Player Autobiographies – an analysis of what’s on the shelves

Recently I carried out an experiment. On a day trip to the lovely city of Chichester I visited the local Waterstone’s and headed straight for the football section; The aim was to jot down all the football autobiographies on sale and then do some analysis. In total there were 16 different titles – these are the results:

Player Biographies

The biggest single characteristic the group shared was top flight experience, either as a player, or manager. The sole representative from outside the top flight was Ben Smith with an autobiography titled Journeyman: One man’s odyssey through the lower leagues of English football. In this case the lack of a top-flight career is the unique selling point of the book. This is very much in the vein of books like Garry Nelson’s Left Foot Forward: A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer, published back in 1996. 

The second most common characteristic among authors is that three quarters have retired from playing. There is a good reason for this; An autobiography written mid-career makes for a dull read; it lacks the distance necessary for proper reflection and the author isn’t going to want to damage their career prospects by settling scores, or by revealing their love of wild partying and addiction to gambling. As Joyce Woolridge recalled in an article on player autobiographies for When Saturday Comes Stanley Matthews dad had once remarked “What folk will bother to sit down and read the comings and goings of a lad of 23? When you have really lived and have a story worth telling that may benefit the community, then by all means get down to the task of writing your story.”

69% of the authors had a British, or Irish nationality. The exceptions were, Sven Goran Ericcson, Dennis Bergkamp, Sergio Aguero, Andrea Pirlo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It will be interesting to see whether this changes as the number of foreign players in the Premier League has grown. In part the explanation for the low number of autobiographies by foreign players is that as most authors put pen to paper (or rather speak into a ghost-writers dictaphone) after retirement (see above), but even allowing for a time lag, this number seems low. Similarly there have traditionally been very few autobiographies translated into English from players who have had their entire career abroad, even very notable ones – certainly you’re not likely to see Oliver Khan’s Ich. Erfolg kommt von innen (translation; I. Success comes from within) appearing in Waterstones anytime soon.

The majority of authors were also full-internationals – 69%. This is because autobiographies only tend to get written by top players – and these invariably have graced the international stage at some stage in their career. Among those without international honours was Sven Goran Eriksson who was of course an international manager and Sir Alex Fergusson who although not gaining a full cap did play a number of games for a Scotland XI on a tour.

Finally 31% of authors had a connection to Manchester United. Although this is low compared to the other figures when it is considered that Manchester United are simply one of 20 top flight clubs it is possible to see how disproportionate this actually is. Undoubtedly much of this stems from Manchester United’s dominance in the 1990s when every other person in my school appeared to support Man U. The economics behind this is, of course, that players associated with better supported teams will be more likely to see their autobiography on Waterstones shelves as fans like to read about players who have been at their club, either through affection for that player, or for a glimpse behind the scenes that it may offer.

The list of ‘authors’

Trevor Brooking

Alex Ferguson

Dennis Bergkamp

Paul Lake

Andrea Pirlo

Stephen Gerrard

Sven Goran Eriksson

Ryan Giggs

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Gary Neville

Vinnie Jones

Paul McGrath

Roy Keane

Ben Smith

Alan Stubbs

Sergio Aguero

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