“It’s Only Banter isn’t simply about a former footballer’s trials and tribulations in the game. It’s more than that. You get a real feel for what British culture was like 20 to 30 years ago…”
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ the famous old saying goes, but that’s exactly what I did when I saw Leroy Rosenior intently looking at me on the front of his autobiography. Titled It’s Only Banter I put two and two together and got racism. Immediately I was conjuring up thoughts of ropey, bordering offensive, changing room jokes. Envisaging accounts of racist abuse he must have endured as a player and maybe even as a manager. Let’s just say I was looking forward to getting stuck in.
With the help of sportswriter Leo Moynihan, Rosenior was able to put together a real page-turner. Neatly split into three sections – Part One: Willie, Part Two: Leroy and Part Three: Liam – you get to know Rosenior the player, as he divulges into what life was like as a black footballer in England during the 1980s and 90s and then as a black manager in the 2000s. You also get to know Rosenior the man, the father, husband, brother and son – everything he is away from the pitch.
London-born Rosenior had a typical upbringing. His parents Willie and Gladys, both originally from Sierra Leone, take centre stage in the opening chapters. The two met in England during their younger days, eventually settling down and starting a family together in Brixton, south-west London. Rosenior, the youngest and only boy among five girls, speaks affectionately about his family, especially his late father. In the opening chapter there’s a line that beautifully captures that affection “(…) if I shut my eyes and think of a place I have always loved, a place I would always like to be, it would be on my father’s knee.”
It’s an emotional read at times, as Rosenior, a former England Schoolboy, recounts his playing days and vividly remembers some of the horrendous racist abuse he suffered as a young man making his way in the game. Like the incident during an away trip to Portsmouth when a kid was the culprit: “As I got closer and walked passed the fans, the boy spat at me, covering my red Fulham away shirt with phlegm. I stopped in amazement. I couldn’t believe what this kid had done.” More often than not, Rosenior would bear most of the abuse on his own, with his white team-mates not batting an eye lid which was something he struggled to comprehend.
The racism Rosenior faced on the pitch brought home the fact why my own father, a proud Jamaican, isn’t as crazy about the game as I am. He came to England in the 1960s as a 10-year-old and although racist incidences at football matches wouldn’t have been as extensively reported – there was no social media or hashtags back then – he along with all the other black expats in the UK at the time would have seen and heard the torrid, racist abuse black footballers were often subjected to.
It’s Only Banter isn’t simply about a former footballer’s trials and tribulations in the game. It’s more than that. You get a real feel for what British culture was like 20 to 30 years ago as Rosenior talks openly about not just his own experiences, but those of the other black players he was around at the time. “If a black player is overly and obviously confident, he always had an attitude problem, as if he wasn’t subservient enough,” Rosenior says as he describes the harsh treatment of his former team-mate at Fulham Tony Finnegan in the 1980s.
As well as Fulham, Rosenior played for the likes of Queens Park Rangers, West Ham United and Bristol City among other clubs, but the striker was hampered by a knee injury that ultimately cut his career short. All would not be lost though, as Rosenior surmises: “Back home, both my boys were showing talent for the game, but it was Liam who looked from a young age like he would go far.”
Unlike his goal-poaching father, Liam Rosenior, currently at Brighton & Hove Albion, is a defender by trade. He too has played for Bristol City and Fulham, Torquay United – under the tutelage of his dad during a successful promotion campaign in 2004 – Reading, Ipswich and Hull.
Much like his playing career, Rosenior’s managerial journey hasn’t been plain sailing. He looks back fondly at his two-game stint in charge of Sierra Leone that included some surreal experiences both on and off the pitch. He shares his jubilation after winning promotion with Torquay with his son in the side and speaks honestly about his four months in charge at Brentford that ended with Greg Dyke, who was the club’s chairman at the time, telling him he was “too nice.”
Rosenior also takes the reader behind the curtain and reveals what took place when he was recalled to manage Torquay for a second time before the club was taken over in 2007 – a moment that’s down in the history books as the shortest managerial reign in world football. The official line is that it lasted all of 10 minutes.
With the amount of thought-provoking material in this autobiography it’s difficult to pen a review that captures every detail. While blatant racist abuse without retribution is a thing of the past, what It’s Only Banter does fascinatingly well is highlight the fact that there is still more to be done to level the playing field for blacks in the game.
Naturally, towards the backend, the topic of mangers and coaches takes centre stage. For me chapter 16 – Cracking The Glass Ceiling – is the most important chapter. Rosenior reveals how his phone stopped ringing after his spell in charge of Torquay and speaks on the lack of black coaches and managers in football – a problem that isn’t exclusive to the English game. Former black pros such as John Barnes, Paul Mortimer and Andy Cole all weigh in on the topic and their comments will have you shaking your head in disappointment at the lack of progress.
To summarise, It’s Only Banter is well worth a read and will leave you rooting for Rosenior who is currently enjoying a career in television. I personally would love to see him back in the dugout and preferably in the top flight. He says he hopes to “be working back in football management, as some sort of director of football or consultant to Liam” so all is not lost.
Words by EugeneOEA.