Paul Lake is a former Manchester City footballer, and to understand this review you have to know that I have supported Manchester City for 54 years, man and boy, as they say. Like Colin Bell, the England international who helped drive City to 3 consecutive titles in the late 60s, Paul Lake’s career was also shortened by a cruel injury, though in his case that injury struck at a very young age, so that Lake was never allowed to fulfil his potential.
In the late 80s it looked like City had a team for the future. They won the FA youth cup with Lake as captain, and with a bunch of young tyros coached by Tony Book, a player from the great years of the sixties. In 1989, with Lake playing, they beat Manchester United 5-1 in a match which they dominated completely. Then things seemed to go wrong: City spent the nineties in a struggle for survival, and ended the decade with a year in the 3rd division. The treatment of Lake by former owner Swales epitomises this decline. Swales ignored Lake’s predicament, more concerned with penny pinching than the future of a player acclaimed as the next England captain. At the first serious injury a second opinion was not sought, and the injury misdiagnosed. Lake describes his return flight from surgery in the USA cramped in the cheap seats on a jumbo jet. This incident was both psychologically and physically damaging, and Lake was never able to play again.
The title, I’m not really here is a reference to a song City fans used to chant at away matches in places like Macclesfield and Swindon: yet even at this time City would regularly fill the ground to capacity with over 30000 in Maine Road, and brought travelling fans and income to grounds all over the country. I know – I was there at Bristol Rovers, Macclesfield, Reading and Portsmouth.
Paul Lake’s autobiography, I’m not really here- a life of two halves -has been widely acclaimed as one of the best football autobiographies ever, and was Four Four Two‘s book of the year in 2011. Lake is extremely frank and honest, and willing to explore in public feelings and ideas that must have been difficult to talk about. He doesn’t dwell in self pity, and in fact his criticism of City’s ownership at the time is much less harsh than it might be: he only allocates a couple of paragraphs to an argument with Swales.
Lake is passionate about City, and about the Madchester music scene that accompanied his early years as a player. (Many of those musicians, including Oasis, were City fans.) He writes in simple clear prose, with humour, about this time, and introduces characters from the game with compassion and respect. He is not a gossip, which is perhaps a shame, if you are as obsessed about City as I am. Much of the book consists of tales from everyday life – Lake’s loving family, his mates on nights out, games, his own nervousness before a match.
In the end I’m not really here is a moving, yet very funny account of a life lived in football. In some respects the ending is happy – Lake is now ambassador for the City in the Community programme, one of the first and most impressive charities run by a football club. He does not dwell on the arthritis that blights his young life, and looks to the future with optimism and hope.
If you are a City fan – it’s a no brainer – read this book. If not – well you’d enjoy it too.