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There's only one Neil Redfearn By Neil Redfearn with Andrew Collomosse

Release date: 02nd March, 2007
Publisher: Headline Publishing

List Price: £7.99
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Strictly speaking, Neil Redfearn's biography is not a new book, but one that slipped through our review net when first published in hardback towards the end of last year. With a paperback version scheduled for publication next week, however, a review is timely, not least because of Redfearn's unique football career, one that is unlikely to be repeated or to encompass so much over such a prolonged period.

Neil Redfearn was born in 1965 and made his debut for Rotherham in February 1983; at the time, David Beckham was just seven years old, while Wayne Rooney wasn't even born.

Crucially, the Sky Television revolution was still almost a decade away, which explains Redfearn's succinct observation that "the last twenty three years have been an incredible journey for football - and for me." Those who doubt this or interpret it as a promotional line designed to sell the book need only flick through its black and white photographs and examine in detail the stadia that formed a backdrop to Redfearn's early career at Lincoln or Doncaster.

Among the usual array of snaps showing goals scored, tackles made and the obligatory picture of Redfearn with the family dog, is a striking image of the smoke plumes rising from Bradford City's Valley Parade ground in 1985 when 56 football fans were killed.

Younger readers will find it difficult to comprehend the depths to which football had plummeted by the mid-80s when even the nation's 'best' grounds were little more than filthy cattle sheds. Years of hooliganism and neglect had seen attendances fall to record post-war lows; the disasters at Bradford and later at Hillsborough represented football's nadir.

Gradually, however, things began to improve and Redfearn acknowledges this as his multi-club (14 in total), multi-manager (22 at the last count) career ran in parallel with the game's occasionally painfully slow revival.

Nonetheless, he has never forgotten that tragic day in Yorkshire in 1985: "I have never really got over it," he says. "If I close my eyes, I can still see the stand on fire, smell the acrid fumes and recall those terrible scenes." It is to Redfearn's credit that he recalls the tragedy not as a footballer on the pitch, but as an ordinary bloke conscious that his dad and other family members were in the doomed stand.

Having dealt sympathetically with the matter, it is also evident that if you manage to play professional football over nearly a quarter of a century, there are times when you will enjoy your fair share of laughter too and the book is amply littered with anecdotes of the amusing variety.

For example, he first happened upon a young Paul Gascoigne when playing for Crystal Palace and was warned by his then manager Steve Coppell not to dive into tackling the prodigy as he would simply float past defenders and "cause all sorts of problems." In keeping with his manager's instructions, Redfearn and the rest of his Palace team-mates kept their shape, forcing Gazza to seek other options.

Following a free kick, Gazza was around 30 yards out and, seeing no other options, he simply unleashed a shot that flew into the back of the net: "I'll always remember George Wood diving frantically as the ball hit the rigging," says Redfearn. "He looked like the keeper in the Morcambe and Wise sketch who launched his dive after the ball had gone in."

Thankfully, there is more laughter than despair in Neil Redfearn's tale, but if anyone needed a reminder of how far football has progressed in the last two decades, they need only read the account of his move from Joe Royle's Oldham. Several clubs were interested in taking the midfielder and Redfearn spoke with almost all of them - he didn't have time for every one because he didn't have an agent! Bear in mind he was on his seventh club by then.

How times have changed and fans wanting an inside view of how they've developed, then reading the opinions of a man Arsene Wenger once described as the 'dirtiest player in the Premiership' is as good a point to start as any.

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