You Don’t Know Me, But: A Footballer’s Life
By Clarke Carlisle
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Along with most of the football-loving population, I have a natural scepticism when it comes to player autobiographies. Like the ‘True Scotsman’, they tend to be all bluster and skirt, with nothing underneath. Messrs Keane and Bellamy aside, few footballers are daring enough to name and shame their fellow professionals, and understandably so. With so many players extending their careers in football through coaching and media work, burning bridges at retirement is to be avoided like the plague. There is, however, another kind of honesty, one that doesn’t play on scandal but instead offers genuine insight into the realities of footballing life. Clarke Carlisle’s You Don’t Know Me, But is a winning example of this. Touching on everything from finances to dressing room politics via addiction, depression and racism, it’s a real breath of fresh air in a fusty genre.
In many ways, Carlisle is an atypical member of the footballing fraternity. He’s won two rounds of Countdown, presented documentaries on racism and depression, and he’s the former Chairman of the PFA. While it’s not the main focus of the book, Clarke’s cerebral side is still given plenty of platform, particularly in ‘Part of the Union’, one of the book’s stand-out chapters. Discussing FIFA’s response to racism, Carlisle argues, ‘There is a disgusting disparity between the sanctions imposed for offences that will cost the governing body money and those that are unethical or immoral.’ He goes on to add, ‘It is not the exclusive remit of black players to fight racism, it is for everyone to fight.’ Carlisle is equally eloquent and forthright on the subject of his own alcohol dependency and depression, brought on by a bad injury at the tender age of 21. ‘I didn’t have the wherewithal to face my responsibilities. From my warped and clouded viewpoint, all I could see was myself.’ Carlisle reflects on his troubled past with the frank assessment of a man who is very aware of his fortunate position.
But in other ways, Carlisle is incredibly typical. As with Tony Cascarino’s Full Time, You Don’t Know Me, But… is written by a footballer who has been through the English leagues, experiencing both great highs and great lows. Blackpool, QPR, Burnley, Preston, Northampton, York City – Carlisle is no superstar and he knows it. In his own words, he’s ‘a kid from Preston, from the humblest of beginnings and with moderate ability’. The modest, unaffected narrative voice is a really appealing feature; for all his more high-brow aspirations, Carlisle is full of the joys of the ‘playground’ banter that brings a team together: ‘It’s incredibly immature, but the whole working environment of football is.’ Whole chapters are dedicated to pranks, fights, preseason tours and Christmas parties. The tone of the book reflects the combination in Carlisle’s character brilliantly, blending his intelligent observations with cruder touches of humour.
The structure of You Don’t Know Me, But… is also a real masterstroke and key to the book’s success. What better way to address the harsh realities of football than by showing a former Premier League player scrapping for a living in the belly of League Two? Carlisle’s present day trials and tribulations, interwoven with flashbacks to a career of success and failure, paint a very powerful portrait of an average football career. Transport, housing, bills; these are still everyday concerns for all but the very top players, and even then, there is always the danger of the good life being whipped out from under your feet when you least expect it.
It seems an odd phrase to use for a footballer’s autobiography, but You Don’t Me, But… is a multi-faceted memoir. In its candid handling of mental health issues, so long a taboo in the macho sporting arena, it’s a significant addition to books by the likes of Sol Campbell, Keith Gillespie and of course Ronald Reng. But Carlisle’s book also addresses some of the key issues of modern football politics and, perhaps most significantly of all, offers everyday details from the largely everyday career of an endearingly everyday footballer.