Paul Lake - At last, he's really here
TEAMtalk guest Graham Shaw reviews 'I'm Not Really Here', the gripping autobiography of former Manchester City star Paul Lake. They say in life that you only truly value what you have when it's taken away. If that's the case then 'I'm Not Really Here' (Century, £14.99) should be essential reading for all would-be Premier League stars. It's the harrowing story of Paul Lake, potentially the best English footballer of his generation. Only it didn't turn out like that. Instead of the bog-standard noughties tale of a glorious trophy-laden career sustained by fat contracts, it instead charts the way Lake's career was tragically destroyed by injury. Lake was a colossus, a brilliant all-round talent who drew comparison to the legendary Duncan Edwards among others. He was that good - the most golden of City's golden generation of the late 1980s. Lake was the star of a brilliant youth team packed with homegrown talent that beat neighbours United to lift the Youth Cup before graduating to the senior ranks. And on a steamy September afternoon in 1989 he was the heartbeat of a Blues team that handed Sir Alex Ferguson probably his worst defeat at Manchester United manager. That epic 5-1 derby rout should have been just the start for Lake at the very top level, valued at £10million by Howard Kendall and earmarked as a future England captain. But in 1990 when Lake ruptured his ACL - the injury footballers dread most - it was the beginning of the end. 'Im Not Really Here' charts in raw and moving detail how Lake fought for six long years to regain his fitness. A fight he could never win. Ghost-written by his wife Joanne, it talks of the way he went from being the jewel in City's crown to almost an afterthought (hence the title). Operation followed operation (15 in total) as Lake was left to fight virtually a lone battle through rehab towards the impossible dream. In footballing terms this was a story that had no happy ending. Lake's knee just couldn't stand up to the rigours of the game, and he spiralled into deep and clinical depression. The pain he suffered - both physical and emotional - is clear for all to see. He felt let down by his club, let down by medicine and let down by life. A man grieving for what he'd lost, for what he was unable to regain. It cost him his living, his first marriage and almost his mind. Only when the inevitable was confirmed in 1996 and he made his retirement official, was Lake able to grieve properly and start rebuilding his shattered life. He put his medical experience to use by training to become a physio, enjoying successful stints at a string of league clubs. And on a personal level he remarried. Lake's knee will never allow him to play football again, but as a person he's come full circle. From those depths of depression he's risen to become a colossus off the football pitch. Now back at City as an Ambassador in the Community, he retained his deep love of the Blues. And in revealing his depth of his injury and illness despair in this book, he shows the same sort of guts he displayed in that vain fight for fitness. It's the sort of book you can't put down - honest, real and laced with plenty of humour. Kendall's team-bonding sessions at City for example (think drink and more drink) provide a rioutous glimpse into a bygone age. And before that Lake's journey through childhood and his enthusiasm for the game serve only to heighten the contrast with the darkness that followed. In an age where autobiographies are so often at odds with reality, this is a welcome exception. It is quite simply, a must-read. Paul Lake is at last, most definitely, really here.
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