven’t played the game and/or haven’t invested their own money into it, which may well niggle the casual reader.

Towards the end of the book the Secret Footballer reveals that a tax bill from HM Revenue and Customs has left him in a very sorry state financially (and emotionally). However, so few details are provided that one is left entirely bamboozled as to what the tax bill was for and how it managed to bankrupt a successful footballer. Save for some very thin criticism of his treatment at the hands of the taxman, the author offers little and, in light of this lack of detail, one can hardly feel sympathy for a situation where a multi-millionaire is asked to pay taxes that he owes. What the whole episode did suggest was the complete lack of engagement with financial investment and money management on the part of professional footballers. The Secret Footballer’s descriptions of his own dealings are fairly shallow, and suggest someone who takes only a passing interest in how his money is handled.

The titillation of having an anonymous source is played to its maximum in the marketing of the book and one feels this is, perhaps, the largest factor in its success. The nastiness of the footballing world revealed is hardly a surprise but perhaps this in itself is an indictment of our own attitude to the national sport. While he makes numerous attempts at being self-deprecating and tries to offer what he considers a fairly objective view of his world, the author’s responses to certain situations and questions/criticisms speak volumes about his profession and the bubble in which footballers exist. One forgives the Secret Footballer an awful lot, however, as it’s clear that any young man drawn, by virtue of his natural talent, into the huge machine that is professional football is bound to show the scars of adapting to the absurdity of the world.

I haven't read too many sports biographies so didn't have an awful lot to compare this to. It was interesting although probably won't provide too much surprises for anyone who's spent anytime engaging with the game in England.

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Reviews of I Am the Secret Footballer on Amazon (UK)
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