Book Review: GoodFella (2013)
Craig Bellamy glares at you from the front of this book. There is no champagne shot of a goal being scored, or a cup being lifted into the sky. It is you and him, and no one else is around. This is not a Vogue fashion shoot. It is nearly football’s version of the Munch’s ‘The Scream’ because you are forced to look into Bellamy eyes. There is no other option. The eyes are laboured. You can see the stresses of the world etched into his face, the dressing room bust ups, the manager rows, the night club misunderstandings, and the constant chasing of a dream that just seemed out of reach.
Life seems to have been one big struggle on and off the pitch for this Welshman and dressed in the latest smart casual clothing, but hunched up against a random wall, Bellamy cuts a totally different figure from the short and young blistering striker that dominated the East Anglian football scene in the late nineties.
It is a bit of a shock. When young tearaway strikers burst on to the scene, their image gets etched in time. Regardless of whatever he did after that World Cup game in 1998, Michael Owen’s career is dominated in the national press by that mazy run against the Argentinean defence that sent England fans on to their feet in adulation. For me, being from the flat lands of the East, Craig Bellamy will always remain stuck at 19 years of age lighting up a desperately average Norwich side of the late nineties against an Ipswich Town team that always flirted with the playoffs, but never quite started a solid relationship with the Premier League. Bellamy had no right to grow older.
The concern about what people might think of him and the desire to right the wrong perceptions of him that have existed in the media throughout the years is a running theme through this book.
Bellamy seems to be on a mission to merely understand himself and on many pages, there are long passages of realisation that his behaviour hurt those who were close to him whether on or off the pitch. Whether this book is a form of psycho-therapy, it is difficult to tell, but you start to wonder whether there was any game, or time at a particular club which Bellamy enjoyed, or whether each spell around the UK ended in acrimony, misunderstanding, and bitterness. Has Bellamy ever enjoyed playing the game which helped him from veering wildly off course in his early Cardiff years?
This book is not quite the clichéd football biography that dominated the market of five years ago, when through a series of lucky coincidences, a player finds himself scoring the winning goal at the Champions League final. Whilst his school pals were discovering the perils of drugs and glue, as well as joyriding in cars, it is Norwich City Football Club that provides a way out for Bellamy to try and do something more with his life.
The whole dream nearly falls apart under a torrent of homesickness and injury, but with encouragement and ambition, Bellamy begins to make waves in the football world. With an ambition to be the best, and at the expense of everyone who seems to be close to him, we travel with Bellamy around a startling number of clubs across the UK. I had personally forgotten that Bellamy played for West Ham as well as Coventry City during the last fifteen years.
The Liverpool years come in two batches. The first period is frustrated by squad rotation, Benitez’s focused and apparently cold attitude, the infamous Riise golf incident, and a feeling that his manager at Blackburn, Mark Hughes, had been right when it had been suggested to our player that he may not be playing as much as he liked. Two people with too much focus on one goal caused problems and the break up came within a couple of days of the Champions League defeat in 2007. It seems harsh to tell a player that he is not in your plans within the shocked slipped stream of a defeat but should there be any sentiment in football.
If we forget about the eventual rejection, one of the few games that is looked upon with any fondness is when the Reds played in the Nou Camp in their 2007 Champions League run. The chance to play in one of the world’s greatest football stadiums, for the club that was a childhood love is reflected on with great fondness, and along with an affection for Sir Bobby Robson, when he was manager at Newcastle United, working under Kenny Dalglish at Anfield, setting up an academy in Sierra Leone, and Cardiff City reaching the Premier League, that is about it in terms of positive moments for Craig Bellamy.
There is a particularly emotional passage about the moment when Bellamy found out about the death of Gary Speed in November 2011. Bellamy is left dumbfounded by the news within minutes of a key Premiership game for Liverpool, but despite the astute Dalglish management, Bellamy can not understand why one of the few people who he looked up to in football had decided to end his life in such a sudden fashion. The reader can not really understand that death either.
For someone who set the highest targets for himself in terms of succeeding in the game, I am unsure whether he has entirely enjoyed his time in the game. I wanted to hear more about his work in Sierra Leone, which seemed to have a big impact on Bellamy. However, the chapter was way too brief. I am sure that there was more to say about this important work. Despite Cardiff’s promotion to the Premier League, the book climaxes with Bellamy’s divorce from his childhood sweetheart who eventually became his wife. Bellamy is back at his parent’s home in Trowbridge where the book began. For the sake of this very readable book, life is a convenient circle but you do hope that Bellamy can remain in the game when his playing days are finished.
Many football figures do not come out in a positive way including Alan Shearer, Graham Souness, Neil Adams of Norwich City, and Benitez. Despite the baggage and the self-destructive attitude, and the feeling that everyone, and everything is against him, there is some sort of heart and soul that needs to be nurtured in the future in some way.