Customer Review

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feeling about a true soccer tragedy., 14 July 2012
This review is from: The Black Flash: The Albert Johanneson Story (Hardcover)
Being a diehard Leeds fan from the Revie era, I was looking forward to reading this biography of a forgotten man of the early super Leeds. It is something of a curate's egg - good in parts. Albert's memories of his formative years in South Africa are fascinating as are his recounting of the racist abuse and violence endured on an everyday nature. Coming from comfortable England, we cannot begin to grasp the Nazi nature of apartheid in those days. As late as the 80's, white South Africans were telling me that "it was for their own good as, without it, they would only be fighting amongst themselves." Years later, a more enlightened white South African ensured that this mindset was far from unique. Albert's luck takes a turn for the better when he moved to Leeds Utd for trials, only to encounter bigotry at the airport - an ominous indication of things to come. Luckily, Syd Owen is more welcoming and a clearly nervous Albert settles into this alien environment. Albert is still shocked at the first time a white woman - his landlady - serves him a meal - unheard of in his country.
There was already one black South African at Elland Road - Gerry Francis. He comes across as a more self-confident person and greatly assists Albert in settling in. We get a fascinating insight into the state of Leeds Utd in the dog days of Jack Taylor prior to the Revie revolution. Revie himself comes across as a bit cold and standoffish towards Albert, though others like Les Cocker are willing to fight the bewildered South African's corner. It is cheering to know that Albert is mostly accepted by his team mates - especially once they grasp his skills on the ball. Billy Bremner is always willing to defend Albert and pick a fight with anyone indulging in racist comments, and others like John Charles (a big man in every sense of the word) and Grenville Hair are supportive in every way. But the casual prejudice of the era is barely credible to modern eyes. Cafe and restaurant owners refuse to serve Albert for fear his appearance will put off other customers - even after he becomes a major star at the fast-rising Leeds Utd. Albert's impressions of his early matches for Leeds remain vivid, but as the years progress, details are skirted over. He does reveal the state of his nerves prior to the 1965 FA cup final and the crude manhandling by the Liverpool players, and even requested Revie not to play him. Sadly, this seems to be the turning point. Although still a cult figure among the Elland Road faithful, and a few on-field triumphs remain, injuries and loss of form conspire to reduce him to a marginal figure at Leeds. Revie seemed to have little faith in him, and no comprehension of the abuse Albert has to endure (a failing of his generation) and the writing is on the wall with the signing of Mike O'Grady, although his playing colleagues still treat him as one of the family. Once Leeds have ascended to being league champions and are on their way to becoming recognised as the finest team in England, Albert is virtually forgotten and given away to York City on a free. His 2 years at York are passed over in less than a paragraph where I could have done with more from this time. After that, it's downhill all the way to alcoholism and homelessness in one of the most heartbreaking stories in football.
With monuments erected to Revie and Bremner at Elland Road, some tribute to Albert seems long overdue. He paved the way for black footballers in the modern game, and, like most pioneers, paid a heavy price for it. This book should go some way to seeing his memory his honoured.
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