Book Review - From a Field to Anfield - A Footballer's Journey from Grassroots to the Top Flight
Summer 1988 and Bristol Rover’s youngster Nick Tanner was on the move. His destination Torquay when suddenly he took a phone call that would change his life - Now he had a decision to make Torquay or Liverpool!
‘From a Field to Anfield’ is Nick Tanner’s autobiography. A tale of that long and winding journey from the basement of the footballing pyramid to the summit with the English Champions. A rapid rise full of highs, lows and always humour. Nick Tanner’s story offers a unique insight into football at both ends of the spectrum and what he achieved is a beacon of hope to any young footballer in the country that dreams on making it to the top.
Success didn’t come easy for Tanner but with hard work and attitude, he gave himself a chance. His career path and character shaped by his footballing education on the muddy fields of Bristol’s non-league scene. He provides an appreciation of life as a semi-pro, which is one of the books real strengths in that it is not all about Liverpool, a club so well documented.
He talks openly about his pride as a local boy making it at Bristol Rovers. A time when Rovers were broke and homeless but a team with an unbreakable spirit who would do anything for each other. Recalling stories of financial crisis, basic facilities and rudimental training sessions it was an amateurish set up that will surprise many readers. But it shaped Tanner as a player and person. As such he honours the big characters at Rover’s. From the eccentric manager to the domineering captain, those that influenced him and illustrate what football at that level is all about.
The move to Liverpool is surreal and fascinating reading. From his parents taking a call from Kenny Dalglish to his mate tagging along to the medical. On paper, it sounds the dream move but Tanner talks candidly about the truth of being for many years a man on the outside of the inner circle.
‘From a field to Anfield’ tells what it is like as a Liverpool squad player. The struggles of trying to break into a team that is always winning where opportunities are non-existent and where an air of supremacy dominates the first team. What it is like to be on a beach in Ibiza while the team is engaged in a title shoot-out with Arsenal.
As such it is a classic comparison between two very different clubs in Rovers and Liverpool a struggling 3rd division club v the best in the land. And a realisation that life is not always better at the bigger club.
Tanner did finally get his big break and the 1991-92 season was his moment. His ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. His time as a Liverpool regular was brief just the one season. But it was enough for him to score in a Merseyside derby, to return to Rover’s in the FA Cup and experience a legendary European night at Anfield. He had finally arrived and was at last part of the club’s fabric.
Tanner’s season in the spotlight coincided with a Liverpool team in transition. He suffered from ‘football snobbery’. He wasn’t the biggest name and Liverpool was struggling. Tanner challenges the claim that he was ‘Liverpool’s worst ever player’. A common but unfair assessment based on little but his book helps set the record straight.
As a footballer, 1991-92 season represented his peak where his dream was finally fulfilled. To his credit though Tanner does not dedicate too much of the book to this one season. For him, it is the pathway he took to get here that is as much his story as his time at the top.
‘From a Field to Anfield’ includes contributions from teammates, friends and managers. These supplements his story providing real depth into Tanner’s likeable character and personality. Short and humorous pieces punctuate his progress on the pitch. It is a readable blend that makes the book far more than a mere recollection of games and results.
There are all the ‘classics’ that you would expect in any footballers autobiography that is worth its salt. Eccentric managers, financial struggles, the pranks, drinking exploits and lads abroad. All make for a highly entertaining read. There is even the traditional best XI from his time at Rover’s and Liverpool.
Above all for me, ‘From a Field to Anfield’ is a funny and heart-warming read from a very likeable and ‘normal’ person. Like Tanner, the player, it is honest and uncomplicated. It is living proof that you don’t have had 100’s of top-flight appearances, a cabinet full of medals or a distinguished international career to have an interesting story.