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"I jump into a sand pit for a living"

Jonathan Edwards, World record triple-jumper

Thinking out loud

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Rio Ferdinand, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2017. ISBH: 978 1 473 67023 5

When I reviewed Rio Ferdinand’s 2014 autobiography 2Sides I described it as:

“ an excellent book. Well above average for sports autobiographies. Instead of the tedious, ‘we beat Arsenal, drew at Sunderland and then travel to Tottenham…’, Rio Ferdinand addresses issues,, never afraid to express an opinion. Setting up his own Foundation reveals a man who has not forgotten his humble origins and who wants to put something back”.

The second book is even better. The book describes how Ferdinand’s wife, Rebecca, died aged 34 and how he processed it. The sub-title, “Love, grief and being mum and dad” gives a deeper insight.

He describes how, still a teenager, Rebecca went with him to Leeds, gradually took over running all aspects of home and life so that he could concentrate on being the best footballer he was capable of. When she died, in addition to the grief he was dealing with, he was all at sea in a world of washing-machines, tumble-driers, dishwashers, boiler servicing etc, to say nothing of the children’s activities and social life.

As a footballer he was “someone who had the steel to step up to a challenge; who always confronted the big moments squarely, who did not lose his nerve”. Dealing with grief and the family, he was lost and clueless. Professionally, he had trained himself never to show any sign of weakness, never to show any emotion. He had to learn that “a heartbroken child needs cuddles and conversation, not a stiff upper lip”.

While not the main purpose of the book, his insights into what you need to succeed as a Premier League player are spellbinding.

There is a poignant scene in which he describes sitting at Rebecca’s deathbed: “I come from a Christian family but watching Rebecca lie there in that hospital bed I found myself questioning God. All these people believe in Him - and He allows this to happen? How is that possible? I found it very hard to believe in a God who was supposed to be all powerful, knew this was happening but chose to do nothing to help”.

From realizing that the very attributes which made him good as a footballer were exactly the characteristics that prevented him from being able to deal with the grief and help the children, he accepted that he needed to change. The book goes beyond that by offering help to others facing the same challenge.

A brilliant book at so many levels but not always a comfortable read.

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