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Ooh Ah Stantona By Phil Stant

Release date: 25th January, 2006
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

List Price: £17.98
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Perhaps the biggest problem with publishing a biography or autobiography of someone in the sports world is how does the publisher differentiate it from the enormous volume of competition?

Sports books with established stars as their focal point tend to fly off the shelves, irrespective of their inherent quality, but such success is limited to a small band, several of whom have had their third autobiography published by the time they're thirty. Further down the pecking order, too often the combination of indifferent subject matter and poor quality writing only makes for a tedious, repetitive read.

So it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when Phil Stant arrived with his idea for an autobiography.

"You played for who?" asks the commissioning editor.
"Oh, Reading, Lincoln, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Fulham and Brighton," comes the reply.
"And you want to write every word yourself?"
"Affirmative," answers Stant.

No doubt following a prolonged pregnant pause, the editor must have thought she was faced with one of two beings: either a nutter or a can-do guy for whom writing his autobiography pales into insignificance when compared with some of the things he has had to do. Readers will be glad Stant's book got the go-ahead from his publishers.

I found no use of the word 'affirmative' in Ooh Ah Stantona as I suspect Phil Stant writes the way in which he speaks, but what I did discover was the tale of a man with a life before football who, when given the opportunity to play professionally, grabbed it with both hands.

Stant not only appreciates how lucky he has been, but he is honest enough to recount the thrill of meeting Kenny Dalglish in the corridor at Anfield, of playing up front with Kerry Dixon and of scoring his debut goal for Reading. But Stant's life before his conversion to professional football provides an absolutely compelling foundation to this book.

Like millions of others, this ex-squaddie who would 'moon' on the top of a tram shelter in Blackpool before falling off (drunk) in front of his then fianc»e dreamt of playing professional football, but he opted for army life and that was, apparently, that.

There are no airs and graces about Stant. He admits that as he and his fellow squaddies headed south on the QE2 towards the Falkland Isles and certain conflict with enemy forces, he had no idea where Sierra Leone was; their primary concern was for space as they slept in bunk beds piled three high. Upon arrival, they were more concerned about running with machine guns along the side of a ship in high seas when an attack was imminent. Not long after, days and actions became blurred.

"As the war progressed," he writes, " I soon learned that there was no time, dates or even an outside world. It was just an existence. You slept when you could, you ate when you could [because] war doesn't start at nine in the morning and finish at five at night." His later description of watching the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram being hit by enemy missiles puts playing football - or even writing an autobiography - into perspective.

Phil Stant would probably never claim to be the world's greatest writer - he isn't, but his autobiography, which contains much language which is not for the faint-hearted, is as honest an account of that one guy who, seemingly consigned to a normal life, actually broke through and lived the dream. That it was in the lower leagues doesn't matter, because as sports books go, Ooh Ah Stantona thankfully delivers something wonderfully different.


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