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Willie Irvine: Together Again

Release date: 06th October, 2005
Publisher: Sports Books

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £11.87
You Save: £6.12 (34%)
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Anyone seeking a sensible antidote to the general air of unreality which surrounds players at the World Cup should read this absolutely compelling autobiography of a ex-footballer who's life took a dramatic turn for the worse at a time when he literally had the world at his feet.

For people of a certain age in Burnley, Willie Irvine is a legend. He possessed a passion for football and a gift for goal-scoring, rising rapidly through the ranks with some spectacular displays in the lower sides of what was then one of England's top club teams.

When Irvine was persuaded to write his autobiography by Dave Thomas, a Burnley fanatic who has gained a reputation for his witty and erudite chronicling of the club and the town, I suspect he did not realise what a cathartic and exhilarating exercise it would be. The two have produced an astonishing and outstanding tale of a footballer who not only reached the highest of highs, but also plummeted to the lowest of lows.

Football in the 1960s was no picnic. The brutality of the game, with its mud-clogged pitches, brutal tackling and arrogant management is wonderfully evoked. Many of the teams Burnley played during this period merely tried to kick them off the park.

The text is littered with vivid descriptions of encounters that would not be out of place in a war context. One particular Fairs Cup tie in Naples in 1967 defies belief and the duels with Leeds confirm the status of Don Revie's team as one of the most vicious in history.

But what raises this autobiography from the very good to the outstanding is the description of Irvine's life outside football. The first few chapters, which deal with growing up in the appropriately named hamlet of Eden, a few miles outside Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, are filled with humour and a zest for life. Nevertheless, most readers will find they have a lump in their throat when Irvine's mother, the indefatigable Agnes, is imprisoned in 1952 for claiming benefits she was not entitled to in order to feed and clothe her large brood.

Following his football career (Irvine's leg was broken during an FA Cup tie with Everton), the heartache becomes even more acute.

He starts a DIY business in Burnley, which, although initially successful, is plagued by a series of unfortunate events, mostly involving individuals preying on Irvine's good nature. The business goes bust and he is left £44,000 in debt. He plumbs the depths of despond and his subsequent suicide attempt and cathartic rise through evening youth work and a window cleaning round is both poignant and uplifting.

What gives the book its title, 'Together Again', is a running commentary at the start of some of the chapters, a novel device which can be termed "flash-forward" rather than "flashback". Whilst writing the book Irvine attempts to discover the truth about his mother and her family. Though his search for the truth was unfulfilled by the time it was finished, some of the revelations about his mother and siblings are astonishing.

Add to the mix some revelations about George Best (Irvine roomed with Best on Northern Ireland trips) and a quirky sense of humour and what you are left with on finishing this book is a warm glow, a sense of a life fulfilled and superbly chronicled. "Have I done all right?" Irvine continually asks his sons. Emphatically, yes.

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