8:20pm, Heathrow Airport, July 10th 2000. I scanned the rows and rows upon magazines stacked up on the shelves. Around me, numerous other travellers bustle their way in and around the newsagent, raking their way through the masses.
Suddenly, standing out like a beacon on the red shelves, amongst the throng of other magazines, is Total Sport. It wasn't a new magazine, but I never read it before. In this particular issue lies the up and down of Stan Collymore, an interview with Murray Walker, and a feature featuring the referees of different sports (which really was quite interesting).
But the reason I'm writing this post is not the magazine itself. Rather, the suplement that came with it: sneak previews of the best sports biographies of the year. Some of the main suspects were there, with Tony Adams grabbing the headliner even here. But the most intriguing of all is the story of Garry Nelson, who was struggling to break into the Charlton team at the back end of a journeyman career. He didn't win any medals, or made big money from the sport. That made it intriguing, however: that he didn't win any medals, or made big money from football. In light of the biographies of the heroes of the time, rising and falling, it made for a fresh read, written by a writer who wrote really well to boot (pun intended).
“Hakim,” called out Uncle Jusoh. He is dressed in his grey sport jacket, replete with the light brown patch on his elbow. He points to his watch, telling me that we should be in the plane sooner rather than later.
I grabbed the magazine, and paid for it.
June 3rd 2007. I walked through the selections available at Borders in Queensbay Mall, Penang. Having bought tickets to watch The Last Mimzy (Buddhist propaganda for kids), me and my cousins killed time inside the bookshop, flicking through the pages of wisdom at will. We had dispersed the moment our feet was set inside, and I found myself strolling the sports section.
I crouched, finding the football books on the lower shelves. There, my eyes passed over the usual suspects: biographies of John Terry, Robbie Fowler, another book on Ronaldo, a ghostwritten one about Rooney, and then, arresting my eye movement...Garry Nelson.
I froze, a feeling of deja vu washing over me again. At once, I am transported back to seven years ago in the airport. It's funny, how certain things are ably recalled at the moment's notice, though for the most part, not with the most intentional of intentions.
I pulled it out. It has been defined as a 'classic' by its publisher, which meant that it is reprinted in a new 'classic line'. Most importantly, the price tag was incredibly affordable (RM30). I've always thought that the book business shouldn't be a business to begin, a stance of principle that believes knowledge should be made available to all. It should be freely given, and not dispensed according to the weight of your wallets.
Nevertheless, this marks a moment of slight dilemma for me. The heart tells me to grab it, to finally put the ghost of that episode at rest and find out once and for all the intrigue that is Garry Nelson. The non superstar, skint footballer who spends half his time on the treatment table rather than on the pitch. The head tells me to save that money for the bus home.
No prizes for guessing which won that particular argument.
I bought the book, and finished it within two days.
Is it the best book that I have ever read? Perhaps not. It certainly didn't influence me the way that Matthew Stover's 'Traitor' did. But what it did do was to open my eyes wider to the world of football. Or rather, the world that is the relegation battling, financial shoe string surviving, wondering whether you're you'll be given another contract, and whether that contract would be enough to ensure that your family of four would be able to survive through the year, let alone for life.
In between, there are games of football. But in truth, Garry Nelson's Left Foot Forward is not about the tale of a footballer. It is the story of a man, just like any one of us, who lives his life in a surreal world (or vice versa).
Perhaps for once, they are right.
Good things do come to those who wait.