Mick Rathbone's outstanding memoir of life as a journeyman footballer, manager and physio completes, in my view, possibly the best year for sporting memoirs that we've seen. With great autobiographies by renowned athletes David Millar and Paul Lake, the former Everton physio offers something very different.
A player with Birmingham, Blackburn and Preston, a manager with Halifax and then a physio at Preston and Goodison, the first inclination to a figure who has toiled in football's less glamorous avenues may be ambivalence. But while Rathbone's career lacks some lustre, this doesn't matter. For he is a searingly - often brutally - honest character, who writes with such expertise that one feels as if they are with him through every page of this brilliant book. The Smell of Football is an apposite title for one can almost sense the waft of liniment and Deep Heat, as if peering over Rathbone's shoulder throughout.
The opening pages that recount his days as a novice professional at Birmingham are almost heart-breaking. Rathbone was so struck with nerves playing for his boyhood club - and alongside his hero Trevor Francis - that he seems almost doomed to failure. There are are happier years at Blackburn and Preston, but life as a 1980s lower league footballer was also replete with financial uncertainties and Rathbone's awareness of his own shortcomings as a player and - at times - a person make this intriguing.
Then there is a spell as caretaker manager of Halifax that reveals the shocking haphazardness of life in the lower leagues. Rathbone admits he was appointed as an afterthought by his chairman and knew he never stood a chance. Once more, the honesty is almost heart-breaking.
Strangely, it is his time at Everton - which should be the most interesting - that is in many ways the least interesting part of the book. When I say that, it suffers by comparison to the other parts, and is still - on its own merits - as good an account as I have read on the daily existence of a Premier League club. Rathbone at first seems starstruck, but settles into his groove. Having witnessed as an Evertonian the careers of players like Paul Bracewell, Ian Snodin, Joe Parkinson and Michael Ball be ruined by injury, I can say that Rathbone's revival of the lacklustre Goodison medical department was first rate. Certainly it has extended the careers of some of my favourite players.
Overall this a superlative book, and bears comparison to Fred Ayre's famous memoir, Kicked Into Touch. Certainly, I think it will come to be considered a classic of it's genre. Rathbone is currently freelancing as a football physio. I for one can't wait to see him back in the game and start work on the next chapter of his story.