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Working Class Heroes

Seamus O’Mahony

The Second Half, by Roy Keane (with Roddy Doyle). Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 296 pp, ISBN: 978-0297 608882
Bobby Moore: The Man in Full, by Matt Dickinson, Yellow Jersey Press, 370 pp, ISBN: 978-0224091725

Reading Roy Keane’s latest volume of autobiography, The Second Half, is a rather postmodern experience. In his first autobiography, Keane (2002), ghost-written by Eamonn Dunphy, he boasted how he extracted brutal revenge on Alf Inge Håland: “I’d waited long enough. I fucking hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that, you cunt … I didn’t wait for Mr Elleray to show the card. I turned and walked to the dressing room.” For those drb readers who have little interest in association football, let me fill you in on the background.

In 1997, while playing at Elland Road (Leeds United’s ground), Keane, in an attempt to trip Håland, snapped the cruciate ligament of his knee. As he lay on the ground, no doubt in some pain, Håland stood over Keane and accused him of diving. A ruptured cruciate ligament is a serious and sometimes career-ending injury, and it took Keane nine months to make a full recovery. He hadn’t forgotten Håland, and in 2000 he encountered the mouthy Norwegian, now playing for Manchester City. Keane’s tackle on Håland was brutal, and according to Håland, finished his career. (This claim is now generally regarded as spurious.)

When Keane came out in 2002, the Football Association took a dim view of Keane’s vainglorious and profane reminiscences, and charged him with bringing the game into disrepute. The Second Half, ghost-written by Roddy Doyle, opens with an account of the hearing held by the FA at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton. Eamonn Dunphy was questioned by the FA’s QC, Jim Sturman: “Mister Dunphy, do you think Mister Keane intentionally went to injure his fellow professional, Mister Håland?” Dunphy replied: “Without a doubt.” Sturman cross-examined Keane: “Do you stand by everything you said in the book?” Keane replied: “Yeah, but it was ghost-written.” So here we have a second, ghost-written autobiography, questioning whether ghost-written autobiographies are to be believed. Did Roddy Doyle savour this delicious irony, I wonder?

Keane (or is it Doyle?) goes on to elaborate a rather Jesuitical argument hinging around the difference between “hurting” and “injuring” another player: “It was action; it was football. It was dog eat dog. I’ve kicked lots of players, and I know the difference between hurting somebody and injuring somebody. I didn’t go to injure Håland.” If you’re in any doubt, have a look at the incident on YouTube. Keane continues: “Do I regret what was in the book? Probably not, because I’d approved it before it was published. Did I focus on every word? Obviously not, because I don’t think I would have put in ‘(I think)’. Did I try to injure Håland? Definitely not. But I did want to nail him and let him know what was happening. I wanted to hurt him and stand over him and go, ‘Take that, you cunt.’ But I had no wish to injure him.” Keane was found guilty, and fined £150,000 – about three weeks’ wages.

Keane is a singular figure: he was a very good − but not great − player whose success was built on his will to win and an aggressive competitiveness that sometimes crossed over the line. Neck veins bulging, eyes popping, shouting at his team-mates, he was the snarling embodiment of his manager’s ruthless ambition. Alex Ferguson tolerated his sometimes appalling behaviour as long as Keane drove his team on to yet more trophies and titles. But Keane’s credit with Ferguson ran out in 2005, and the Manchester United manager was characteristically unsentimental in the manner in which he got rid of his ageing captain. Keane made it easy for Ferguson. Following a humiliating defeat away to lowly Middlesbrough (Keane did not play because of injury), he gave an interview to the Manchester United in-house television channel with all of the usual Keane candour. He openly questioned his team-mates’ commitment: “Just because you’re paid a hundred thousand pounds a week and play well for England doesn’t make you a top player.” He might have got away with this if he hadn’t compounded the insult by questioning, in front of the entire squad, Alex Ferguson’s commitment to the club and the training methods of the first-team coach, Carlos Quieroz. When suggesting to Quieroz that their training should have more variety, Keane charmingly asked the diffident Portuguese: “Carlos, when you shag your missis, do you change positions?” He turned on Ferguson: “You as well, gaffer. We need fuckin’ more from you.” Keane continued this ill-advised attack on the notoriously tetchy Scot by telling him that his battle with JP McManus and John Magnier over the stud fees from the horse Rock of Gibraltar was distracting him from his job. United’s hugely experienced Dutch goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, tried to intervene, and was told to “shut the fuck up”. Keane professes to be shocked when, a few days later, Ferguson and David Gill, the club’s chief executive, effectively sacked him. “Look Roy,” said Ferguson, “I think we’ve come to the end.” Gill read him a prepared statement. Keane went meekly: “All right. Yeah, yeah. I agree with you.” He drove out of the Carrington Road training ground, but had to stop outside to weep. Some time later, Keane went to apologise to Ferguson and Quieroz, but “now I kind of wish I hadn’t”.

Although he was thirty-four and had a bad hip, several clubs expressed interest in signing him, including Everton, Real Madrid and Bolton Wanderers. Keane signed for Glasgow Celtic mainly for sentimental reasons, having supported the club as a boy. Dermot Desmond (the majority shareholder) was desperate to sign Keane (Roy exerts a strange fascination for the Irish business elite), but the Celtic manager, the pugnacious (and often witty) Gordon Strachan, told Keane: “I’m not really too worried if you sign for us or not. We’re okay without you.” Keane concedes that Real Madrid would have been a better move, but agreed to go to Glasgow, even though the wages – a mere £15,000 a week ‑ were the lowest on offer. Oddly, Strachan’s indifference was a deciding factor: “I said to myself, ‘Fuck him, I’m signing.’” Although he was idolised by the Celtic fans and named as Man of the Match in his first Old Firm derby, Keane’s time in Glasgow was disappointing and anti-climactic. He won two trophies (not too difficult when you play for Celtic) but felt he had contributed little, having spent much of his first season out injured. He had fallen out of love with the game, and was struggling with his hip. He decided to retire.

Although there are a few exceptions (Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Guardiola), great players rarely make great managers. The most successful managers of the modern era – Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger, van Gaal – had modest achievements as players. Career options are relatively limited for retired footballers: management, punditry, corporate hospitality duties at their old club, after-dinner speaking. The occasional ex-player (Paul Madeley, Francis Lee, Dave Whelan) succeeded in business; many took the traditional (and frequently catastrophic) route of pub landlord. Alcoholism and penury are common themes in the lives of ex-players: John Charles, George Best, Gerd Müller. (Müller was literally pulled out of the gutter by his old club, Bayern Munich, one of the few big clubs owned and run by football people.) The late Jeff Astle’s last paying job was as a sort of in-house clown on Frank Skinner and David Baddiel’s 1990s TV show, Fantasy Football League; I’m not sure that Astle, who sang (usually in fancy-dress) at the end of each show, was in on the joke. Eric Cantona’s post-football acting career is wildly exotic.

Keane, like most footballers, felt a great loss when he retired: “ … I also knew that whatever I did it would never be as good as playing football. Never.” Soon after he left Celtic, he was offered the manager’s job at Sunderland, owned by the Irish Drumaville consortium, headed by the media-savvy chairman Niall Quinn. Flown from Manchester to Dublin by helicopter, Keane and Quinn, who were on opposing sides during the Saipan incident, made their peace: “it was an opportunity to let bygones be bygones”. (Not a sentiment extended to Alf Inge Håland.) Sunderland, newly relegated from the Premier league, were languishing in the bottom half of the Championship (the old Division 2). Keane accepted the job: “I wanted my kids to see me going to work.” Events went Keane’s way: with the support of Quinn and the consortium “lads”, he brought in new players and Sunderland gradually climbed the table. He acknowledges that football management isn’t complicated. He quotes Fabio Capello, who, when asked what he attributed his success as a manager to, replied: “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve always worked with good players.” He recalls Brian Clough’s advice to him before his debut for Nottingham Forest, away to Liverpool: “Get it, pass it to one of your team-mates, and move. Can you do that?”

Keane appears to have scared the shit out of his players. He regularly used the rather theatrical tactic of karate-kicking the tactics board in the dressing room at half-time: the Sunderland kit-man, “Cookie”, knew from Keane’s mood when to get the tactics board up. A row with a player, Liam Lawrence, descended into a punch-up (“there might have been a bit of grappling”), which Keane found exhilarating: “This was my first real confrontation. I loved it. I thought to myself, ‘I want more of this – one of these a day.’” Like all bullies, Keane respects resistance: “Liam just lost his rag on the day; there was no bad blood between us.” He has very fixed opinions on pop music. The Sunderland fans, delighted with their new manager started singing a version of “Hey Jude” – “na na na na-na-na-na – Keano”: Roy was unimpressed: “I’ve never been a big lover of that song. It might have been different if it had been a song I liked.” At an away match against Ipswich, the players put on “Dancing Queen” by Abba in the dressing room shortly before kick-off. Keane was incensed: “They were going out to play a match, men versus men; testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ ‘Dancing Queen’. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been one of Abba’s faster ones.” Later we learn that the first record Keane ever bought was Culture Club’s Kharma Chameleon.

At an away fixture at Reading, Keane detects a whiff of disrespect from a member of the home coaching staff: “Are you calling me a wanker?” After the game, which Sunderland lost, Keane, invited to the office of the home manager, Steve Coppell, for the traditional post-match drink, grabbed this hapless staff member, “put his head on a table, and tried to pull his tie off.” Asked to leave the office, Keane wittily retorted: “Fuck yis, anyway.” The most unlikely things cause Keane to combust. He considered signing Blackburn’s ageing Welsh midfielder Robbie Savage, but decided against it when he called Savage: “It went to his voicemail: ‘Hi, it’s Robbie – whazzup!’ – like the Budweiser ad. I never called him back. I thought, ‘I can’t be fuckin’ signing that.’”

Sunderland were promoted at the end of Keane’s first season in charge. Life in the Premiership, however, turned out to be much tougher. For newly promoted clubs, survival should be the only target, but Sunderland’s new owner, the American businessman Ellis Short, had higher expectations. After a run of poor results, Short phoned Keane, and, among other things, complained that Keane was still commuting from Manchester to the northeast. Short clearly didn’t understand his manager’s personality: “I’m not putting up with this.” After a few more phone calls involving Short, Niall Quinn and Keane’s agent/lawyer, Michael Kennedy, Keane resigned: “I don’t like being spoken down to.” Dwight Yorke (“Yorkie”), his former Manchester United team-mate, now a Sunderland player, sent Keane a text a few days after the sacking: All the best. “I texted him back: Go fuck yourself.”

Keane’s next ill-fated job was at the Championship club Ipswich. The club had achieved little since the glory days of the seventies, when they were managed by Bobby Robson. He wasn’t ecstatic when offered the role, but as he observed, “Barcelona hadn’t been ringing me.” His start was inauspicious; he didn’t even like the club colours: “I don’t like fuckin’ blue.” A team-bonding exercise with the local Parachute Regiment did not build the kind of camaraderie Keane had hoped for, and several of his players were sidelined because of blisters caused by the army boots. Keane attended a charity dinner at his children’s new school; a man sitting beside him tried to make conversation by asking Keane’s opinion on the new coalition government: “I thought the New Coalition was a team playing in the Suffolk League.” Relations with his players deteriorated: “The training ground is quite small, so there was a tension, even passing one of them in the corridor. You’re thinking, ‘You, yeh fucker’, and they’re thinking the same thing.” In his second season in charge, after Ipswich had drifted to third from bottom of the table, Keane was sacked. “But the call still surprised me. I didn’t see it coming.” He was enraged when the club slipped a letter terminating his contract under the door while his wife was out doing the school run: “I didn’t mind the phone call. But the letter – I thought, ‘You fuckers.’” Keane ruefully admits that his man-management approach at Ipswich might have been better: “I made the point about Ellis Short talking to me like I was something on the bottom of his shoe. I think I spoke like that to some people at Ipswich.”

After the Ipswich sacking, Keane was adrift, and accepted any offer, just to keep busy. At a corporate gig for Guinness in Nigeria, he was impressed by the retired French international Marcel Desailly’s charity work (or at least Desailly’s telling of it): “Fuckin’ hell – I thought it was the Pope I was listening to.” He agreed to take part in an autograph-signing session (“a fiver a signature”), an event which mortified him: “I don’t think I’ve been as embarrassed in my life.” The thought of celebrity matches was equally dispiriting: “I just didn’t want to end up playing football with fuckin’ JLS.” He tried ghosted newspapers columns, but “there comes a point when you honestly say, ‘I’ve no opinion on that.’” Keane’s next career move was into the less stressful role of pundit with ITV. Although he liked Adrian Chiles, the engaging Brummie anchorman, and enjoyed the company of the other ex-pros (“I used to kick fuck out of Peter Reid – in a respectful way”), Keane concluded that “TV work didn’t excite me” and that “it sucked my spirit”.

The Second Half concludes with a more contented Keane appointed to two jobs: assistant manager to Martin O’Neill with Ireland and assistant manager to Paul Lambert with Aston Villa. Keane managed to overcome his contempt for the Football Association of Ireland in general, and its chief executive, John Delaney, in particular; when it comes to his career, Keane believes in “moving on”, and letting “bygones be bygones”. Dermot Desmond briefly reappears, offering him the Celtic job, which he declined. Since publication, Keane has resigned the Aston Villa job. He muses on what makes a great manager. Brian Clough, for him, shades it over Alex Ferguson: “He kept things simple – for everybody. I think there’s a warmth in that, and a cleverness. There’s a genius to keeping it simple…I think Brian Clough’s warmth was genuine. I think with Alex Ferguson it was pure business – everything was business.” It is debatable whether Keane will ever hold a major managerial role again; his role as assistant manager with Ireland seems to be that of hard-man mascot.

What fascinates people about Keane is his anger; Keane knows this and plays up to it. During the Saipan incident in 2002, Ireland was divided between those who viewed his anger and withdrawal as Homeric – the rage of Achilles − and those who saw a self-indulgent tantrum from a man who let down his country and his team-mates. “Anger has always been part of my personality,” observes Keane/Doyle, “I don’t see it as a bad thing or a bad word … a lot of my sending-offs wouldn’t have been because of anger; they were caused by frustration. There’s a big difference… I see my anger as a useful tool. Me expressing my anger – not every two minutes – I’m releasing something.” Like John Lydon/Johnny Rotten, Keane believes that “Anger is an energy.” He concedes, however, that his anger hasn’t always worked in his favour, concluding that after both Saipan and his final bust-up with Alex Ferguson, he emerged the loser: Keane even indulges in a bit psychologising (was this at Roddy Doyle’s prompting?): “There’s a difference between anger and rage … That’s the self-destruct button. I don’t know if it’s low self-esteem.” It is telling that a contemporary celebrity hard-chaw uses the vocabulary of Oprah Winfrey and Dr Phil; Keane’s musings on his low self-esteem reminded me of Theodore Dalrymples’s psychobabbling violent felons. I was not greatly surprised either that he professes a strong religious faith: “But sometimes I don’t know what’s best for myself and that’s why I’ve got great faith; the man upstairs looks after me. I just have to trust Him a bit more.” How long, I wondered, before Keane falls out with the man upstairs? What if the Great Gaffer, (a top, top, deity), slackens up, loses His focus, like?

Although he put in many great performances as a player (his finest hour was the Champions’ League semi-final away to Juventus in 1999), Keane is chiefly remembered for events which took place off the field – Saipan, the comical “out there, out there!” squaring up to Patrick Vieira in the tunnel at Highbury. Matt Dickinson’s biography, Bobby Moore: The Man in Full, tells the story of an anti-Keane, written, not by a Booker-prize-winning novelist but by a jobbing sports-writer. Bobby Moore achieved immortality as a player on a sunny afternoon in July 1966 at Wembley. Burnished and almost god-like, he was the first (and probably last) Englishman to lift the World Cup. Never mind that England were lucky – they played all their matches at Wembley; Pelé, the world’s greatest player at the time, had been kicked off the park in the group stages; Geoff Hurst’s second “goal” didn’t cross the goal line, but was ruled in by the Azeri linesman. Never mind all that: England’s victory seemed almost predestined. Moore, that most atypical of English footballers – an elegant, ball-playing centre-back − was flawless, imperious: the big stage always brought out the best in him. It was the third trophy he lifted at Wembley in two years. He captained West Ham to the FA Cup in 1964, their first major trophy; a million people turned out to see the team when they paraded the cup from an open-top bus driven through the East End. In 1965, West Ham won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating 1860 Munich in one of the greatest cup finals ever played. The Jules Rimet was to be the last trophy Moore would ever lift.

A giant statue of Moore stands outside the new Wembley Stadium. The inscription reads:

Immaculate footballer. Imperial defender. Immortal hero of 1966. First Englishman to raise the World Cup aloft. Favourite son of London’s East End. Finest legend of West Ham United. National Treasure. Master of Wembley. Lord of the game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time.

If this inscription is a little over-egged, it might reflect the collective guilt of the British establishment over Moore. In an age when Team Britain’s Olympic medallists in minority-interest sports are routinely knighted and ennobled, it now seems extraordinary that Moore died without any such official acknowledgment of his achievement. After his premature death in 1993, a sort of collective shame overtook this establishment, and he was the first footballer to be granted a memorial service at Westminster Abbey. Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Charlton were among the readers. Jimmy Tarbuck (Westminster Abbey could be described as an away fixture for Tarby) used the occasion to lament the moral decline of the game: “He did not really know how to foul anyone. He did not know how to argue with referees. He did not know how to retaliate and, worst of all, he did not have a clue how to be negative.”

“We know too much about our sports stars,” observes Dickinson. I suspect that Roy Keane will come to regret the publication of his ghosted musings. And can you imagine the pure horror of the Wayne Rooney literary output? In 2006, Rooney signed a five-book deal with HarperCollins, worth £5 million; three volumes have already appeared. Bobby Moore maintained a personal privacy that we would now dismiss as pathological. He died aged fifty-one of a bowel cancer that had been misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. After his death, his first wife, the proto-WAG Tina, revealed that decades before, in 1964, Moore had been treated successfully (and secretly) for testicular cancer. Moore had surgery and radiation treatment, and somehow managed to keep this hidden from his team-mates and friends. (He told them he was having treatment for a groin strain.) The experience affected Moore profoundly; it triggered both his lifelong insomnia and his heavy drinking. Nowadays, Moore would have been the poster boy for cancer awareness campaigns (“Bobby says: ‘Feel your nuts!’”), and the triumph in 1966 branded as a Victory in the Battle against Cancer. I was intrigued to learn that for the last two years of his life, Moore underwent regular chemotherapy at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh; I worked at the Western throughout that time, and never knew that Moore was a patient.

Moore’s post-1966 career was one of gradual decline. Despite having three World Cup winners (Moore, Hurst and Peters), West Ham never finished higher than mid-table, and were often in the relegation zone. Moore, the man for the big occasion, found it difficult to muster passion for away games in Stoke or Blackpool. His drinking was by now incompatible with his job as a professional athlete. His relationship with the club’s donnish manager, Ron Greenwood, was poor: unlike Keane and Ferguson, both men regarded verbal confrontation with horror. Greenwood tolerated the drinking and lack of professionalism; in contrast to Alex Ferguson, he abhorred the win-at-all-costs culture. Moore had a brief moment of near greatness at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The tournament had started disastrously for him when he was accused of stealing a bracelet from a hotel jeweller’s during a team-bonding trip to Bogotá. The bracelet was never subsequently produced, and the charge was almost certainly trumped up. Moore was arrested, and eventually released following intense diplomatic effort. Characteristically, Moore maintained his calmness and detachment throughout. He was released just in time to join England for their first group match, against Romania, which they won 1-0, with Moore playing superbly. Hugh McIlvanney observed that Moore’s calm and grace under pressure was almost otherworldly: “This is a very strange man.” England’s next group stage match, against Brazil, was Moore’s last truly great performance.

England lost 1-0 to a team who, by common consent, were the greatest in the history of the game. The photograph of Moore and Pelé embracing at the end of the match is nearly as iconic as the image of Moore in 1966, carried proudly by his team-mates, holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft. “Of all the defenders I have challenged,” said Pelé, “Bobby Moore was the fairest, the best and the most honourable.” England were knocked out by West Germany in the quarter-final. If they rode their luck in 1966, in 1970 nothing went right: their goalkeeper, the great Gordon Banks, was taken suddenly ill with gastroenteritis, his place taken by the hapless Peter Bonetti. Sir Alf Ramsay, regarded as the mastermind behind the triumph of 1966, seemed uncertain in his tactics; the English conceded a two-goal lead, and Beckenbauer’s men won 3-2. The bracelet incident refused to go away, and the case dragged on for years before the charges were finally dropped.

Moore’s England career finished in 1973 after a disastrous World Cup qualification campaign. Playing away in Chorzow against Poland, England were beaten 2-0. Moore, now hesitant and slowing, was culpable for both goals. He was dropped for the home match against the Poles; England needed to win to qualify for the World Cup, but the Polish goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, played the game of his life. It ended 1-1. Moore was let go by West Ham in 1974. Brian Clough, then manager at Derby, wooed him, but it came to nothing, as Clough, after one too many rows with his board, was sacked. The parting with West Ham was acrimonious. Moore had wanted a lucrative free transfer, but the club refused: the fractured relationship with Greenwood had never been repaired. After some persuasion by his old friend Alan Mullery, Moore signed for second-division Fulham. In his first season, Fulham somehow made it all the way to the FA Cup Final, and, remarkably, their opponents were West Ham. The FA Cup Final was then a Very Big Deal. It was Moore’s last appearance at Wembley; Fulham were beaten 2-0, both goals scored by an unknown twenty-year-old called Alan Taylor. The twenty-first century player tends to respond to such reversals by sitting on the turf and weeping (Chelsea’s John Terry and the Argentina team at the World Cup final of 2014 spring to mind.) Moore, walking off the pitch, put his arm around the disconsolate Alan Mullery, smiled, and said: “All right, Al? It’s been a good day.” “But we lost,” replied Mullery. “It’s still been a good day,” said Moore. “We were there.” It’s hard to imagine Roy Keane accepting defeat with such composure and grace. If anger (nowadays rehabilitated as “passion”) was “a useful tool” for Roy Keane, Bobby Moore viewed such displays of emotion as beneath him. His refusal to respond to provocation on the pitch only infuriated even more the nigglers, spitters and hackers. He was equally disdainful of goal celebrations, which he saw as “a waste of energy”.

In 1976, George Best and Rodney Marsh joined Fulham and for a few brief months the team was the ultimate Geezers’ XI (Stan Bowles and Frank Worthington would have completed the line-up.) Here is Marsh (“Rodders”) in a passage that is beyond parody:

Just imagine, George Best at one end [of the bar] and Bobby Moore at the other and so much crumpet around. It was like a showbiz tent. Wonderful times. On a Sunday morning we’d go to a little pub in Hampstead. In those days it didn’t open till midday but the guv’nor would always open it early for Bobby. Smashing days. Proper drinking …

Moore finished his career playing for part-timers Herning Fremad in the Danish Third Division. His fellow-players were astonished to find the World Cup-winning captain in their ranks.

In the twenty-year interval between Moore’s retirement and Keane’s arrival, the game changed dramatically. English football in the seventies and eighties was a tawdry, proletarian spectacle, with regular catastrophes such as Ibrox, Heysel and Hillsborough. Two things changed all that: the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report, and Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s Sky TV poured hundreds of millions into the game and in the early nineties the top clubs formed the Premier League. The Bosman ruling opened the door for foreign players attracted by the loot. Billionaire Russians, Arabs and Americans bought English clubs. Players’ agents started to make as much money as their clients. (Tony and Cherie Blair are said to be pleased that their son Nicky has chosen a career as a football agent.) The grounds cleaned up, with gleaming new constructions such as the Emirates and Etihad stadiums. The fans changed too; in the early seventies, the average age of the fans in Manchester United’s Stretford End was seventeen; the average age of Premier League spectators is now forty-one. And these fans are not only older, but also better bred and better got. If Taylor and Murdoch sanitised the game, the likes of Nick Hornby gentrified it, so the idea of a Booker Prize winner ghosting a footballer’s autobiography doesn’t seem odd: it is a rare writer nowadays who doesn’t profess a lifelong and enduring passion for the game. Keane famously expressed disdain for the new, fair-weather middle-class Manchester United fans – the much-maligned “prawn-sandwich brigade”; in the mid-nineties, The Fast Show mocked the new, clueless, bourgeois supporter (“Roger Nouveau Football Fan”) attending Arsenal matches. English football, previously the preserve of young working class men, is now a global commercial phenomenon. Who cares if the grounds are half-empty and the spectators are ageing, as long as Manchester United and Liverpool are selling replica shirts in China. Middle-aged Irishmen vent their frustration on radio phone-in shows after a poor display by Premier League sides consisting of multi-millionaire Continental Europeans and South Americans, gratingly referring to these teams as “we”. It has been said that for many such men, supporting an English Premier League club is the only form of community left to them.

Players like Keane were the early recipients of the new money which flooded into the English game; I would be surprised if he really needs to work again. Bobby Moore earned a good living in his playing days, but it was a fraction of Keane’s earnings at Manchester United. Like Keane, he tried his hand at management, but with disastrous results. An offer from Elton John to take over at Watford was withdrawn, and the job given to Graham Taylor. He then agreed to manage non-league Oxford City (a club whose existence I was unaware of). Moore’s detachment, which served him so well as a player, was a major handicap as a manager. Unlike Keane, he hated confrontation. Oxford City were relegated from the lowly Isthmian Premier league after his first season in charge. A spell at fourth division Southend was an embarrassing failure, the low point coming when Moore turned up for a match drunk, having spent most of the day at the Hope pub in Southend with his old mentor, Malcolm Allison.

Moore the businessman was as catastrophically bad as Moore the manager. He spurned the opportunity to join Mark McCormack’s IMG sports promotion agency, on the rather specious grounds that IMG demanded 15 per cent of his income, rather than the 10% he was paying to Jack Turner, his then East End business manager. It was probably the worst of his many bad business decisions. Moore fancied himself as a clothes stylist, but all his fashion ventures (bespoke shirts, leather coats, jewellery) flopped. The lowest point in his business career was his Chigwell country club, Woolston Hall, which he co-owned with Sean Connery. This project was doomed from the start. The opening was delayed because of an arson attack; one of the owning consortium, “Del” Simmons, fell foul of local gangsters and was nearly killed in a gun attack; few locals were interested enough in joining the club to pay the membership fee. Flamingos imported from America to brighten up the lake were eaten by the local foxes. Moore lost nearly everything, and barely held on to his neo-Georgian Chigwell house, Moorlands. He invested in several pubs, one of which, the Black Bull in Stratford, was set on fire the night before its reopening.

After his disastrous attempts at football management and the many failed business ventures, in the mid-eighties, Moore eventually found paid employment as a columnist for the Sunday Sport; the paper’s Essex offices were situated above a dildo factory. He endured the indignity of being turned away from West Ham’s ground, Upton Park, because he didn’t have a ticket. He was present at the Hillsborough disaster, an experience that shook him. He left the Sport to work as a pundit for Capital Gold Radio, paired with the rather more excitable Jonathan Pearce; Moore’s contributions to the Sport and his match-day radio commentaries were generally anodyne. Matt Dickinson concludes that there really wasn’t very much depth to Moore:

His post-playing days had revealed Moore to be just a man – decent, likeable and increasingly at ease – but not a leader away from the pitch or a thinker, not a coach of distinction or someone with compelling views about the game. I had come to this project hoping to discover hidden depths and finished wondering if, in truth, I had spent all that time looking for something that wasn’t there.

Unlike Keane, Moore “came from an age when we knew little, and he ensured that we knew even less”. I wonder if Roy Keane has read Matt Dickinson’s biography; if he has, he might conclude that football has treated him rather better than it treated Bobby Moore.

Growing up in a terraced house in Barking, the fastidious and sharply-dressed Moore was the embodiment of the Mod credo of “clean living under difficult circumstances”. If Bobby was proud of coming from Barking, Roy is just as proud of Mayfield. The novelist Zadie Smith has observed that working class people who “better” themselves through education often pay a high price, losing the  community, intimacy and warmth of their old life. Although Roy Keane is a rich and feted man, his world view remains defiantly Mayfield. Reading his memoir reminded me of all the things I hated about working class life when I was growing up: the stifling conformity, the eagerness to take offence, the ever-present threat of violence, the tribalism, the obsession with “respect” and “loyalty”, the nicknames – the nicknames! ‑ “Sheasy”, “Giggsy”, “Yorkie”, “Becks”, “Scholesy”, “Smudge”, “Robbo”, “Brucie”, “Pearcie”, “Fletch”, “Chops”, “Kavs”, “Stokesey”. (There is surely an opportunity here for an enterprising student of modern demotic English to produce a treatise on the complex etymology of footballers’ nicknames – why Keano, not Keaney? Why Becks, not Becko?) Roddy Doyle made his name with the Barrytown Trilogy by capturing the rhythms, nuances and cadences of working class Dublin talk. In a similarly remarkable feat of literary ventriloquism, he has captured that Northsider (northside of Cork) tone of menace, self-justification and general grievance, but also the wit and lack of pomposity. There is an almost Tourette’s-like use of expletives, but this is almost justified, because this is how many Cork people actually talk: the f-word is often deployed within a word. I don’t know if the parodist Craig Brown has ever “done” Roy Keane, but if he did, it would read very much like Roddy Doyle’s pitch-perfect “Roy Keane”.

Children are constantly told that playing competitive sports builds character and teaches valuable life lesions. I wonder. Many great athletes are one-trick ponies (or hedgehogs, to use Isaiah Berlin’s classification), and the character traits that made them successful in professional sport are often a handicap in retirement. Bobby Moore’s calmness and air of detachment served him well at Wembley in 1966, but during the wet Sunday afternoons of the rest of his life this reserve gave an impression of a Chauncey Gardner-like emptiness. Roy Keane’s anger was, as he freely admits, a “useful tool” during his years as a midfield enforcer, but it often backfired on him during his managerial career.  

Matt Dickinson quotes an elegiac Sir Michael Parkinson: “I think to many of us, Bobby was almost the demarcation line between one era and another. People can make their own mind up which they prefer but I’ve lived through both. Football represents the nature of society around it and Bobby was very clearly the last well-mannered footballer, the last true hero.” Bobby Moore was a hero to a generation of people who valued reserve, sprezzatura, and grace in defeat. Roy Keane is idolised by a world that would love to tell the Boss exactly what he can do with his job.

1/5/2015

Seamus O’Mahony is a consultant physician and a regular contributor to the Dublin Review of Books.

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