How Not to Be a Professional Footballer by Paul Merson

Absolutely cracking depiction of the lifestyle of a professional English footballer in and around the 1990s. Paul Merson is an Arsenal legend whose off-the-field antics were just as noteworthy as his sporting accomplishments, tho perhaps in a far different context. Merse is a larger than life figure who was as well known for his ebullient personality as for his skill. Fewer, at the time, had any notion of his problems with drinking, drugs and gambling. To his credit, he came to realize that these were addictions and voluntarily sought help: this book is as much a cautionary tale promoting addiction awareness as it is a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at his storied career.

In all honesty, Merse had already left Arsenal by the time I (finally, belatedly) became interested in the game, so he was always a part of my team’s history and not my reality. This book does a great job of making me feel a greater connection to his role as an Arsenal man, as well as the club’s pre-Wenger history. I actually bought this book for myself and the bff when it went on sale around Christmastime last year, but hadn’t had time to read it till Arsene’s announcement of resignation on 4/20 made that date a perpetual day of mourning in my household. Finally picking up How Not To Be A Professional Footballer to read in the wake of it was a lovely way to cheer myself up. Because, first and foremost, this book is hilarious. Granted, if you’re not interested in English football, some of the references might fly right on by, but I hung on every piece of Arsenal gossip that graced the pages (tho that caffeine pill! Yikes!) I also really enjoyed Merse’s blunt but never ungenerous depictions of the people around him, as well as his honesty in depicting his own shortcomings. He’s a remarkably brave man for exposing himself the way he does here, and I admire him all the more for it.

HNTBAPF might not be as celebrated a book as other sports biographies but it’s a must-read for Gooners and for any sports fans who enjoy a healthy dose of humor with their sport. I’m just grateful I had a chance to get to know an Arsenal legend better, to help incorporate more of my club’s proud and gracious history into my present.

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