Book Review: My Fight with Life by Leon McKenzie

Robert Enke (2009), Dale Roberts (2010), Gary Speed (2011) – three men from the world of football who in recent years took their own lives. That list has nearly been added to by ex-players such as Dean Windass and the author of My Fight with Life, Leon McKenzie, who have both attempted suicide.

From a football perspective, the book details McKenzie’s journey from making his debut and scoring as a seventeen year old for Crystal Palace in 1995 through to his last playing spell at Corby Town in 2012. McKenzie spent five years at Selhurst Park playing in the Premier League in 1997/98 season with brief loan spells at Fulham and Peterborough United, before permanently signing for The Posh in 2000. McKenzie proved to be a hit with the fans and his form in his three years at Peterborough earned him a move to Norwich City in 2003, where he was part of the side that was promoted to the Premier League. In the 2004/05 season McKenzie proved he could play at the very top level in the English game, but The Canaries were relegated on the last day of the season after capitulating 6-0 at Fulham. However, as the 2005/06 season dawned, problems on and off the field were beginning to impact on McKenzie both physically and mentally. Injuries were starting to significantly cut into his playing time, whilst his marriage was on the ropes. Against this background, McKenzie looked to make a fresh start and signed for Coventry City in 2006. Here though his playing time was again hit by a series of injuries, but he did score his 100th professional goal against previous employers Ipswich Town on the opening day of the 2008/09 season. After three years McKenzie was again on the move this time, this time to Charlton Athletic, where with injuries seemingly bringing him to a standstill and the loneliness of living away from his family, he attempted suicide in 2009. His last professional club was Northampton Town in the 2010/11 season, before short stints at Kettering Town and Corby Town.

McKenzie is forthright in his views of the managers and coaches he worked under during his playing career. These range from then Crystal Palace boss Steve Coppell who McKenzie describes as “…a great bloke and real inspiration…” to Alan Smith (whilst at Crystal Palace) and Gary Johnson (whilst at Northampton) as “…by far the two worst managers…ever encountered…” The Professional Footballers Association doesn’t escape his criticism either, as he lambasts the organisation for its slowness in addressing the issue of depression in current and ex-players.

Away from the football, McKenzie is equally direct when talking about his life whether it be his famous boxing relatives, (dad, Clinton McKenzie and uncle, Duke), his marriage break-up, his stint in prison for motoring offences, his plans for the future as a professional boxer or working for Elite Welfare Management advising players about depression. There is much to be admired in that McKenzie is so open in talking about the depression he suffered and the attempted suicide, detailing and understanding how his injuries, coming to the end of a career and the impact of his childhood and family life, brought him to that fateful date in 2009.

However, the book suffers from a numbers of errors which proof-reading should have picked up on and from a lack of editing. This book would have been better served by a linear timeline rather than chapters which jump back and forth and therefore lack fluidity for the reader. Tighter editing would also have ensured that the repetition which occurs in the book was also avoided and the bizarre change in Chapter 14 where the narrative switches from first-person to the third-person.

Ultimately though, this is a brave story and one which can give hope to people (in whatever walk of life), that out of despair can come a positive future.


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Book Review: From Hobby To Obsession by Darragh MacAnthony

Let’s start by getting a few things out of the way. Firstly, this book is an example of where you have to be brutally honest and say that the proof-reading has been poor and therefore resulted in numerous spelling and grammatical errors slipping through the net into the final published edition. Secondly, the language leaves nothing to the imagination. Having played, watched and written about football over the years, I’m used to the ‘industrial’ nature of it and understand that it is all part of the game, but potential readers should be aware. Lastly, I appreciate that part of the publishing business is to ‘talk-up’ your book, but it really puts enormous pressure on the publisher (The Posh Book Company, in this case) to deliver, when phrases such as, “…this is a remarkable insight…” and describing the book as delivering, “…above all the TRUTH…” are used in their recounting of their first foray into the publishing world.

However, putting all that to one side, what does the reader get from the story of Darragh MacAnthony, Peterborough United FC chairman? Well, the 221 pages are essentially split in four sections. The first 178 pages focus on the six years of involvement MacAnthony has had as chairman of The Posh. There then follows two smaller chapters from current manager Darren Ferguson (13 pages) and Director of Football, Barry Fry (22 pages), who reflect on their time at the club and their views and dealings with the chairman. The book is completed by a small statistical section, focusing on the years of MacAnthony’s reign.

There is no doubt that the book covers an interesting period in the history of Peterborough United and the three promotions, one relegation and managerial comings and goings are all told through the eyes of MacAnthony in a forthright style. The six years are covered at breakneck speed, with the events and language coming at you with machinegun regularity. Whilst the pace does generally engage, there is a feeling at times that some of the stories are rushed, perhaps reflecting a trait of the chairman, who Barry Fry describes as “…impatient…”  There is no doubt that MacAnthony has invested a small fortune into Peterborough and personally I admire anyone who takes the gamble of investing in a football club, since it is more often an investment that provides no financial return. Yes, MacAnthony is a businessman and that has allowed him to become chairman, but his love of the game is genuine and it was interesting to read of his knowledge of non-league football. Indeed MacAnthony explains when first arriving at London Road that part of his vision and policy was of finding talent outside of the Football League, developing them and then selling them on for major fees, so enabling the club to be less reliant on his financial input. His other great driver is around producing young talent, with the aims of having, “…one of the best training academies in the Football League…” and “…by 2016 have five or six home grown youth talent in the first eleven…” Manager Darren Ferguson accepts that MacAnthony “…loves being involved: not in the sense that he’s in the dressing room, like a lot of chairman are, but that he wants to know what’s going on and he wants to be appreciated..” It is apparent Ferguson does have a good relationship with his chairman, not least because of their similar desires of wanting to be winners and the fact that they are both strong characters. However, a shared trait of stubbornness led through various events to the parting of the ways in 2009 and the episode is covered quite nicely, as what happened is described from the perspectives of MacAnthony, Fry and Ferguson himself. However the reader is left with a teaser by the Peterborough manager (who returned in 2011) when he states, “…in truth there is so much more I could tell you, but I think we’ll wait until my book hits the shelves…”

At the end I am left with the impression that MacAnthony is a chairman who loves not only his club, but the game in general and is knowledgeable about it in ways that many other people in his position are not. He is a young chairman and has ambition and his plans for the future of The Posh (as outlined in the book) are admirable. However, I am left with a nagging question; that being why did MacAnthony decide to write this book? Whilst his passion and commitment, both financially and personally to the club is evident in the book, so is the image of him as an, at times impatient, unflinching and aggressive individual. Is the man at the helm at London Road, simply portraying himself warts and all? Does he not care how he is viewed? Has the real Darren MacAnthony stood up? No doubt there are interesting times ahead for Peterborough United and their chairman. A case of watch this space.


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Book Review: Ebdon to Charlery: London Road Legends – Compiled by Jamie Jones

This eBook (from Division Four Publishing), takes its title from the defining moment in the 1991/92 Third Division Play-Off Final at Wembley between Peterborough United and Stockport County. On a scorching day in May, it proved to be dramatic ninety minutes. After a goalless first-half, the game sparked into life on 51 minutes when from a corner, Ken Charlery had a header which hit the underside of the bar and bounced down. Stockport protested, but the goal stood to give the Posh a controversial 1-0 lead. With the heat draining their energy and players looking tired, the game entered the closing minutes. Then, Stockport broke away on 87 minutes and a cross-shot was parried by Peterborough keeper Barber, which fell kindly to Kevin Francis who had the easiest of headers to level the score. Suddenly the prospect of extra-time loomed, however with 89 minutes on the clock, Marcus Ebdon launched a perfect ball forward, Ken Charlery headed it on, burst past the defender into the box, before coolly slotting over the County keeper. In such moments legends are created.

Therefore it is no surprise to find the two Wembley heroes heralded within the pages of this book. Ebdon and Charlery are joined by players from as early as 1951 (Norman Rigby) through to 2011 (Paul Taylor), as well as influential coaches and managers. The individual articles have been submitted from various writers and so provides a range of styles. Some are humorous observations, whilst others are heartfelt appreciations of those who have graced London Road.

For me the great thing about this type of book is that it provides Posh fans from across the generations, with a view of their club down the years – something of an alternative history. It also has interest for other fans who may not have realised that one of their favourite players wore the blue and white of Peterborough. As a result you’ll find pieces penned on the like of Derek Dougan, Micky Gynn, David Seaman, George Berry, Simon Davies and Jimmy Bullard. My favourite though features Ray Hankin, a centre-forward who included Burnley, Leeds United and Arsenal amongst his clubs prior to London Road.

“…I think Ray Hankin was the ultimate cult hero for Posh. I remember he was dropped for apparently misbehaving in some way before an evening match at London Road vs. Cobblers. He was supposed to be at the ground anyway, but I saw him sat on a bar stool in the Cock Inn, Werrington the whole night. At the end of the game, the barman told him Posh had won 6-0. Ray remained completely expressionless and ordered another drink…”

Football is about moments at our own clubs like Peterborough’s win at Wembley in 1992 and the legends it creates, but equally for me it’s about our cult hero’s as well, warts and all.

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FA Cup 2010/11: Three – It’s the Magic Number

The great thing about January in the football calendar is the FA Cup 3rd Round. Some teams never make it this far and their fans are left to dream about what might have been. For those that have battled through the early rounds the adventure can take a further twist with a tie against a “big” club in the 3rd Round. Clubs coming into the Cup at this stage can view the competition as a distraction from their dismal League campaign or from the goal of attaining promotion. However you view it, like the Grand National, the FA Cup 3rd Round captures the attention of the nation.

Whether your club has won the Cup or not, fans have their own special memories. Fulham have never won the FA Cup, although did reach the Final in 1975 losing 2-0 to West Ham. Whilst the run to the Final had some highlights in a record breaking 11 game journey to The Twin Towers, my most memorable games don’t come from that season and may in fact seem strange choices. What makes them stick in the mind is that they both occur in a period of change and very much have a sense of foreboding, although for different reasons and in different circumstances.

The early 70’s in Britain was a time of economic strife and especially of rising inflation. One of the government’s methods of dealing with this was to cap pay rises. This measure caused unrest amongst trade unions in that wages were struggling to keep pace with spiralling prices. By mid 1973, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had encouraged their members to work to rule, which resulted in coal stocks slowly diminishing. This, combined with the effects of the 1973 Oil Crisis, drove up the price of coal. The Tory government under Edward Heath entered into negotiations with the NUM, but were unable to strike a deal. Therefore in order to reduce electricity consumption, and so conserve coal stocks, a series of measures were announced on 13th December 1973 by the government, including the “Three-Day Work Order”, more commonly known as the Three-Day Week, which came into force at midnight on 31st December 1973. What it meant was that commercial use of electricity was limited to three consecutive days each week. In January 1974 as an eleven year old I was too young to understand any of this. In fact nights sat without power listening to the radio and playing family games by candlelight were more of an adventure than a hindrance. Although I’m sure my parents didn’t quite see it in the same way.

Just five days into the Three day Week, it was FA Cup 3rd Round day. Fulham drew then fellow Second Division rivals Preston. Incredibly given the situation in the country, football continued pretty much unaffected. There were some knock-on effects though. Fulham like other clubs had hired generators to aid their electrical supply and I clearly remember seeing and hearing the machinery situated at the back of the Cottage. Games were also brought forward to 2pm so that less time was required for putting on floodlights. Programmes too were affected, with a four page black and white edition on sale. Nearly 7,000 turned out that day and the Fulham faithful were rewarded with a 1-0 win and progress into the 4th Round and a home tie with First Division Leicester City later that month.

By 1986 Fulham had dropped into the old Third Division and there was an air of crisis around the club. The promising side that missed out on promotion to the First Division, losing 1–0 to Derby away on the last day of the 1982/83 season, had gradually been sold off as the club had debts to pay. By now I was in my early twenties and knew it was a club in turmoil. Not only was the team struggling on the pitch, crowds dropped lower and lower and the ground showed serious signs of neglect. Therefore the FA Cup 1st Round in November 1986 came as a blessed relief from the doom and gloom of life in Division Three and crisis off the pitch. After a draw at Edgar Street a 4-0 win in front of just 3,562 at the Cottage over the Bulls saw Fulham progress to Round Two. By the time Newport County visited London in December 1986 for the 2nd Round fixture, the club was in dire straits. However, a 2-0 win over the Welshmen was secured and a glamour tie was hoped for in the next Round. Lady Luck had a chuckle as she sent Swindon Town to Fulham in January 1987 for the 3rd Round game and the visitors went away with 1-0 win. By this time with the club “gagged” as part of a property development deal to build on the ground, rumours about the future of the club became wilder. The reality was that in 1987 the club was perilously close to going out of business. However, this didn’t come to pass or thankfully did the ill-advised merger attempt with QPR.

Whilst today the club is not facing the crisis of that 1986/87 season, in 2011 all is not well at the Cottage as the team start the New Year hovering around the Premier League relegation zone. Thank goodness for the FA Cup 3rd Round….Bugger! Peterborough United at home – could be a banana skin! Whatever you team, try and enjoy this weekend…