The decline of the celebrity sports biog

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’Cashley‘, Lamps and Roon are being hammered in the Amazon sales rankings by Perry Groves. So has the big-money autobiog finally been kicked into touch?

  • 'When I heard Jonathan [Barnett, his agent] repeat the figure of £55k a week, I nearly swerved off the road. "He is taking the piss, Jonathan!" I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger.'

    With these lines, Ashley Cole secured his place in the Premier League of most-loathed footballers in one of British publishing’s costliest misjudgments.

    Last year saw a succession of own-goals premised on two faintly-ridiculous notions: that England were going to win the World Cup, and that Cole, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand are as interesting and popular as David Beckham. Becks landed £2 million for his autobiography – but it shifted more than half a million copies and is the UK’s biggest-selling sports autobiography. Powered by patriotic fervour, Rooney bagged a £5m advance for a now-laughable five volumes spread over 12 years, while the others garnered deals reckoned to be worth a total of £1.5m. For a publisher to break even on a £1m advance, a £20 hardback needs to sell more than 330,000 copies. Of the England flops, none topped 60,000 while you must knock a zero off to discover how few bought Cole’s dismal whinge. His advance? A cool £250k.

    Another former Arsenal favourite has also recently brought out his life story, published by former tabloid journo John Blake. However, the difference between Cole’s ‘My Defence’ and ‘We All Live In A Perry Groves World’, according to its editor Lucian Randall, is that the winger with the Tintin haircut ‘doesn’t attempt to big himself up. He’s a guy who loved every minute of his time at Arsenal, and that comes across in the way he talks about the hangovers and drunken escapades, as well as the matches.’

    Groves’s book is currently ranked at a healthy 2,666 by Amazon, with ‘Cashley’ down at 43,630 and the likes of Frank Lampard’s totally dull ‘Totally Frank’ somewhere in between. Arsenal website Arseblog even started a campaign to ensure Groves outsold Cole, showing how bloggers now have the power to bypass the marketing hype and expensive serialisations that are the traditional currency of big publishers.

    ‘Even if we had the money to buy something like Ashley Cole’s autobiography,’ says Randall, ‘I don’t think John Blake Publishing would do it. Where’s the fun? Too many publishers seem to be blinded by names. I’m sure those stars were signed up without much thought as to whether their books would do well or not.’

    In a recent article, former HarperCollins publisher Trevor Dolby claims that ‘the increasing interchangeability of the worlds of sport and tabloid celebrity – symbolised by the attention lavished on the WAGs at last summer’s World Cup – means there is little real difference between the autobiographies of Jordan and Ashley Cole: they can occupy the same shelf in the supermarket’. Although Dolby believes the high-advance gamble may be past its peak, Randall is not so sure: ‘Nah,’ he laughs. ‘They’ll still be throwing money at it.’

    Meanwhile, Perry Groves is freely available for interview. Ashley Cole, in contrast, has been remarkably quiet of late.

    ‘We All Live In A Perry Groves World’ (John Blake Publishing, £17.99).

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