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Full Time
Tony Cascarino
This is the autobiography of Tony Cascarino. You know who he is. You probably remember him from high profile flops at Villa, Celtic and Chelsea, back when a seven figure fee was still headline news and came with a similarly-sized burden of expectation. You may also know him as the holder of the appearance record for the Republic of Ireland, a proud statistic that shouldn't be disregarded just because he spent a great deal of time watching Niall Quinn from the substitutes' bench. You may even be aware that the last years of his long career were set in France, playing for Marseilles and Nancy.

You are forgiven for not rushing off to Amazon. As his ghost-writer says when the idea of the book is first discussed, he's not exactly David Beckham.

That, however, is precisely why it's an utterly compelling read. In these pages, Tony Cascarino - unremarkable footballer, superficially unremarkable person - opens himself up for the world to see. The result is remarkable.

Structurally, there's nothing unusual. We begin in the present, reverse rapidly back to childhood, touch on professional debuts and suchlike, then go through it all in more or less chronological order. The difference is in the burning honesty with which the story is told. Tony Cascarino has things to get off his chest, Tony Cascarino is not doing this for the benefit of his bank balance.

If you've ever wanted to know what thoughts enter a striker's mind as he runs through on goal, you need to read this. The negative voices in Cascarino's head are an ever-present theme here, his consciousness plaguing him with doubts and exaggerated frailties even as he bears down on the keeper. Equally, if you've ever wondered how a player feels deep down when he hears bellowed, obscene abuse from his own team's supporters as he leaves the pitch after another disappointing performance, you'll find the answer here. Painfully, Cascarino exposes it all.

Crucially, he differs little from the norm. He likes a drink, but there's no sign of alcoholism. He plays cards, but without developing an obsession. He gets into a few fights, but no more than any bloke of a similar age who voluntarily goes to clubs called Rumours. His marriage fails horribly, but so do thousands of marriages. What you get here are the internal workings of an average footballer, told with none of the usual reserve and charitable editing that makes most autobiographies so dull. There are no secrets here.

Really, the revelation that he was never technically qualified to play for Ireland becomes irrelevant. There is far more interest in the minute detail of earning a living from a game that we all adore. This is not a tale from "Roy Of The Rovers". With a knee that's rapidly disintegrating and only a bottle of hair dye to keep the grey at bay, our hero is acutely aware that he has nothing whatsoever to fall back on when he finally ends his career as a player. So he keeps going - hating and loving his chosen profession in equal measure, desperately missing the two boys from his first marriage, worrying about absolutely everything, worshipped by the Nancy fans and honoured by the town.

Football is a game played by human beings. "Full Time" is a book about one of those human beings. For no more or less than that, it is magnificent. You will never look at your team's struggling centre forward in quite the same light again.

Read it. You owe him that much, I think.

Ian Grant