Book Review: Ask A Footballer – My Guide to Kicking a Ball About by James Milner

First things first, as James Milner is keen to point out in the book’s introduction, this is NOT an autobiography, rather, as the title suggests, Milner opens the floor to questions from the Twittersphere, a somewhat brave (or perhaps foolhardy) move, and this book comprises a selection of those questions with Milner’s answers.

Unsurprisingly, the questions included in the book revolve around football, covering everything from breaking through as a youngster to life after the game. There are sections on team-mates, what happens on a matchday and the experience of playing home and away, amongst other topics, but essentially all of the main components of life as a footballer are examined.

Anyone hoping to find Milner’s thoughts on matters outside of the game will be sadly disappointed, but as the full title, Ask a Footballer: My Guide to Kicking a Ball About, makes clear, this isn’t an open-all-areas Q&A. It does seem a shame that a brief chapter wasn’t included at the end for some more miscellaneous questions just for fun, but, on the whole, it’s a welcome premise that the publishers have pursued in this book by granting fans the opportunity to be involved.

Naturally, the questions that are included are generally somewhat predictable and fan questions are accompanied by questions from those involved in the book which clearly ensure that no football-related stone goes unturned, but generally they are the sort of questions that football fans would want to ask given the chance, and what is great about the book is the sense of interaction and access for supporters. There is a lot of criticism nowadays about this side of the game and the divide between fans and players, so this book is a pleasing antidote and there’s definitely much more of a sense of engagement and interaction than your typical sporting autobiography.

As for Milner himself, he is unquestionably a good sport for agreeing to the project, although in many ways he’s a rather safe choice – I’m not sure such a book would be possible with a number of Milner’s former team-mates, for example, Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy or Mario Balotelli! And Milner’s clearly well placed to be a spokesman on all things football, having played in the Premier League for almost two decades now and in that time witnessing the revolution that has virtually changed the face of football into the professional machine that it is now.

In his time, Milner has played for Leeds United, Swindon Town, Aston Villa, Manchester City and his current team Liverpool and has experienced the lows of relegation as well as the highs of FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League glory. In many ways an underrated and oftentimes overlooked player in teams which have boasted the likes of world-beaters such as Aguero and Salah, Milner has been a model of consistency and reliability. Off the pitch, Milner, too, seems to be as far removed as it’s possible to be from the pretensions of fame, which has inspired the emergence of the infamous ‘Boring James Milner’ caricature.

Indeed, there is nothing explosive or controversial about Milner (although fans of former clubs may say otherwise, he’s hardly a disruptive or unruly influence in the way that other footballers have made a name for themselves), so, unsurprisingly, there is nothing explosive or controversial in this book. As Milner himself explains, he was often the go-to player in the England camp, put out in front of the media to straight-bat away any difficulties.

As such, his answers in the book are all very straightforward and safe. Even when the questions enter slightly more precarious territory, Milner’s answers are always restrained, somewhat frustratingly often not naming names or giving more detail than is necessary. But, on the other hand, his answers are also considered and honest.

Milner’s professionalism and reliability shine through in this book. It’s clear that he’s the ultimate professional, as his eighteen seasons in the top flight prove, and certainly anyone wanting to know what it takes to achieve success at the top of the game need look no further than Milner and his answers in this book. However, anyone wanting the dirt on the beautiful game, or the alternative side to being a professional footballer, may just have to wait to see if the publisher chooses to roll out the project again. Are you free Mr Balotelli?

Jade Craddock

Category: Reviews | LEAVE A COMMENT

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…