Ronald Reng will be best known to English readers for ‘A Life Too Short’ his excellent and heart-breaking biography of the late Robert Enke.
Keeper of Dreams is his much lesser known first book (first translated into English at least) about the brief professional career of Lars Leese, a German goalkeeper who was catapulted from lower league German football to become a Premier League goalkeeper during Barnsley’s one season in the top flight.
Lesse looked like he had missed his chance to be a professional before, at the age of 26, getting taken on as Leverkuson’s third choice goalkeeper. A bit of luck and the right connection resulted in a surprise transfer to Barnsely where Lesse briefly became a starting Premier League goalie in only his second year as a pro.
Barnsley’s year in the top flight was in 1997/1998 – when I was 13 and utterly obsessed with football and Championship Manager. That obsession can only explain why I have vivid memories of that Barnsely team and of Lars Lesse when I can barely remember matches I watched last week.
Leese was something of a celebrity in Barnsley as the town went football crazy. In the book he is very candid with his opinions on British life and Reng captures the bemusement of a foreigner in a British town as Lesse and his wife come to really enjoy their lives there.
Keeper of Dreams is ultimately the story of a dream temporarily lived and the frustration of coming to terms with the reality that the dream ended all too soon. After eventually securing a starting spot and playing fanstically to secure a famous win at Anfield, Lesse lost his place due to illness and couldn’t get back into the team due to David Wagner’s great form. As Barnsley dropped to Division 1, John Hendrie took over from Danny Wilson and Lesse found his face no longer fit with Hendrie’s plans for the club. Released after his second year, Lesse struggled in vain to find a new club before eventually seeking normal work and stability back in Germany.
Reng is excellent at capturing the more difficult side of life in football – the personal struggle players experience behind closed doors. It is impossible to read this book now without seeing the writing of this story as part of Reng’s development as a writer and his experiences with Reng can only have helped him to so brilliantly capture the tragic story of Robert Enke in his universally admired A Life Too Short – a book I thought was just superb but am hesitating to reread and review given the sad subject matter.
Keeper of Dreams is a pretty quick and easy read that captures a fairly unique football journey and an interesting and honest character in Lars Lesse. Well worth picking up.