All human beings frequently adopt a persona when interacting with others. The explosion of social networking has catapulted this previously latent behavioural quirk into a key element of our social lives. Nowhere is this truth more evident than the unholy union of Football and twitter.
For some it is the brash, ‘take me as I am’, extrovert persona that provokes worship and contempt in roughly equal measure. For others it is the weathered, cynic who has seen it all before and shrugs their shoulders at the predictability of it all. Then there is the self-deprecating, understated approach; reticent to partake in open opinion warfare preferring instead to offer isolated observations to hopefully rise above the crossfire.
I’ll leave it to others to judge where I should be pigeon holed. Yet I confess that beneath my veneer of politeness lurks an ego; an ego dangerously massaged by my words being read or heard via blog and pod. An ego which arrogantly feeds off the proviso that the views that I spout about Manchester United are based on a near complete knowledge of my subject.
A wake up call arrived courtesy of Father Christmas. A realisation that too often I have vainly exerted more effort propagating my own views than furthering my knowledge of both club and sport. Knowledge that the festive season has exposed as meagre. Somewhat pretentiously the books I requested for Christmas were written by people I have interacted with through twitter; fuelled by a misconception that they are my contemporaries because we share a new media pathway. How wrong I was. The distinction between professional writer and casual blogger is a debate for another time but the quality evident in these published works is certainly food for thought.
Daniel Taylor is the renowned Manchester football correspondent for The Guardian (He’s a Nottingham Forest fan, before you ask). He’s been kind enough to respond politely when begged to read my work and that validation allowed me to pretend I am more than a clumsy amateur ‘playing’ at being a writer. Boxing Day 2011 was consumed almost entirely by devouring his brilliant ‘This is the One.’ The book is focused entirely on Ferguson, through the prism of his relationship with the press, and reads as an account of arguably the two most contrasting and turbulent seasons of his trophy laden tenure. At no time since its publication has it been more relevant as we once again seek context for an embarrassingly early European exit. I like to think I have a grasp of Ferguson yet this book both challenged and enriched my understanding of the man. It has the capacity to make you feel revulsion and admiration for him; often in consecutive pages. The true strength of the book is the absence of pop-psychiatry. Taylor never attempts to foist a favoured interpretation of Ferguson; instead inviting the reader to reach their own judgments informed by the high calibre writing that genuinely feels like you are reliving the two campaigns that reveal so much about the revered Scotsman. It might be a cliché but this really is an essential read for all football fans.
Musa Okwonga is a sickeningly talented writer, poet and musician. Our paths crossed on a glorious afternoon where we shared the distinction of being the sole Reds in a packed Highbury pub witnessing their beloved Arsenal put spectacularly to the sword by our team. The initial benefit of being in Musa’s company was his imposing frame given the hostile circumstances, but as the afternoon unfolded football discussion dominated and it soon became clear that not only was I in the company of a true Red, but a wise sage of the game. It is this ability to articulate and entertain the finer aspects of the sport that make ‘A Cultured Left Foot’ such a pleasurable read. The book is founded on a simple premise – to explore the elements that when forged together have given us true greatness. What could easily descend into the well trodden, tedious debate about Pele vs Maradona is saved by an approach which weaves between insightful interviews, engaging anecdotes and relevant connections made across sport, art and philosophy. Despite the author’s worthy attempt to remain impartial it is no surprise that the focus regularly turns to legends made in a red shirt – the passage reflecting on George Best’s courage is a particular favourite of mine. Such a simple brief has limitless tangential scope. You no doubt have already noticed that brevity is a quality my writing clearly lacks – not so Okwonga who’s real achievement is remaining concise whilst successfully exploring such a vast topic. Like Taylor, Okwonga does not profess to know ‘the answers’ yet he guides the reader on a journey of discovery which made me reconsider what qualities I truly value in the sport.
So perhaps Christmas has brought me the gift of humility. Taylor and Okwonga have both served to enrich and increase my appreciation of the club and sport I love through brilliant writing. We are truly fortunate to live in a time where so much football writing can be absorbed online without paying a penny, yet on occasion the written word is worth shelling out for.