PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
You can't imagine, dear reader, the joy and anticipation that flooded my heart when big Ed (aka Ebenezer Banal) chucked yet another footballer's ghost-written biography down on my desk the day before Christmas Eve and informed me that unless I reviewed it I wouldn't be allowed 1) a fresh candle 2) a lump of coal for the fire or 3) Christmas Day off.
Not wishing to disappoint my infant offspring Tiny Tim - at that very moment standing outside in the snow with his little frozen nose pressed against the window of NTV Mansions - and unable to afford anything for his stocking apart from 'Remember Remember OUR Two Wins in November' unless I got my bonus, I realised my options were limited. So here goes.
Our very own Stiliyan (you can call him Stan) Petrov has got together with Mark (you can call him Swoop) Guidi of the Sunday Mail to produce a book (you can call it mince) in time to solve a few Christmas present problems.
Straight away my hackles were up. I know it's just about all the writing the average player can manage to sign their name on a contract and that therefore it's necessary to collaborate with a 'journalist', but why this one? Isn't Petrov aware of the Mail's track record when it comes to Celtic? Does he not realise how many unsettling stories of the 'set to swoop' variety that Swoop has been responsible for, especially with regard to Petrov himself??
That aside, Swoop has a bit of form when it comes to writing Celtic-related literature. His effort (co-written with Ewing Grahame) about Henrik Larsson which modestly billed itself as 'the football book no Celtic fan can afford to miss' was, in fact, ten chapters of almost unreadable tabloidspeak, easily missable and not even much use for steadying shoogly tables.
Of course there is an obvious language problem when the subject of a biography is not a native English speaker, but the real language problem lies with Swoop. When the person who is supposed to be the literary half of the partnership shows evidence of having the vocabulary of a teenage standard grade pupil then you have a real turkey on your hands (I'm assuming, of course, that Swoop's Bulgarian is a tad rusty and that the interviews weren't conducted in Stan's native language or through the medium of a translator).
Personally, I thought Henrik Larsson's diary of a season with Celtic was ghosted quite stylishly by author Mark Sylvester, mainly because the writer's own personality was relatively unobtrusive (by the way, compared with Guidi and Grahame's effort it's positively Pulitzer Prize material). At some points in this book there is a hint of Petrov's personality, but how can we possibly suspend our disbelief for even a nanosecond when reading some of the journalese that spouts forth whenever Swoop (as Stan) has to insert passages of background narrative. Hardly a cliche is left out so that 'football isn't played on paper' and playing in Europe is a 'roller coaster ride'.
Either Swoop can't shift a gear or two up in order to cope with the demands of his remit or he simply cuts and pastes old reports from the Mail. How else can you explain these examples of narrative style: 'Although Rangers grabbed a lifeline on 57 minutes thanks to a strike by Ronald de Boer...' or 'The big man got up to flick a long ball onto Henrik Larsson who then played his strike partner in.'
It's not even particularly readable when it's in Guidi's own fish wrapper, less so when you've forked out the best part of fifteen quid.
With one eye on the serialisation in the Mason (Guidi never strays far from the party line) the human interest angle is played up. One or two of Petrov's anecdotes and views on life in his adopted country are genuinely quite interesting - he gets quite irate when he reflects on how he was pretty much left to fend for himself when he arrived in Glasgow with minimal assistance from the club - but once again Swoop's powers of description fail to do Petrov justice: moving to Sofia from a small town Stan is 'understandably nervous'; arriving in Glasgow 'I was still nervous'; meeting John Barnes he was 'nervous about having a drink in front of him'; phoning his future wife to arrange a date 'you've no idea how nervous I was'; making his debut for Celtic 'I was extremely nervous'; coming back after breaking his leg - 'I was a nervous man in the pre-match build-up'; the afternoon of Seville 'I was too excited and nervous'.
At the birth of his first child he was... 'delighted', but his parents made up for that by being 'too nervous' to attend.
Other major incidents and events are described in terms equally bland - 'unbelievable' and 'indescribable' and 'I can't properly put into words how I felt that day' are phrases which glibly trip off Guidi's laptop, seemingly unaware that he's writing for an audience who want Petrov's emotions conveyed through imaginative descriptions and properly put into words. Is that not the 'ghost's' job?
What comes across is that Stan is a likeable guy who does his best and is very kind to his family in Bulgaria. Unlike the di Canio brothers, who were rummaging through the kitchen drawers looking for assorted bits of cutlery with which to stab one another, the worst thing Stan ever did to his brother was steal the blankets off him occasionally.
I must admit, though, instead of feeling sympathy for Petrov's sad plight at having to struggle by on a couple of grand a week when he first arrived in Scotland, I could only laugh as Stan/ Swoop recounts his attempts to deal with his 'depression and frustration' by 'lying on the living room floor and beating the floorboards until my hands couldn't take any more... There were tears streaming down my face.' By the time I got to page 87 I was beginning to realise how he felt.
Again, with the serialisation (and subsequent sales, of course; it's no coincidence that this was being hailed as the Mail's sports book of the year!) the string-pullers at Masonsport must have told Guidi to get Petrov to say something nice about the Rangers players. I nearly choked on my banana daiquiri when I read that Stan really rates Lorenzo Amoruso as a player and as 'the kind of guy I'd be happy to go for a beer with any night of the week.' Sorry Stan, make that one beer and a Bailey's.
It's so bland and inoffensive that it also looks as if the Mason had the lawyers reading it as well (God help them), just in case Petrov said anything in the least bit controversial. Even when he gets sent off playing in the European Championship for Bulgaria for dissent, he claims, in the Record/ Mail's obsequiously prurient style, that all he said to the referee was 'That's a f****** joke... I didn't call him a w**** or a p****.'
With Swoop walking on eggshells most of the time he (as Stan) fails to elaborate on one or two things that might have had a whiff of scandal, not to mention a glimmer of interest. After MON replaced John Barnes, he had a chat to Petrov on a pre-season tour of Ireland. The player had been unhappy with his role in the team and was asked by the new manager what his preferred position would be. 'Centre midfield' was the reply from Stan, and there the subject is dropped. If there has been one consistent argument among the fans over the tenure of MON it was the best position for Petrov... and why he wasn't consistently played there.
Another opportunity missed was Stan's views on the Scottish tabloid media and the number of stories that appear linking him with moves elsewhere. Wonder what Swoop (as Stan) makes of all that, and did he really tell Guidi that 'whenever there's a story that touches the hearts of the Scottish people, the media get behind it and do as much as they can to drive it on...' ?
Want to know what Stan/ Swoop thinks of the Thugs and Thieves affair? Wait for the sequel, because you won't find anything in here. What you will find is 'my dream team' and '48 hours in the life of a footballer' as well as the literary equivalent of kissing the badge on the jersey: 'Playing in front of the best supporters any player could wish for and living in a city that has made me feel so welcome has proved better than I could ever imagine.'
I suspect it's better than Swoop could imagine as well... but then most things seem to be.
It will probably have already sold in its thousands by the time you read this. Maybe Swoop could buy himself a decent thesaurus with the profits.