The Smell Of Football
When you think of football autobiographies these days you imagine spoilt, rich superstars, barely out of their teens, asking ghost writers to expand their short lives across 500 “gripping” pages.
Even those who have a life tale to tell, stories of World Cups, leagues titles and footballing glory are swamped by fast cars, mansions, wags and derisory £60,000 a week contract offers. All with little intelligent input.
But upon reading Mick ‘Baz’ Rathbone’s autobiography - ‘the Smell of Football’ - it is clear this is the tale of life at football’s sharp end.
Not that he hasn't been successful; Baz has reached the top of his profession, worked with some of the world’s best footballers and managers and travelled across the world in the lap of luxury. But what makes it fascinating is the way he got there.
Baz’s career has taken him from the very top, to the very bottom and back again, not many men can claim that. Things didn’t always go right for him, in fact he has experienced some of the most negative emotions football can bring. But to borrow Kipling, Baz met with triumph and disaster and treated those two impostors just the same.
The core theme throughout this book is Baz’s harrowing experience at Birmingham, his home town club, where his chronic lack of confidence and self-belief led to him wish for injury in order to avoid playing, despite possessing enormous talent as a youngster coming through the ranks.
It is a refreshingly honest admission of weakness, insecurity and vulnerability, but it is what makes Baz's progress though his career and subsequent rise with Everton all the more rewarding. He was haunted by his experience at St Andrews and never truly shook off the burden it placed on him. But he turned that into a positive and his unique 'enjoyment-first' approach to man-management and later rehabilitating injured players is what made him such an excellent physiotherapist.
Unlike the aforementioned spoilt millionaire footballers you feel a genuine connection with Rathbone as you work your way through his book. Who hasn’t felt nervous on their first day at work? Doubted their ability? Felt inferior to those more established around you?
Rathbone lets us in and takes us along for the ride, and what a ride it was. Following his failure at Birmingham came is re-birth at Blackburn, his brief flirtation with booze (he wasn't alone in 1980s!); plastic pitches and injuries at Preston, the battle at the very bottom with Halifax, his chance meeting with an up and coming manager back at Preston and his arrival, eventually, at Everton.
Being an Evertonian I couldn’t help but focus on his time with the Toffees. A brief glimpse into the heart of the football club – the dressing room, the treatment room, the training ground, the manager's office. Such was Rathbone’s expertise David Moyes called him his greatest signing, and never held a team meeting without him.
While Moyes rightly takes much of the credit for turning Everton around it is men like Rathbone who helped make it possible and 'the smell of football' gives us a hint of the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for that all important game on a Saturday.
But as Rathbone's time at Everton came to a close it is interesting to hear his opinion on the changing nature of the game, the pressure he, the players and the manager found themselves under and the vast wealth of the players, their agents and various hangers on. Baz is believer that football should be fun first and foremost and without that, the game is weaker. We need more guys like him.
There are plenty of quotes I could pick from the book but again as an Evertonian I had to choose some words from Baz himself soon after his arrival at Goodison. And during this difficult summer for the supporters it perhaps pays to read and remember what the club is all about:
“...This great club is intricately and inextricably woven into the lives of its fans. It has an aura, status and function within the community that transcends any idea that the game is simply about kicking the ball on a grass pitch. It is a truly great club and I felt truly privileged to be part of it.”
The feeling’s mutual Baz.
WIN A COPY OF BAZ'S BOOK 'THE SMELL OF FOOTBALL'
Thanks to the guys at Vision Sports Publishing we have a copy of Baz's book to give away to one lucky RBM reader. All you have to to enter is:
1) Follow us on twitter @rbmersey
2) Like us on Facebook (click here to go to page)
3) Then this week we will ask one question on both Facebook and Twitter. All you have to do is send the answers to both questions along with your name and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org
The closing date for entries is Saturday 6th August at 12 midday UK time. We will then pick the winner at random and inform them by email. Any questions just send us an email at the above address.
Don't forget you can also check out the book's facebook page here for more info and competitions.