When I heard that the third volume in the excellent Tales From The Vicarage series was going to consist solely of interviews, I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little disappointed. I’m obviously a little biased, having contributed a mini-memoir of my Watford-supporting life to the first volume, but I’ve also enjoyed the other personal pieces in both the previous books – not to mention Olly Wicken’s highly original short stories.
What’s more, I have my reservations about the whole concept of interviews with footballers and football managers, as I explained in my review of the recent TFTV live event. A whole book of them sounded as if it might risk being a bit, well, monotonous.
Lionel Birnie and Adam Leventhal were obviously aware of this risk, and have done their best to vary the style and pace of the 11 interviews in the book. Thus, the Sean Dyche interview is divided into themed segments (‘The Man’, ‘The Player’, etc); Adam’s encounter with Paul Furlong is interspersed with vignettes of his 14-year-old self and his hero-worship of the striker; the Ray Lewington chapter is presented entirely in the manager’s own words as he tells the stories behind the major milestones of his eventful reign.
In the days when albums were the yardstick by which musicians were judged, it was said that you should always lead with your strongest song, and Lionel and Adam have heeded that advice. The Sean Dyche interview kicks off the book and it’s a riot. Having seen Dyche at both the live TFTV events, I sort of knew what to expect, but he’s still full of surprises – I’m still struggling to reconcile what I know of the man with his newly-revealed passion for high-quality footwear. Adam’s interview reveals a great deal about a likeable, witty but also deeply serious man who, if there’s any justice, will manage England one day.
The other highlights for me were interviews with players I haven’t heard much from before: Micah Hyde, who – among other things – gives his perspective on the issues facing prospective black managers (of which he is one), and David and Dean Holdsworth, identical twins who prove to be anything but in person.
There are no duds, though I get the impression that Ronnie Rosenthal wasn’t quite as forthcoming as some of the others. Then again, his role in Hornet history is a fairly minor one, albeit important at the time. If I have a gripe (and it’s a trivial one), it’s that too many of those featured had overlapping careers at Vicarage Road. The introduction claims that these stories span 30 years, but the Holdsworths are the only ones featured who played in the 1980s (both making their debut in 1988), and then it was another few years before Furlong and Hyde appeared.
As a journalist myself, I know as well as anyone that arranging an interview isn’t quite as straightforward as picking up the phone and saying “fancy a chat?” But if there are to be future volumes of the TFTV series – and I hope there are – then I’d like to hear from a few personalities from the 70s, or even earlier. There’s one name in particular that crops up in every interview with a player who came through the youth system in the late 70s and early 80s (and the Holdsworths tell a hilarious anecdote about him here): it’s about time we heard from Tom Walley in his own words.