08 September, 2011

"Walk On:" Ronnie Whelan's fascinating insight into top flight football pre Sky:

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Whelan found the casual cruelty so common in football; very difficult to stomach.  

               To football fans who view Phil Thompson as an overly excited pundit on Sky Sports and not as the Liverpool captain through their most successful era, who took the young man who would become Ireland's most decorated footballer (at the time);  this book is a must read for you.  In fact, for those who do remember Phil Thompson in his trophy laden Liverpool heyday, this book is for you too.
Whelan celebrates 1984 European Cup win
                The casual cruelty that is common in football is one of the things which comes across clearly in Ronnie Whelan's book.  It's visible at various stages in his story and, even though he says it's just the way things are, it's something he always found hard to stomach.  
            In August 1994, with Whelan aged 33 having been plagued by injury Liverpool manager Roy Evans offered him a one year.  Though he had been hoping for a two year old deal, Whelan accepted.  The next day however, Evans told him the board at withdrawn their offer.  He muttered something about training with the squad before walking off.  Whelan left the training ground and whilst driving home, burst into tears.  
Whelan scores his famous goal v Russia at Euro '88
           In the book he says the speed of his dismissal left him traumatised. "Fifteen years finished in 15 seconds. No handshakes, no goodbyes, no word of thanks. . . You just turn on your heel and walk away."  It's a telling example of how cruel the beautiful game can be when a player nears the end of his career.
            Whelan also writes at length about his diffcult relationship with Ireland manager Jack Charlton.   He had been a regular for the Irish team since 1981 (five years before Charlton took over) but found the gruff new boss hard to communicate with. His injury problems did not help. On one occasion when he failed to make the team even though he was fit again and wanted to talk to Charlton about it, Big Jack deliberately humiliated him. 
Whelan however had a strained relationship with Jack Charlton
            The big man does not come well out of Whelan's account of what went on. Big Jack did not like to be challenged. But it was injury more than Charlton's pig-headed manner which meant Whelan played only a minor role at the 1990 World Cup; Ireland's first ever.  
            The most interesting part of the book is Whelan's account of his Liverpool career, when he was a mainstay of the iconic 1980s team that won six League Championships, two FA Cups, three League Cups and the European Cup.  Under the management of Kenny Dalglish, Whelan was a part of one of the greatest club sides in English football history.  
...celebrating Liverpool's last (1990) English League Title
            His account of this great era for Liverpool  -  and its decline  -  is fascinating.   It was also the time of Heysel and Hillsborough and Whelan reveals how devastating these tragedies were for both players and supporters. 
            It's a very frank autobiography in comparison with the usual anodyne soccer book and Whelan is very open about the behind-the-scenes arguments. He was always quick to argue back and sometimes seems a bit too sensitive for the tough world of football. But it's that sensitivity that makes this book. 
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