Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy (Viking 1976)

Since Euro 2012 is taking place, I thought I’d read Eamon Dunphy’s footballer's diary concerning the 1973-4 season.  Dunphy is well established as one of Ireland’s top football pundits, as well as all-round journalist.  Even back when he was playing he wrote a weekly column for a local paper and appeared on radio shows as a pundit.  In 1973, he was 28 years old and an established first team player for Second Division team, Millwall, as well as an Irish international with 25 caps.  Only a Game? charts from August to the end of November of that season, when he was sold to Charlton.  The book is written as a diary, detailing the workings of the club, the camaraderie, rivalry and jealousy between players, the tensions between players and the coaching staff, the external pressures exerted on the manager and team, and the psychology of playing in matches and how they unfold. 

The real strengths of the book are the level of reflexivity and that Dunphy doesn’t pull any punches.  The narrative does more than describe a season, but tries to explain and to provide a real insight into the mind and life of a player and a club.  Moreover, Dunphy tells it exactly how he sees it and he doesn’t spare the blushes of players or coaches.  He is scathing about the professionalism of the coaching routines, the facilities, the manager’s decisions, how the game was being run by chairmen and directors, players who he felt were not being ‘true’ pros, and forensically picks apart the strengths and weaknesses of opposition teams.  He’s equally open about his own performances and shortcomings, including his emotion turmoil at being dropped and his frank exchanges with his manager.  There are some silences - he never really discusses the role of his family and friends, barely discusses journalists and the role of the media, or the fans.  Instead the book very much focuses on the players and coaching staff.  Having now read the book, it is easy to see how he sided with Roy Keane in the Saipan affair - Only a Game? details the same frustrations Dunphy had whilst at Millwall as Keane had for the Irish international set-up; and like Keane, Dunphy was obsessed with professionalism.  Overall, an interesting book that gives real insight into the beautiful game.

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