Sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll is not what springs to mind when thinking of English football’s one-time golden child. Mark Eglinton certainly did not envisage one day crunching up Owen’s drive in Cheshire to chronicle the footballer’s life story when watching the teenager score his first European goal for Liverpool in a 2-2 draw at Celtic in 1997.
Owen didn’t stop scoring for years afterwards. Some of them I also saw with my own eyes, including the slaloming run for England against Argentina on a wild, sweaty night in St Etienne and a hat-trick against Newcastle when he debuted that rubbing hands celebration that became his trademark. As revealed in Reboot: My Life, My Time, this was a reference to one of Jamie Carragher’s scally mates who had visited the team hotel earlier to pick up some tickets.
Except on occasions when he came up against Scottish teams, such as the Euro 2000 play-off 20 years ago, for most Scots it was a case of grudging admiration from afar. Owen was the type of player Scotland would kill for then, as now. But he was also hard to completely take to – and hard to imagine producing a truly entertaining book.
The reaction to Reboot confirms this to be bunkum. A wince-inducing chapter explaining why he suffered all the hamstring issues waylaying his career is not the only place where we get under the subject’s skin.
Owen gently spears Alan Shearer for being a bit of a fraud while Fabio Capello is dumped more unambiguously by the side of the road – “the worst manager England ever had”.
It’s amusing to note that these disclosures causing such a stir in England and elsewhere were revealed to a Scot, who then knocked them into shape at a desk overlooking loamy fields in the Fife countryside. Eglinton, who as well as focusing on heavy metal figures ghostwrote Australia rugby player Michael Lynagh’s well-received memoir, spent days in Cheshire with Owen reliving the footballer’s career.
The horsey, mock Tudor environment could not be further removed from the world the Scot inhabited while penning The Wolf At Metallica’s Door, a biography of that band’s frontman, James Hetfield. But a talented subject is a talented subject, no matter the sphere. “It’s a story to tell, a life in front of you,” says Eglinton.
Owen has his demons, including a gambling habit that in the pages of the book he never quite manages to present as a harmless pastime.
“It’s quite surreal,” says Eglinton, reflecting on the project this week. “I spent time looking at Youtube videos, recalling matches – then you are snap back in your little office upstairs near St Andrews, writing something you know will be out there in the world on a big scale.”
That’s not an understatement. Already No 1 in the Amazon sports book charts, the response, and backlash in some cases, has been considerable.
Shearer was moved to send a tweet questioning Owen’s commitment at Newcastle United while earning £125,000 a week. Eglinton looks on from a safe distance in Scotland. “Alan Shearer follows me on Twitter – the last time I looked he still follows me,” he says.
l Reboot: My Life, My Time [Reachsport, £20.00].