First Among Unequals – Viv Anderson
Viv Anderson, as we all know, was the first black player to turn out for the England first team so you’d expect his biography to be a tale of personal redemption and inner dignity in the face of the monkey-whoopers and banana-throwers – A Rangy Lope To Freedom, if you will.
If that’s what you’re looking for, First Among Unequals is going to disappoint you. The struggles depicted here are more to do with knackered ankles and the frustration of going to two World Cups and not kicking a ball in either rather than a glass ceiling. A consummate professional to the end, Anderson tosses away the race element as early as page 11, while pointing out that his parents’ achievements of holding a family together in 1950s Nottingham were far more important than turning out for a friendly against Czechoslovakia.
Some might construe that as a missed opportunity, but when you’ve got stories to tell about Brian Clough preparing for the second leg of the European Cup tie with Liverpool by telling his players “You know that sign – the one you see when you run out of the pitch that says ‘This Is Anfield’ – well so fucking what?”, through to Paul Gascoigne being subbed by Middlesbrough after a nightmarish 30 minutes because he’d worked his way through half a crate of Red Bull, social history tends to fall by the wayside.
Anderson worked under some of the most prominent managers of his era and he teases out new anecdotes for all of them. Probably the most interesting one concerns Clough and Peter Taylor. While legend has it that the two never spoke again after the latter came out of retirement to manage Derby County, Anderson reveals that he and Mark Proctor turned down a loan offer to Derby, leading to Clough marching them to Taylor’s house. Once there, the former duo told them they were nipping out and didn’t return for ages, leaving Proctor and Anderson to find their own way to the nearest village for a cab.
Anderson’s career was strangely repetitious: he was always there at the start of big things for whichever club he moved to, but it was only at Forest where he managed to reap the benefits. By the time the European champions squad splinters, Viv is on his way to Arsenal, where he finds himself tied with rope to the rest of the Gunners’ back four so they all went in the same direction, getting battered with George Best and Simon Le Bon in Tramps (only for the former to announce at 5am that he was getting married that day), and Liverpool are winning everything.
When Fergie comes a-calling, he’s watching in astonishment in the changing room as Michael Knighton pulls out an extra-large kit and demands to lead the team out, having to deal with John Fashanu ringing up his wife and convincing her to tell the press that they’re having an affair for some easy chequebook journalism money, and Arsenal are winning the League. By the time he’s at Middlesbrough, he’s having an affair with a nightclub manager and his wife has had all his possessions dumped on the training ground, and Man Utd are winning everything.
As the book winds up – with a stinging rebuke of Forest for crapping on his plans of a charity match to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his groundbreaking achievement – you discover that what you expected to be a tale of a player fighting to throw off the shackles of prejudice turns out to be a very readable account of My Rather Brilliant Career. And that in itself is cause for celebration.