Riding Shotgun

The best football autobiography of all time?

Book review : Riding Shotgun – the Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz

This is the true story of a man who achieved beyond limits, lived the highest of unexpected high lives, and who continued to search for that high once he was bucked from the bronco. Andy Bernal is perhaps not first name that springs to mind when thinking about Australian footballers who made it big overseas, having made his mark in a time just prior to the perceived Golden Generation of the Socceroos, but he has amassed a comprehensive collection of colourful stories that weave together into this marvellous journey.

The book is, in the simplest terms, the life story of an Australian football player making it overseas. The way he gets there, the obstacles overcome and the good and bad luck that forges his path through life make this much more than that simple premise. The time after retirement from playing football, when Madrid is the centre of the football world, is where the book comes into its own. The author looks back on his life still with a sense of wonder, like an excited youngster sharing the story of an amazing holiday with his eager school mates. He also underlines early on that this was a time before mobile phones and the internet, placing the reader into a different era and suggesting that simply travelling to another city or arriving in another country at the time was an adventure and a feat in itself.

The good : the pace of the story is perfect – the reader is compelled to read on as there is something sure to happen in just a few sentences time. There is no dwelling on unnecessary detail, there is almost a comedic feel to some passages that keep it light through the book’s potentially darker places. The sincere thanks expressed throughout the book suggest a humble man, one with a lot of people to acknowledge for the fantastic journey he has been on. This is also a who’s who of football and football culture in the 90s and evokes misty memories for those who lived through that time.

The not-so-good : the book assumes some level of knowledge of the scandalous UK tabloid press and its pursuit of David Beckham, and there are unexplained references to Rebecca Loos where the reader may need to do some research. There is perhaps an overload of analysis of the Real Madrid Galacticos; that does though give the author the opportunity to interject some great anecdotes into the book about each of the global superstars. There are some overly cheesy moments, Sherwood Forest, Baby Spice and Michael Jackson spring to mind. There are also some lists of people that are too long, and the story is a little out of sequence when the Beckham days come to an end. Nothing to detract though from a terrific read.

Parallels can be drawn with Tim Cahill’s autobiography in terms of structure, but this is the Bollywood version with all the colour and pizzazz that comes with rubbing shoulders with, and being heavily involved with, some of the biggest international names in football. There is a nagging feeling that there is more to tell, that we have only scratched the surface here, and that over time we will get to know more about the wild ride that Andy Bernal has been on. Rumours abound of a second book from the author about his time as a football agent to the Aussie stars, and this will hopefully present another opportunity to eke out some more of those more edgy stories that didn’t make it to print in this one.

Is this the best football autobiography of all time? You’ll have to find out. If Tony Cascarino piqued your interest, you will love this. Every reader will have a different take on stories involving racism, the police, drugs, even cyclists and referees. It will definitely touch you in some way, and it will give you an appetite for more.

Definitely a 5-star review. Get your copy from Fair Play Publishing or from the usual online retailers. You’d better be quick as it’s selling out fast!

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