Three books, two of them newish, one of them about 10 years old, and each with its own qualities and faults.
Graham Hunter’s Barca has won awards for his detailed study of the rise and development of the Barcelona side that dominated European football under Pep Guardiola, and as a work of journalism it is impressive. He is clearly trusted by all the major players at the club and the book features loads of first-hand interviews.
If you are a lover of ‘the Catalan giants’ then it’s definitely worth a read. The problem with it though is that Hunter is a little bit too in thrall to these superstars and so at times it all borders on the sickly. At one point he recalls when he first asked Xavi for an interview and got summarily fucked off – rather than say that he thought the player was being a bit of a prick he merely reports that he made it his mission to get this enigmatic genius – or something like that – to open up to him.
And as for the chapter about Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol’s bromance, the less said the better.
In fact, the best part of the book deals with Guardiola and Barcelona’s rivalry with José Mourinho. It all gets far juicier when dealing with preening Portuguese, especially when covering the presentation he gave to a couple of the club’s directors when he desperately wanted the job that Guardiola eventually got. He impressed them immensely in many ways but they were put off by the fact that he was only comfortable when he was doing the talking and they left with the impression that he would win them trophies but would damage the club in the long term.
When it comes to being self-possessed and confrontational – and a bit of a tit – the writer of the second book possibly outdoes even Mourinho. It’s Simon Jordan’s autobiography Be Careful What You Wish For and it’s reminiscent of that book Piers Morgan did in which he comes across an almighty cunt but it makes for a hugely entertaining read because he is so gossipy and indiscrete.
Jordan got in at the start of the mobile phone boom and made a fortune which he subsequently lost, primarily by buying the club he supports, Crystal Palace. He’s a bad bellend and seemingly a shocking businessman – everything he touches eventually turns to shite. He’s got more than a touch of the David Brents as well – every now and then he will take a break from talking about his boats and his houses in Spain and tell a little story about how he did something nice for a handicapped Palace supporter. He only just stops short of stating outright ‘See, I’m fucking great me really’. It’s brilliant.
When it comes to football though, it’s hard to not sympathise with nearly all of his complaints about greedy gobshite players, agents and deceitful, spineless managers. One of the best anecdotes is when he first takes over Palace and is introduced to some of the players in a hotel. Clinton Morrison looks him up and down and sucks his teeth, at which point, according to Jordan anyway, he threatened to kick them down his throat if he ever did it again.
He also talks about going out with Alex Best, and by the next page he casually remarks that he had ‘shown her a straight red by this point’. Crass, but funny.
All in all then, immensely enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.
The last one is Raw Spirit by the late, great Iain Banks – just about the polar opposite of Jordan in terms of personality – and it’s a travelogue in which he drives around Scotland visiting distilleries and searching for the perfect dram. To be frank, some of the descriptions of the actual driving veer dangerously close to Top Gear territory, but that’s a small gripe really. His descriptions of the countryside and of the history of the whiskies themselves are fascinating, but more than that it’s his sheer love of life that makes it such an enjoyable read. He loved drinking and eating and being with friends and absolutely hated war-mongering cunts – the book starts at the same time as the second Gulf War and is a recurring theme.
Banks comes across as dead genuine throughout, which explains why Neil Gaiman said in his final email to his dying friend, “I think you’re a brilliant and an honest writer, and much more importantly, because I’ve known lots of brilliant writers who were absolute arses, I think you’re a really good bloke, and I’ve loved knowing you.”
If you’re the sort of person whose heart gets warmed by stuff then you will almost certainly find this now very poignant book ‘heartwarming’.