Full Time: The Secret Life of Tony Cascarino
By Tony Cascarino with Paul Kimmage
Simon & Schuster, 2000
No offence to Tony Cascarino but a true superstar could not – and would not – have written Full Time. Honesty and humanity, which are the book’s greatest strengths, are native to the seasoned grafter with a knowledge of both success and failure. Cascarino is an expert on both sides of the coin. He might have been an early million pound man who played in 2 World Cups and the top divisions of England, Scotland and France, but he also started out as a hairdresser, spent nine years in the lower tiers of the football league and then at least three more failing to live up to great expectations. So there are few better placed to offer a candid insight into all aspects of the beautiful – and not so beautiful – game.
‘We drive flash cars and wear flash suits and behave like flash pop stars; and we shape and mould the truth about our lives and present ourselves as shiny, happy people in the pages of Hello.’ As a glimpse behind the glamorous façade of football, Full Timeis equal parts entertaining and sobering. Remote and remorseful in his end-of-career exile, ‘Cass’ is quick to acknowledge he’s a somewhat negative tour-guide. ‘Careers in football are like divorces’, he tells us, ‘there are few happy endings – they always end up bad.’ The striker’s memoir is as much about the mistakes made and the secrets kept as it is about the goals scored. In his own words, ‘In football, it’s not what you are but what you appear to be that counts.’ Nothing’s really changed.
What Full Time conveys brilliantly is the ups and downs of a life in football, from game to game but also from second to second. There are the moments of feeling ‘bulletproof’ as one of the kings of Jack Charlton’s Ireland in the early 1990s, eating and drinking without caution, winning big in card schools and sneaking back into hotel rooms after nights with female fans. But there are also the moments when the aches add up and the doubt creeps in: ‘For as long as I can remember, there has been a little voice in my head that highlights my weaknesses and undermines my confidence.’ Cass knows more than most strikers about loss of form and the tough mental battle to regain it. ‘Becoming a multi-million pound player was the worst thing that ever happened to me’ is a pretty powerful statement to make.
Paul Kimmage does a fantastic job of finding a suitable tone for the book, blending the cruder style of footballing banter with the more elegant prose of reflection and regret. An anecdote about throwing Phil Babb’s skid-marked pants to hysterical groupies is followed by ‘The craving we have to be someone. The magnetic lure of fame.’ The book’s closing line – ‘We win, we lose, the manager bangs the table. But we answer to ourselves’ – is worthy of great literary fiction. In weaving the contemporary French strand through the telling of the past, Kimmage maximises the poignancy of a man looking back at the twilight of his career.
Full Time’s original selling point was the scandal surrounding Cascarino’s false Irish heritage. Nearly fifteen years on, in a world where Adnan Januzaj could have chosen to play for England, it seems one of the book’s least intriguing angles. Instead, it’s the personal indiscretions that engross, and Cascarino’s heart-felt desire to make amends for them. Now living with his second wife and their daughter after a painful and drawn-out separation, Cass is no saint and he knows it. But in the renaissance of his own father and the indifference of his two sons, he has the best inspirations for redemption. Why should you read Full Time? In Cascarino’s own wise words, ‘Because there’s more to football than the ninety minutes of a game and more to the people that play it than a 5 in the ratings.’