Very famous and much admired – and rightly so. Many people offer this as the finest football autobiography ever written and that’s a title it probably deserves.
For those who don’t know, Paul Lake was a highly talented Manchester City player who, had he not suffered a serious knee injury in 1990 – and two more while in pursuit of a comeback – would likely have played for England.
That in itself is not an usual tale. What makes this an unusual book, though, is Lake’s candour. Physically his injury was devastating, but pyschologically the effect was far greater. This was a time, remember, before vast salaries and the security of enormous insurance policies, meaning that when his career was taken from him, there was no great wealth to fall back on. No nightclub to buy, no property empire to build. Worse, from what appears in his book, it seems that the care he was afforded – both pastoral and medical – was way short of what he could reasonably have expected. Lake is certainly entitled to a certain bitterness.
The struggle described within sounds excruciating and, while it’s a little voyeuristic, Lake’s willingness to share those dark years with the reader make this what is. It’s frank and open, of course, but more than anything it radiates a vulnerability which isn’t typically found in the genre. Lake seems to tell his story as part of his own carthasis and, crucially, without resorting to any sort of cliche or with any deference to his own pride.
It makes for something which is deeply affecting and very personal. Also something rare, because how often do footballers’ autobiographies rely on an edited form of the truth? This one doesn’t – and it’s immensely textured as a result.