In Review: Mark Ward: From Right-Wing to B-Wing
Filed: Monday, 15th June 2009
By: Tim Sansom
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Mark Ward’s autobiography can act as the hangover cure to these dreams of footballing excess...
Even though we like to buy them, we often discover that a number of books from football stars, have been nothing more than an effortless list of which cup did they win and when they gained their international caps. I am convinced that some fans think that being a footballer means a simple journey from the school team to the punditry studio via county trials, a procession of clubs leading to a top four Premier League outfit, a collection of international caps, a World-cup winning goal, management glory, and retirement by the pool in a Hertfordshire mansion.
Mark Ward’s autobiography can act as the hangover cure to these dreams of footballing excess. It is difficult for us to believe that football is nothing more than the WAG culture, but this book is required reading for fans to help us realise that not all footballers have strolled off into the sun screaming that they are “millionaires!” These pages make for eerie, often uncomfortable, but utterly compelling reading.
When I was getting used to a remote control in my childhood days, I can remember many wet Sunday afternoons being filled with a 1970s disaster movie on the TV. Whether it was The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure or the Airport disaster movies, these blockbusters would follow a similar plot line. You knew what would eventually happen, but you were still gripped as the tension was slowly built up by a serious of seemingly mundane events over the proceeding hours.
We all knew that the Hollywood A-Listers, such as Steve McQueen, Gene Hackman, and Paul Newman would be going about their daily business before all hell would break loose when the boat sank, the tower block collapsed in a ball of fire, or the aeroplane bomber pressed the trigger. This plot line is played out in this book, although this tension is begun in the present.
Mark Ward’s introduction begins in the prison van as he is driven past Goodison Park on the way to HMP Liverpool Walton. He has pleaded guilty for dealing in cocaine. He hears the news report from Radio City and the shame oozes from the pages.
Because we know how this book will end, the subsequent journey through Ward’s career from his humble upbringing in Huyton in very poignant. We journey through his total devastation after being rejected by his beloved Everton in 1981, through the restoration of his confidence at non-league Northwich Victoria. It is an emotional experience, but Ward tells the tale with refreshing honesty. Mark Ward was a young footballer trying to realise his dream as a professional footballer while holding down a part-time job in the local bakery. You could never suggest that this player had everything given to him on a silver spoon.
Ward's big break slowly happens at Oldham Athletic, then a significant move to West Ham. We get an interesting insight into life at Upton Park during the mid 1980s. It is obviously that Ward has the utmost respect for John Lyall, as well as the key Hammers stars of the period including Alvin Martin and Alan Devonshire. As the story is told, certain tales provide warning lights for the future. There is a sense that whilst West Ham are achieving their highest league place finish (to date,) Ward’s lifestyle was certainly manic on certain days, and often totally out of control on occasions.
As well as John Lyall, Mark Ward’s respect for Howard Kendall jumps out of this book. Unlike in some football books where the manager is given a slight begrudging name check, Ward does not skimp on his tributes. You sense that with the benefit of hindsight that he is writing with a sense of guilt about what happens to him, after periods at Manchester City, Everton, Birmingham City and a slow descent through non league clubs, to some teams that seem to resemble nothing more than the most dodgy of Sunday morning pub teams. After failed business ventures, and a journey into a typhoon of betting and drinking, Mark Ward becomes involved in an agreement to rent a house that became a drugs stash for an associate.
Like the ‘disaster’ in the disaster movie, or the marathon runner reaching the wall in a race, rock bottom is reached for Mark Ward as he realises that everything has collapsed around him. An Evertonian policeman arrests one of his footballing idols, and a spell around various jails in the North West of England awaits in the coming years.
What is refreshing is that the book does not collapse into a corny soap opera storyline full or recrimination and easy-on-the-eye storylines. We get an interesting but graphic insight into Liverpool’s Walton jail, and Ward’s slow and graphic realisation about what happened to him. We feel the sense of claustrophobic isolation in the prison cell, and the attempts to fit in with prison culture. In the final chapters, we are told the nervous meeting of Howard Kendall, Duncan Ferguson and Ward in the prison’s visitor quarters. It is easy to sense the shame and guilt of Ward at this meeting.
Those 1970s disaster movies usually ended with someone like Charlton Heston managing to land the plane in a fog bound airport (which was usually in Miami or New York) with the whole of the fuselage in tatters, or the survivors of the sunken ship making an effortless journey to the lifeboats to make a heroic return to the port. It is difficult to know if Ward’s life is back on the straight and narrow like those movies. He was due to be released on Monday 11th May 2009, and must be in the early weeks of acclimatisation, but he has written this book which is a sobering but an essential tale of a footballer’s life, which must have been difficult to tell.
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