Gregg hits the right note with tales of punk rock and football

Nick Hornby crafted such a brilliant piece of work with the groundbreaking Fever Pitch in 1992 that any subsequent attempts to write about football matches, social history and self-discovery in an autobiographical format were bound to suffer through comparison.

Yet Chelsea fan Al Gregg has made the idea work for him with The Wrong Outfit, a story of growing up in Britain in the 1970s written with two major reference points: football and punk rock.

Gregg has set out his tale as a novel but one which is strongly autobiographical, featuring a central character, Adam Nedman, who shares the author’s own passion for Chelsea Football Club and for the rebelliously coarse new musical genre that became the soundtrack of the era.

Born in the shadow of Stamford Bridge, into a Chelsea supporting family, Gregg was destined almost from birth to develop a strong bond with the club.  It was a time very different from now, of course.  After Gregg had witnessed the likes of Peter Osgood, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, David Webb and Peter Houseman in the flesh for the first time, the glamour of a second Wembley final in two years -- against Stoke for the 1972 League Cup -- proved only to be the losing prelude to 25 years of under-achievement and near-extinction.

Yet the troubles to come, and in particular the hooliganism that would blight the club’s name, made Chelsea in some ways the perfect fit for the angry and frustrated young men drawn into the punk explosion during its genesis years in West London.

Revisiting those days through a kind of chronological diary of Adam’s growing up, Gregg relives his own experiences and takes the reader into his world with a raw closeness.

Gregg told The Sports Bookshelf: “I wanted to tell an exciting rites of passage tale about the trials and tribulations of growing up in the UK in the 1970s, when both punk rock and football were to the fore and playing a massive part in my adolescence.

“Supporting Chelsea in the 1970s and 80s was seen by many as a thankless existence, due to the ever-present violence and complete lack of success on the pitch.

“But football, in particular, had a huge influence on my life and I felt it would be interesting to recount experience at football matches viewed through the eyes of a child, rather than the now almost-clichéd views of a football hooligan.”

Gregg wrote a short story about his first football match, between Chelsea and Huddersfield Town, and another about his first punk rock concert, as a 15-year-old, when he went to see The Clash.  It was these stories that gave him the impetus to write more.

“The book took a few more years to complete with the addition of the other crucial elements: the dysfunctional home life, a failed schooling, making friends and relationships with the wrong people and forming a punk band that couldn’t play.

“There are many autobiographical elements, but having a main character allowed me to have some distance from the events taking place, however personal and factual, and to comment through a separate voice.”

Football and punk might not seem to have much in common, but Chelsea’s proximity to King’s Road, still at the heart of fashion and pop culture, led to inevitable overlaps.

“I remember a time when I bumped into the Sex Pistols outside Westwood’s shop in the King’s Road after visiting Stamford Bridge in 1977 and witnessing a full-blown riot between punks and teds,” Gregg recalled.

“And there was a punk band called Chelsea who supported The Jam in a pre-season music event at Stamford Bridge, when I childishly wondered if some of the players might be punks.  Also, the very first punk single, ‘New Rose’ by The Damned, was advertised in the Chelsea programme.

“When I went to see The Clash in my first punk gig at the age of 15.  I looked at it as rather like going to a football match in that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones would become important musical heroes to go alongside my football ones.

“In some ways, going to a punk concert in the 1970s was like being on the football terraces in that there were the same elements of excitement, aggression, rawness and the passion of the music.

“I think it was Stamford Bridge’s coincidental proximity to the King’s Road, and the explosion of punk around it, that led me to become a musician in punk bands such as The Wall and afterwards to train as a professional actor and eventually to become a writer.”

The title of the book stems from the use of the word ‘outfit’ to identify the tribe a young person belonged to, be it a band, a group of football supporters or a childhood gang.

“I chose The Wrong Outfit as the title because there was widespread feeling among a whole generation that they didn’t really belong and they were repeatedly told by those in authority that they were always wrong,” Gregg said.

“The book’s cover, showing a child in pyjamas wearing a policeman’s helmet with his eyes blanked out, was taken when I was seven.”

Gregg turned to acting in the mid-80s after his band split and has appeared in Eastenders, Casualty, The Bill and Inspector Alleyn among other shows.  He continued to work in the music industry and combined his writing and musical skills when he co-wrote and composed the music for the play, Reality Chokes, which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009.

The Wrong Outfit has been well received by Chelsea supporters and by former stars of the punk era.  In the words of Dave Parsons, one of the founders in 1976 of the band Sham 69: “If you want to know what it was like to be a young punk rocker on the ground at the time you won’t find a better or sharper book than this.”

Follow this link to buy The Wrong Outfit direct from Amazon

Browse more books on football



Paul Lake book signings

I’m Not Really Here, the autobiography of injury-ravaged ex-Manchester City star Paul Lake, has received rave reviews for the eloquent telling of a painfully poignant story.

This week, Paul embarks on a promotional tour in the Manchester area, where he will meet fans and sign copies of his book, published by Century.

Paul will begin with a formal signing session at the City of Manchester Stadium this Thursday (August 25th), from 3-5pm, and will be at the Market Street City Store in the Arndale Centre on Friday (August 26th), again between 3pm and 5pm.

On Saturday (August 27th), he will be signing copies of the book at WH Smiths in the Trafford Centre.

The following Saturday (September 3rd), he has a 2-4pm session planned for Waterstone’s in Stockport and there are further dates lined up for Simply Books in Bramhall, Stockport on Saturday, October 15th (11am) and Costco Barton Dock on Saturday, October 22nd (12 noon).

Read more about I'm Not Really Here

Buy I'm Not Really Here direct from Amazon.

Browse more football books.



Poignant tale of the player who might have been Manchester City's greatest star

By Jon Culley

It takes a rare strength of character to come back from the dark places that Paul Lake knows.

Pain, frustration, devastation, despair: these were the experiences that defined his career.  It should not have been that way.  A brilliantly gifted and enormously versatile footballer, he was captain of Manchester City at 21 and tipped to be a future captain of England.

It all went wrong just as everything seemed to be going so right.  Only 11 days after Howard Kendall had given him the armband at City, Lake ruptured the cruciate ligament in his right knee in a match against Aston Villa at Maine Road.  He was not to know at the time, but it was effectively the end.

In the event, it took five years to reach that point; five years of misdiagnosis, critical delays, false hopes, multiple operations, poor aftercare, depression and defeat.  Lake retired in 1996, feeling worthless and let down, to some degree a broken man, aged 27.

Yet he did drag himself back from the depths to which he fell and now he has told his story.  I’m Not Really Here (Century) climbed to the top of Amazon’s sports bestsellers in little more than a week since publication and acclaimed by reviewers as an outstanding autobiography.

Written with the help of Paul’s wife, Joanne, it charts the ordeal of the injury, the unravelling of ambition and the desperation and breakdown that followed with no detail spared.  Yet it is not a story of bitterness or self-pity, more of humility and humanity. Greed and self-obsession are not characteristic of every footballer.

Lake’s injury was so badly handled it took two years for City to send him to the specialist surgeon in the United States who might have cured him had he seen Lake sooner.  When he finally accepted the inevitable he found that the medical records held by the club had been shredded.

He had been forced to sell his house because, with his income practically halved by the lack of appearance and win bonuses, he could not keep up the mortgage payments.  He was advised to sue.

Had he been successful, he could have set himself up financially for life. Yet, remarkably, he declined to do so. He had been and still was a besotted City fan at heart, for all that individuals within the club -- of whom the late chairman, Peter Swales, bears the brunt of his anger -- had let him down.  To have taken money from them in those circumstances, however justified, would have felt like betrayal.

Instead, he settled for a testimonial match, to which Sir Alex Ferguson sent a full Manchester United team, acknowledging the loss to the game of a talent he had witnessed first hand in 1989 when a City side inspired by Lake thrashed United 5-1 and handed Ferguson a rare humiliation.

And he went to college, training as a physiotherapist, then finding work at Macclesfield, Bolton and Burnley.  City’s move away from Maine Road helped him move on, too.  Nowadays, he is an ambassador for City’s community project and attends the Etihad Stadium as a matchday host, something he could not have contemplated at the old ground, which had been tarnished by bad memories.

Were he a member of today’s City team -- and a player of his talent would have been a shoo-in even with the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero for competition -- he would be living the opulent lifestyle of a £100,000-a-week Premier League star.

But there is no bitterness. “It has never been about money for me,” he said recently. “I’ve got a semi- detached house in Stockport with my wife and my kids, I’m back working for the club I love and I couldn’t be happier.”

Thoughtful and thought-provoking, the book has moments of humour, too, not least in the title and cover, which are at the same time funny and poignant.  The cover illustration shows the pre-season team picture from 1995. Lake had not played for three years yet was still asked to take his place in the line-up, despite insisting to the photographer: ‘I’m not really here.’ The picture is in the form of a jigsaw puzzle, with one a piece missing.

"It's the best book I've read for a long time...beautifully, powerfully written...a must-read for any fan of football" --Oliver Holt, Daily Mirror

I'm Not Really Here: A Life of Two Halves is published by Century

Click on the title to buy from Amazon

Browse more football books



Man who ate all the pies restores the appetite for football too

Who ate all the pies? Tom Dickinson, in fact: one at each of the 92 Premier and Football League grounds. He assessed the merits of them all and has written a book about them.  But Jeremy Culley found there is more to 92 Pies than a gourmet’s guide to match-day snacks…

With contemporary English football frequently tarnished by accusations that it has become too much of a commercial exercise, weighed down by the inflated wages paid to Premier League stars, many people have questioned whether the game has lost touch with its audience.

Tom Dickinson is one of those people. Stuck in the uncomfortable interim between graduating university and commencing a career, a throwaway comment made on a casual night in would cost him thousands of pounds and a year of his life.

Bolton-supporting Dickinson insisted he could watch a football match at all 92 league grounds during the 2008-09 season, eating a pie at each one, so a friend would admit that Sam Allardyce is a ‘misunderstood tactical genius’.

This book, 92 Pies, chronicles this adventure with humour and anecdote, with each city and stadium, from Plymouth to Carlisle, given a quick review from an outsider’s perspective.

On his considerable journey, Dickinson found football’s traditional virtues to be alive and well, although all too often missing amid the glitz and glamour of the Premier League. Rather, he was more often charmed by lower league venues such as Morecambe’s Christie Park and Bradford City’s Valley Parade, than the state-of-the-art arenas where the world’s best regularly parade.

92 Pies not only intelligently analyses the state of the English game, and the relationship between the fans and clubs, but also offers an endearing insight into a mind of a young man clearly obsessed with the game and its social contexts.

Any football fan would empathise with the sentiments expressed by Dickinson, making this book compelling reading, not least to see what the Hertfordshire-born author makes of your club, but also to restore your faith in the game.

92 Pies is published by Blackline Press

Buy 92 Pies direct from Amazon.

Browse more football books at The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



What's New: this week's new titles in sports books

August 1-7 2011: by Jon Culley

I'm Not Really Here

Paul Lake was a brilliantly gifted Manchester City player earmarked as a future England captain when he snapped the cruciate ligament in his right knee at only 21.  He underwent surgery 15 times but his treatment and rehabilitation were often poorly managed and after six nightmare years in which breakdown followed every attempted comeback, his first marriage collapsed, he suffered financial problems and clinical depression, he was forced to retire.  Lake tells his story with sometimes harrowing candour but without bitterness in a biography already hailed as outstanding.

Published by Century (August 4)

The Smell of Football

Engaging story of Mick ‘Baz’ Rathbone, who rose from awe-struck apprentice at Birmingham to become a decent journeyman pro and ultimately one of football’s most respected physios.  Honest, candid and not always complementary, particularly over the way young players were treated at St Andrew’s.

Published by Vision Sports Publishing (July 26)

Sky Sports Football Yearbook 2011-2012

The ‘Wisden’ of football, the bible of the statistically minded fan, the fat, blue chronicle of the game is rolled out for the 42nd time after another year of meticulous recording, checking and updating of facts and figures by former journalist Jack Rollin and his daughter Glenda, who gave up her job as a legal secretary to work full time on her father’s annual opus.

Published by Headline (August 4)


Where's Your Caravan?: My Life on Football's B-Roads

Chris Hargreaves was a youth team player at Everton but never made it at the top level, plying his football trade in the lower divisions for 20 years, not pulling a caravan but because of his preference for shoulder length hair attracting the taunts of opposition supporters who assumed he must live in one.  This autobiography follows his trail, which ends with him reaching the top, after a fashion, by scoring a goal in a winning team at Wembley.

Published by The Friday Project (August 4)


My Liverpool Home

Kenny Dalglish’s latest biographical story of his life and enduring love affair with Liverpool Football Club, an emotional tale of highs and lows spanning his time as player and manager,  is updated in paperback to take in his return to management at Anfield in 2010-11.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton (July 21)


No Smoke, No Fire: The Autobiography of Dave Jones

Paperback version of Dave Jones’ candid and painful story of the ordeal the former Southampton manager had to endure after he was falsely accused of sexual abuse while working at a care home on Merseyside after he had retired from playing. The allegations cost him his job and, he believes, hastened the death of his father. Yet he has rebuilt his career. Skilfully ghosted by journalist Andrew Warshaw.

Published by Pitch Publishing (August 1)


No Glossing Over It: How Football Cheated Leeds United
A third book by writer and sometime painter and decorator Gary Edwards, a man so devoted to Leeds United and so scornful of Manchester United that he refuses to paint anything red and offers a discount to customers who ask him to paint red things white.  No Glossing Over It charts more than 40 years in which no success for Leeds has ever healed the scars of perceived injustice.

Published by Mainstream (August 4)


32 Programmes

Dave Roberts, author of The Bromley Boys, relocates to the United States under orders to whittle down his collection of 1,134 football programmes to the number he can fit inside a Tupperware container the size of a Dan Brown hardback, which turns out to be 32.  The story behind each selection effectively tells the story of his life, from ‘youthful football obsession tocrushes on disinterested girls, rubbish jobs and trying to impress skinheads.’

Published by Bantam Press (August 4)


Cyrille Regis: My Story

Paperback version of the autobiography of footballer Cyrille Regis, from growing up in racially divided London in the 1960s as a French Caribbean immigrant, through his development as a semi-professional and then professional footballer, culminating in  and his selection for England and being awarded an MBE for his services to the game and the community.

Published by Andre Deutsch (August 4)


Savage!: The Robbie Savage Autobiography

Paperback edition of the insightful memoirs of football’s most famous pantomime villain. Robbie Savage came through Manchester United’s football school with David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville only to be told he was not good enough to graduate. Yet he fought back to build a successful career and become a love-him-or-loathe-him figure. Co-written by Janine Self.

Published by Mainstream (August 4)


The Man With Maradona's Shirt

Steve Hodge, who managed to put bitterness aside to swap shirts with Diego Maradona at the end of the ‘Hand of God’ match at the 1986 World Cup and still owns the little number 10’s blue and white top, recalls that game and other episodes from football in the 1980s and early ‘90s in this paperback edition.

Published by Orion (August 4)


Gareth Bale: The Biography

Author Frank Worrall’s sixth football biography and the first whose subject does not play for Manchester United, this one tracks the story of Tottenham and Wales wing back Gareth Bale from his schooldays to the Champions League.  Worrall has written three other books with a Manchester United theme, including a biography of Sir Alex Ferguson.  Giggsy, his take on the Ryan Giggs story, came out earlier this summer.

Published by John Blake Publishing (August 1)


Robin Van Persie: The Biography

Robin van Persie has had to live with high expectations ever since Arsene Wenger signed him in 2004 as the man to step into Dennis Bergkamp’s shoes. Then he was asked to lead the Arsenal line following the departure of Thierry Henry.  Injuries have blighted his progress but he has still delighted Arsenal fans with his creativity and intelligence.  Young journalist Andy Lloyd-Williams tells the Dutchman’s story.

Published by John Blake Publishing (August 1)


Swansea City 2010/2011: Walking on Sunshine

Swans fans will enjoy reliving the story of their team’s ascent from the Championship to the Premier League, via the drama of the end-of-season play-offs, as told by Swansea and Welsh football historian Keith Haynes.

Published by The History Press (August 1)