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Steak...Diana Ross (Very well done)
on 12 March 2003
The cover of this wonderfully entertaining book is what first caught my eye. A bedraggled footballer, seemingly alone on a frost-bound pitch, wearing a football strip that is free of sponsors' names, yet sports the vertical stripes that exaggerate what looks like an embryonic beer gut beneath. This turns out to be David McVay, a self-styled football nobody and at the time embarking on a career as a professional footballer and an erstwhile diarist. A young, rebellious, lefty, intellectual, innocent, McVay was not a typical footballer of his time and this is far from the usual mundane, ghost written, ego-trip that identifies the modern football biography.
For a period of twenty months in the 70s, McVay's recollections gleaned from the journal he kept at the time, provide a fascinating and very funny insight into the world of a young player aiming to be successful in what was, even then, a cut throat profession. The characters that had somehow attached themselves to Notts County are richly drawn. They are portrayed in such a way as to make the reader believe that they could have been dreamt up by Steinbeck. For Meadow Lane read Cannery Row.
McVay is the chronicler, who obviously has a keen eye for the eccentricity of his fellow man. There are superbly illustrated cameos of "the Gaffer", Jimmy Sirrel a Glaswegian with the sharp tongue of a Clydeside shipbuilder, the fantasies of a star struck schoolboy and the social graces of a Brooke Bond chimp. I have read out loud to anyone who will listen, the tales of the tomato ketchup ritual, the bottle top tactics and the bunion scalpel incident.
An overriding theme of the book is the warmth found among smoky pubs, back to back houses and the multi-functional boiler room at the ground. The affection and boozy camaraderie shown by the players is clear, but there is also an underlying brutality illustrated by the cruel and cutting jibes, the rich and ribald language, the precariousness of their chosen profession.
"Steak...Diana Ross" epitomises the 1970s. There is an innocence, a vulgarity and the gradual awareness that life is changing. The slums of the neighbouring Meadows area of Nottingham have gone, the girls who provided such willing diversions for the young athletes will now be grandmothers with a past, but nothing has changed as much as the game itself. It may be an infinitely richer game in commercial terms from those days, but somehow I cannot imagine that it provides as rich an experience of life as in this hilarious account.
He may not have been able to "Bend it like Beckham", but few could "Tell it like McVay".
Message to the author: There is a novel in this.