“The Smell of Football” by Mick Rathbone
Whatever side you stand on the great football divide, this is a humdinger of a book looking at the game from the oblique angle of man-of-all-trades Micky “Baz” Rathbone. A mixture of laughter and pathos, it is an authentic record of one man’s journey from hell to redemption.
In 1975, Rathbone was a wet-behind-the-ears kid when his skill brought him to the attention of his home club Birmingham City and a team place with his hero and nemesis Trevor Francis. Reading like a cross between “Kes” and “Billy Elliot”, these early years are a heart-breaking tale of a kid so unready to be pitched into the grown-up world of professional football that he feigned injury rather than take to the pitch with his former boyhood heroes.
In the wake of the death of Gary Speed, much has been written about the modern holistic approach to sport, with psychological and psychiatric help readily available. However, in those unenlightened days when bullying was a tolerated fact of football life, Rathbone suffered a crisis of confidence so profound that the effects ruined his playing career and blighted his life. Not afraid of introspection, he questioned his character and, at times, even his sanity.
In this amusing and revealing book, he records the phoenix-like rise from the ashes of his early career through the peaks and troughs of management to the heights of the top job in Everton’s medical department. He writes without rancour but with a humorous self-effacement that includes excruciatingly embarrassing moments alongside laugh-out-loud jokes – usually on him – and with a wonderful insider’s understanding of the pleasures and pressures of football. Underlying it all, and despite some bleak times, is a love of the game that both traumatised and enriched him.
This unflinching self-analysis is an easily read, good value 797-page book that is a fine testament to the man. I heartily recommend it. The Smell of Football, VSP, Hardback £12.99, Download £4.99