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Martin O'Neill - the Biography by Alex Montgomery; published by Virgin Books; 252 pages hardback (illustrated); £18.99

A more accurate subtitle would be "His Professional Life", because the subject of this biography is such a private individual that it's doubtful if anyone, other than his wife and daughters, really knows the real Martin O'Neill.

Alex Montgomery did not seek OFM's help or assistance in any way and so the story is cobbled together via colleagues and team mates. Ultimately, this jigsaw offers little we didn't know already or couldn't have worked out for ourselves. Nonetheless, Alex Montgomery, a former Chairman of the Football Hacks Association, has researched his subject and it does make for an interesting - if never a riveting - read.

Obviously O'Neill's time at Celtic is so well known that you could almost skip the opening chapters of the book, though we do take on board the reflections of Billy McNeill, Joe Jordan and (Gawd help us!) Lou Macari. Montgomery tells us that O'Neill did think very seriously about taking over from David O'Leary at Leeds, which brings to mind the story from an older time that Big Jock was all set for Manchester United in 1970, a rumour that he never denied.

One individual who does not emerge smelling of roses is Murdo MacLeod, seen by many as a manipulative and malevolent influence on the dealings between Wim Jansen and Jock Brown. This is nothing to do with Martin O'Neill, of course, but it does provide an insight into football people being not always what the appear to be.

Of more interest is O'Neill's life in England when he stopped playing - from Grantham (where the gorgeous, pouting Margaret Thatcher was born) to Wycombe Wanderers and the Leicester City. The story is always the same: an honest man, thoughtful yet forgetful, intelligent and determined, cool but quick-tempered. In the author's words, "a hyperactive contradiction".

We already know of O'Neill's morbid fascination with crime (he doesn't honestly think that Oswald put a couple of shots in JFK does he? Ed) but you might not know that he owned a couple of betting shops (also a hobby of Stein's) or that he had a job as an insurance salesman. You might also have forgotten (if you ever knew in the first place) that he was awarded an MBE in 1982. It seems the offer of this particular gong caused a bit of soul searching for a man from a deeply republican background and after a family consultation he decided to accept it on behalf of Nottingham Forest and Northern Ireland.

As a lawyer, what a courtroom star he would have been if a letter to the Nottingham Evening Post (when aged 22) is anything to go by. He absolutely wipes the floor with the paper's sports editor for a critical piece which struck the tyro O'Neill as blatantly unjust.

The book is heavy going in places but given the zero input of our subject it was always going to be difficult to keep it zinging.

Martin Hugh Michael O'Neill, this is part of your life!

ANTONIO LaSTARZA

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