Reviews of Keane: The Autobiography by Roy Keane with Eamonn Dunphy (2002) and The Second Half by Roy Keane with Roddy Doyle (2014)
Whenever I read a sportsman’s second autobiography (usually published a bit after they have retired), I always like to reread their first one (usually published at peak of their carer). It can be fascinating to see how the same events or relationships are told differently with the benefit of more experience or changed dynamics. I hope to reread and write about some of my favourite double autobiographies. First up, the Manchester United and Ireland legend, Roy Keane!
Roy Keane had an exceptional playing career which combined huge achievement with equal amounts of controversy. It’s impossible to have followed English football in the 90’s and naughties and not have a strong opinion either way. For an Irish fan, it’s even harder to not to love or loathe him.
Rereading Keane: The Autobiography (2002), I’m struck by just how good the book is. It is sometimes forgotten just how good a writer the ever controversial Eamonn Dunphy is and his talents are in full display here as he captures what feels like Keane’s voice. The book was first published in August 2002 shortly after the infamous Saipan incident where Keane left the Irish team just before the 2002 World Cup and divided Ireland, and football fans, into pro and anti-Keane camps. (I was very much Team Roy). Three years on from the 1999 “Treble”, and fresh from Saipan, Keane was one of the biggest names in world football and his book garnered huge attention.
Soon attention focused heavily on a passage about Keane seeking revenge on Alfie Inge Haaland which ultimately got Keane a suspension – reading the offending passage now it would be fairly easy to overlook it, had Haaland’s career not been cut short due to the injury he suffered. By the time the second edition was published in 2003, Keane had agreed to rewrite the passage in later editions as part of his punishment from the FA.
Keane’s own rise was meteoric once it got going, progressing from playing in the 2nd Division in Ireland with Cobh Ramblers to starting in an FA Cup Final for Nott’s Forrest within 12 months. It likely took a genius like Forrest manager Brian Clough to see Keane’s true potential and throw him straight into the Forrest line up as a starter at 19.
The book paints a picture of Keane as a hard-working, hard-drinking player who couldn’t always control his temper but always gave his all on the pitch. His tolerance for anything that didn’t meet his standards was incredibly low – yet slightly hypocritical when his own drinking had to be having a damaging impact on his own game. Ultimately Keane’s year out with a cruciate ligament injury combined with growing older helped to temper his drinking and the Roy we meet in the second book has become a health freak.
Keane charts the progress of the Utd team as Fergie’s first great team merged into his second and the Class of ’92 (what an irritating brand that is) integrated with the likes of Keane and Schmeichel to form the team that would dominate English football and secure the long-awaited Champions League victory. Keane is full of praise for the talent of Giggs, Beckham and co. but by the time the second book is published he seems to also have become sick of the branded Class of ’92 with his comments on them as a collective much less warm. For any Utd fan during the 90’s the book shines an interesting light on the internal dynamics of the team and Keane is fairly open in his views on the various characters he has played with.
It also covers his Ireland career and unsurprisingly gives his version of what happened in Saipan when he left Ireland’s world cup squad just before the 2002 tournament kicked off. Probably the most criticised figure is former Ireland manager Jack Charlton (and his assistant Maurice Setters) who Keane resents for both his style of play and his self-promotion. Unsurprisingly given the timing of the book’s publication, Mick McCarthy (the Ireland manager during the Saipan incident) doesn’t fare much better. Keane at times seems to be a contradiction between a man proud to play for his country but overly loyal to his club who pay his wages, mirror his professionalism and treat him very well.
Keane’s second book The Second Half (2014) was published after Keane had begun his role as Ireland’s assistant manager. It picks up from where the first book left off and covers the remains of his playing career, his exit from United and his management days.
The insights into how he left United are interesting – it was such big news at the time. Similarly, as someone who attended a few Sunderland games during its “Irish” era, I enjoyed the behind the scenes look at his incredibly succesful first year in management.
Overall, the Keane we encounter in book 2 is more reflective and self-critical. It’s the book of someone who has struggled in their second career to match the highs of their first. It’s much less about titles and victories and more about aging, starting again and trying to build a new career.
The second book also shows that Keane now questions some of the belief’s he had throughout his earlier career and that jump out in the first book. In particular, he seems to have realised that playing through injuries was more stupid than heroic. While the second book is less effusive in its praise for Sir Alex Ferguson, Keane never lets any animosity he may feel about his exit from Man Utd impact his earlier assessment of Fergie’s greatness as a manager.
(It now seems somewhat hypocritical for Keane to fall out with Irish players for not training when injured after making these comments in the second book. One thing is for certain is that as long as Keane is in the public eye controversy will follow him).
Roddy Doyle is a great writer and, like Dunphy he also captures Keane’s voice well. It takes a few chapters to adjust to the subtly different style compared to the first book, but both feel like authentic Keane. A few anecdotes are repeated but mostly its fresh material.
Reading the two books together definitely gives a truer and more complete picture of Keane than taking either book in isolation. The energy or drive remains obvious but 2014’s Roy Keane is understandable a bit wiser and probably a bit more cynical. Overall the story is of a fascinating life of a determined figure whose achievements have been matched by controversies caused largely by the same determination and qualities that led to his success in the first place.
Both books are really well written and entertaining reads. Given my fascination with Keane I’m not the most neutral of judges but I’d highly recommend both books for any fan of football during Keane’s heyday.