Published in 1991, Frankly Speaking is a (kind of) autobiography of former Arsenal, Man Utd and Ireland striker Frank Stapleton.
Stapleton seemed to be coming to end of his career when the book came out and his international career was over having been on the fringes of the squad during Italia ’90 having previously captained the team during Euro ’88. He ended up playing four more years in the English lower leagues.
The book feels like half of an autobiography – it covers his football career with each season covered in a chapter and his club and international careers covered in separate halves of the book. It’s focus is on entirely on Stapleton’s football career with almost no discussion of his life outside of football. The version of the book I found in the library has no summary on the front or back cover, no forward, no acknowledgements or any scene setter at all. It just goes straight into his first few years at Arsenal.
One of the striking things is the amount of focus on the FA Cup over the team’s performance in the league. This seems to be partly because the FA Cup still maintained its elevated status in the game and partly because Stapleton played in five Cup finals but never in a team that competed for the league title right to the end of the season. The amount of replays in the cup is also striking. You can see why penalties were eventually preferred to so many extra games.
Stapleton rarely expresses his opinion on the various people he played or worked with outside of commenting on what they added to the team. Ron Atkinson, his manager at United is the clear exception with Stapleton being pretty critical of Big Ron’s ego, love of the media, and lack of tactical nous. His biggest praise is for coach Don Howe – a figure who seems to pop up in any biography of footballers who played in England in the 80’s and 90’s.
The material on Ireland was definitely the most interesting for me. Stapleton gives a bit more background colour on the Euro ’88 and Italia ’90 campaigns and a decent sense of Jack Charlton’s management style. I’d actually read all the most interesting bits before in the excellent ‘The Team That Jack Built’ by Paul Rowan (1994)
It’s a quick and easy read that has some interesting bits for any Arsenal, United or Ireland fan. It feels like a book from a bygone era and was designed to be read at the time, when any reader would have known the main people mentioned. It’s also the first book I’ve reviewed that I couldn’t find on Goodreads (until I added it), giving some sense of how obscure it is at this stage!