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Noel King The Poet And 6 Other Literary Footballers

Noel King The Poet And 6 Other Literary Footballers
By Conor Neville

Literary prowess and a background in professional football do not often combine in one individual, but when they do it should be celebrated.

We know that many of the world's most famous authors spent their youth pondering the mysteries of life from the goal-line. Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, was a goalie in his youth. Also, Arthur Conan Doyle, the man behind the Sherlock Holmes novels was a netminder, serving between the sticks for Portsmouth back in the 1880s.

The Guardian, in an otherwise fascinating article on the topic, write that James Joyce was a Gaelic football goalkeeper with rural Inniskeen, presumably mixing him up with Patrick Kavanagh. Were that true, Joyce would surely be the first student of Clongowes to have kept goal for Inniskeen.

Either way, here are seven of the finest literary footballers.

Noel King

During Noel King's brief but surprisingly eventful spell as Ireland manager at the end of 2013, the info emerged via a Liam Mackey column that the caretaker manager was a published poet.

He has published a book of poetry entitled '90 Minutes - Lines verses Rhymes'. Extracts and snippets from the individual poems are hard to come by.

Damien Richardson

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Damien Richardson, a man whose elegant composure is only ruffled by a 2-0 loss at home to UCD, is universally revered as the purveyor of the most quirky and verbose programme notes in world football.

Cynically, we were under the impression that managers simply 'phone it in' when it comes to the programme notes. Not so with Rico, who has clearly devoted the best years of his life to composing his pre-match notes.

One of his most famous efforts was from last year, from his opening address to the Drogheda United faithful ahead of his first home game in charge.

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Life was calm. Life was flowing with such an elegant composure, that I began to wonder on a daily basis why I had waited so long to meander peacefully along the precocious path of semi-retirement. I had time for everything and everybody. A new man in a new world. Blissful and unconcerned.

Then the phone rang. I was offered a job, in Drogheda, and amazing myself, I proposed time for consideration. Sitting contemplatively under the bowing branches of my heavily-laden pear tree my mind wandered whimsically. My life was indeed calm, unruffled and serene, but, almost surreptitiously, my mental meandering was slowly dislodging the wrappings of contentment and revealing to a relatively receptive inner self the slightest glimpse of a restlessness that I must confess, has always been an integral aspect of who I am.

But this spirit of restlessness which invariably manifests itself as a confounded and all too often insatiable desire to discover what is around that next corner, has very rarely let me down. So, as ever, I am following my instinct, and here I am.

Consequently, the bliss has been bombed, the peace has been parked, and while the elegant composure is still in place, I cannot offer any guarantees on its longevity.

Is it good to be back? Well, let me put it to you this way, if, like me, you were on the verge of middle age and you were asked to work with a large group of talented young people, at a wonderful club in a football mad town could you turn it down? Of course, it’s a rhetorical question, or to be more precise two rhetorical questions.

He hits upon quirky themes in his programme notes.

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In 1999, he informed supporters of Shamrock Rovers ahead of their game against Cork City that 'astrology informs us that we are entering the Age of Aquarias', a development which he said filled him with positivity, though he stopped short of saying that it assured them of the three points that day.

After Shamrock Rovers were knocked off top spot in the Premier Division, he merely said what all the supporters were thinking.

Whether one possesses the stoical stature of an empirical philosopher or a more mundane propensity for self gratification, the cataclysmic effect of ones removal from pole position in the most senior league in the country could be most injurious.

John Toshack

John Toshack published his first book of poetry while still at Anfield in 1976. He succeeded in getting that well known scholar and bibliophile Kevin Keegan to write the foreword.

Entitled 'Gosh, it's Tosh' (unkind critics were inclined to remark that the title was apt) Toshack boldly eschews modernism and sticks to a simple rhyming scheme.

Trinity College professor of poetry Tony Curtis delivered his verdict by saying that he fervently hoped he was a better manager than a poet and urged him to stick to the day job.

Supporters of Wales and any other clubs he has managed recently might have preferred him to have kept going at the poetry.

Here's a Wales game against Yugoslavia in 1976 given the poetic treatment.

The Yugoslavs were a skilful side,

But we had to salvage some of our pride.

An early goal we badly need

But what we got was a shock indeed.

A bad decision that really hurt

A penalty kick the Slavs convert.

The second half was really confused,

But the Welsh supporters weren't amused.

Gloeckner chalked off two of my goals,

The crowd poured on 'God Bless Their Souls'!

A five minute break and order's restored,

But in spite of it all we still haven't scored

Eamon Dunphy

Dunphy has not tried his hand at fiction (though, Roy Keane did argue he did when it came to the Alfe Haaland affair) but he is clearly one of the best writers among former professional footballers.

His book 'Only a Game?', a bracingly unsentimental account of his time at Millwall during the unhappy 1973-74 season is comfortably the best book ever written by someone who has played the game professionally, as Nick Hornby put it.

Always an idiosyncratic character within football monochrome landscape, Dunphy compared the understanding between two creative central midfielders (Bremner and Giles, say) to the understanding that existed between two lovers.

Dunphy has had a varied career since, writing an authorised biography of the band U2, which received acclaim from critics but annoyed the band and serving as a speechwriter for the Fine Gael party under Garret Fitzgerald.

Dunphy eventually concluded that Bono was a 'pompous git'.

Albert Camus

The former goalkeeper with Racing Universitaire d'Alger turned his hand to writing later on and proved to be not all that bad. He may not have been strictly a 'professional' footballer but still - he played at a highish level.

'L'Étranger', his 1942 book, is, in the words of the New York Times Review of Books, 'the exemplary existentialist novel'.

He is famously reputed to have remarked 'all that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football', a quote which was rapturously received by all those who write about the sport for a living.

Theo Walcott

They have yet to be graced with any awards, but Theo Walcott is the author of the 'TJ' series of books. A fabulously productive author, in 2010, Theo was banging them out at a ferocious rate.

His first one was published in April 2010 and was entitled 'TJ and the Hat-trick'. His second book was published THE SAME MONTH and bore the title 'TJ and the penalty'. There was then an interval of four months before Walcott was back with a bang with 'TJ and the winning goal' and 'TJ and the Cup Run'.

John McGahren, meanwhile, used to write one book a decade.

All the TJ books relate to a young boy who years to be a striker. And all feature a character celebrating on the cover who looks suspiciously like Theo Walcott. Young Theo was clearly 'living out his dreams through fiction'.

We assume that the novel 'TJ and the prolonged hamstrung injury' will be published shortly.

Steve Bruce

Renaissance man and legal eagle, Steve Bruce is author of a series of crime novels all named after positions of a football team. 'Striker' is the most well known of the trio ('Defender' and 'Sweeper' are the other two).

It begins with young Irish striker Pat Duffy lies slain on the dressing room floor.  This book has reviewed at length on here by Seamas O'Reilly. His review needs to be read. Here's a flavour of his notice.

Barnes finds young Irish striker Pat Duffy stabbed to death in the changing room and, becoming suspected of the murder, spends the rest of the book struggling to clear his name. In an odd move, he decides to do so by solving the case on his own, despite (a) the police already being involved, (b) being himself a suspect and (c) his having neither the expertise, training, nor free time available to investigate a murder.

On his quest, Barnes encounters gun-toting Irish thugs, disgruntled baby mamas and treacherous, heavily armed coaching staff. Not to mention a gay, nightclub-owning drug dealer with a glad eye for middle aged football managers and a thrilling top-of-the-table clash between Leddersford and Fulham that’s watched over by a rogue sniper intent on killing our trusty hero.

This is the fizzing geyser of hot nonsense that is Striker.

Steve would probably concede himself that his writing was not on the level of this year's Booker nominees. At one stage in the book, he was much taken with the phrase 'Talk of the Town', believing it to be an ingenious 'play on words'.

Or, rather his character did. One doesn't want to confuse the author with the central character, whether it be Steve Bruce or lesser lights like Philip Roth. Perhaps, he meant to include that as a knowing satire on his lead character's simple-mindedness. Who knows?

Read more: If Some Of History's Greatest Writers Had Ghosted Roy Keane's Autobiography...

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