David Conn is a sports journalist who writes for The Guardian, and has established himself as a prominent investigator into the murky world of football finance. His previous books, The Football Business: Fair Game in the 90s and The Beautiful Game? Searching the Soul of Football, were both critically acclaimed and he has three times been named Football Writer of the Year by the Football Supporters’ Federation.
His latest book, the somewhat sensationally titled Richer Than God, is described as “an authoritative, provocative, investigative account of Manchester City’s history”. Conn grew up as a City fan in North Manchester in the 1970s, but has subsequently fallen out of love with the club. Whilst not quite as out of touch with the City zeitgeist as, say, Colin Shindler, you sense Conn feels a shame in the club that few supporters will relate to.
Conn is essentially a romanticist with a utopian view of how football should be run, favouring the supporter-owned model that is prevalent in Germany. Whilst his beliefs are admirable, it is naïve to think that it is a realistic prospect in the Premier League era. That ship has long since sailed.
He reserves particular disdain for Thaksin Shinawatra, which is understandable, and is also highly critical of the arrangement which saw the club move to The City of Manchester Stadium in 2003. Whilst clearly a favourable deal for City, it wasn’t quite the free gift at the expense of the taxpayer that he suggests.
He does, however, appear to have great respect for the current regime, and is complimentary about many of their initiatives, albeit whilst questioning the fairness of Sheikh Mansour using his inherited wealth to propel City to the upper echelons of the English game.
There are a number of factual inaccuracies in Richer Than God, which is uncharacteristic of Conn’s usually meticulous research. For instance, he refers to the “4-1” victory over Charlton Athletic to clinch promotion in 1985, or a supposed rain soaked, open top bus parade to celebrate the Play Off win in 1999, which never actually happened.
The narrative of the book seems a little confused to me, flitting from autobiography to analysis of the club’s recent history to general gripes about the modern game on a chapter-to-chapter basis. Admittedly the subtitle of the book suggests as much, but one senses that perhaps Conn has tried to cover too much and as a result Richer Than God at times lacks cohesion. It occasionally feels like a series of separate articles awkwardly hemmed together; a sycophantic chapter about FC United feels particularly out of place.
Whilst many partisan supporters of the club may take umbrage at some aspects of Richer Than God, on the whole it is a thought provoking and honest account of his relationship with the game. Despite the detachment Conn feels from the club, he attends the momentous final game of last season, and is caught up in the emotional euphoria surrounding it.
Richer Than God is published by Quercus and can be purchased here.