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Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy

Posted on August 22, 2011 by samh

Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy and Peter Ball (1976)

Brian Glanville wrote in the preface to the original 1976 edition of this book that “Dunphy’s diary is…infinitely removed from the ‘ghosted’ pap which, with its endless banalities and disingenuousness, has so long been inflicted on us”.

But Only a Game? could also be called ‘ghosted’, as Dunphy collaborated with the journalist Peter Ball for his book. Here, though, the ghost-writer’s intervention is hard to detect – it is clear he has taken a back seat and let Dunphy’s voice tell the story.

The style is raw and loose, often following spoken rather than written forms of speech, and proves that the success of a book written in this way is largely due to the amount of charisma possessed by its subject. Dunphy is passionate, intelligent, observant and brutally frank.

Only a Game? tells of just half a season with the then second division Millwall, who begin the season with high hopes; Dunphy himself says on a number of occasions that he feels they will win promotion. However, the spirit in the camp begins to evaporate into bitter differences of opinion, which inevitably results in poor performances and mid-table mediocrity. Many footballers will empathise with Dunphy’s candid description of his bitter disappointment at being dropped from the squad and then finally leaving the club.

Dunphy also succeeds in convincing sceptics that being a football player, especially in a lower division, is not an easy life. It comes with much less security than many other jobs, and can be cut short through injury and loss of form. He makes a point that today’s footballers could do to bear in mind – that but for their skills on the pitch they would be good for nothing in the real world of work.

Ten years after his book was published Dunphy bemoaned the commercialism creeping into the game, saying: “If I were to write the book again in 1986 I think I would remove the question mark”. Perhaps, though, even if we cannot sympathise with today’s vastly overpaid primadonnas, reading Dunphy’s book will make us realise how much the “good pro” (to whom the book is dedicated), is a normal, hard-working person with responsibilities like those of anyone else; it will also go some way to warning fame and money-hungry parents into pushing their sons into such a career.

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