Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: Budgie

A Twitter correspondent was reminding me yesterday of the time I saved two penalties in one game.

As my personal sporting achievements go that remains right up there with winning the Longniddry Gala Primary 4 Short Tennis Open (Doubles) and clinching the runners-up spot in the Hawkhill Hibs Supporters' Club Bowls Day Oot.

I also like to think it's bestowed on me honorary life membership of the "goalkeeper's union."

Goalkeepers, they say, are crazy.

The charge sheet for the crime of craziness is probably quite long.

But you'd guess John Burridge would feature extensively. Probably appearing as his own character witness.

His eccentricities are laid bare in Budgie - The Autobiography of Goalkeeping Legend John Burridge.

The japes, the capers and misadventures are recounted with glee.

But there's a more complex side to the 'keeper who once hoisted himself onto the crossbar and perched their - Budgie-like - when his side were in the ascendancy.

The extravagant warm up routines, the tales of his wife being asked to fling pieces of fruit at him as he sat watching the TV to test his reflexes. They all served a purpose.

They kept him in the game. Playing, coaching, managing. Without that what was there left of John Burridge?

It took an intervention and a spell in The Priory before he found the answer to that question. Many are the stories of football as a cause of addiction or the setting for addiction. This is different. This is football as the addiction.

The book begins with that episode. A dramatic opening to be sure but one that does colour what comes after.

Because there is darkness to some of his behaviour that goes beyond the light-hearted eccentricities that you can tell he'd love the reader to shower with unconditional love.

The constant battles with managers - recounted here as heroic Budgie against ignorant authority - point to a man burdened by the weighty chip on his shoulder.

(They're recounted with gusto though - Budgie crawling through a window after Derby manager Arthur Cox had locked him in his office to escape and sign for Sheffield United, a ruck with Ossie Ardiles in the tunnel after a Southampton game, Murdo McLeod hitting Budgie over the head with an early 1990s mobile phone as Budgie physically attacked Alex Miller.)

By the end of the book Budgie has turned from the lovable scamp of his imagination into a bitter ex-pat (albeit one who fell victim to a mysterious and serious road accident in the Middle East), pining for an England that probably never existed and certainly one that he'd not have known growing up in a Cumbrian colliery village.

You'd be waiting for a rant about political correctness if he hadn't already covered that with a typically sepia-tinged defence of his friend Andy Gray and Sky sexism furore.

Lost worlds are a theme.

It’s difficult to envisage any player in the modern era having a career to mirror Burridge’s. 30 clubs, the English and Scottish leagues from bottom to top and back again.

And difficult to imagine any player getting away with quite so many "antics" - the practical jokes, the repeated fall outs with coaches, the studs sharpened to "do" the metatarsal of an opposing centre forward - in Sky's brave new world.

Changes for the better or the worse? Budgie's not a dispassionate enough chronicler of his own life and times to answer those questions.

Including the word "legend" in the title of an autobiography, the mood of nostalgia and the residual bitterness (the lack of international recognition clearly still rankles) suggests a man that's already made up his mind about his place in the world.

He's just waiting for the rest of us to catch up with him.

Which is all a bit of a shame. Because this was a career that was extraordinary in its own way, a career marked by an ability to connect with fans that is beyond many a footballer.

And if you like your anecdotes unseasoned by subtlety there's much to enjoy here - you won't read a more self deprecating tale of a footballer losing his virginity, you might never read again of a Hibs goalkeeper riding his moped through the streets of Edinburgh, discovering too late that someone has deposited a "present" in his crash helmet.

All of that, much like a career taking in over 700 professional games but no England cap, doesn't quite satisfy.

The Budgie that's uncovered is much harder to warm to than the lovable scamp of a goalkeeper of popular memory. That might be because he's never quite learned to warm to himself.

Buy 'Budgie' at Amazon

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