Book review - 61 minutes in Munich

61 Minutes in Munich – The Story of Liverpool FC’s First Black Footballer, Howard Gayle

Howard Gayle is a patron of SRtRC and someone I have had the pleasure to work with at lots of different educational events over the years. I have heard him speak to, and answer questions, from hundreds of young people about racism and discrimination and have always appreciated and admired his candour and willingness to talk about his own experiences in sport and society.

It is not a surprise to me that ’61 Minutes in Munich’ is unflinchingly honest. However, there is much about this book that is surprising.

This is not a typical sports autobiography, which can sometimes be a bit formulaic. Howard and Simon Hughes (journalist and writer) have produced something special. What ’61 Minutes in Munich’ provides in comparison to other football biographies is context. On the jacket, it’s described as ‘part social-history, part autobiography’ and it is a perfect description. The very first section of the book gives an overview of slavery, it’s impact on the city of Liverpool and how his father came to Liverpool in 1947.

Howard talks throughout the book of his experiences with honesty and reflecting the reality of society throughout his life. He also analyses and explores the causes and effects of his actions and those of family, friends, players and others throughout. It is a considered and insightful approach to the telling of his life story.

I have often heard Howard talk about experiences of racism growing up and how he reacted, but if I thought I knew the half of it, I was wrong. He recounts a difficult childhood, with all too common experiences of racism, the tragic death of his mother, his difficult relationship with his father who was a disciplinarian and a shocking instance of abuse from an adult.

Subsequently, this led him to reject and distrust authority, an attitude that Howard carries throughout his career in football.

Liverpool FC, naturally, as Howard is a lifelong fan and now an indisputable part of the club’s history, is a big part of the book. His appearance for the reds in European cup-final in 1981 is visited at various points in the text. He made a great impact on that game and was disappointed to be substituted following a booking, concerned for a while that he would be remembered as a ‘substitute who was substituted’.

Liverpool went on to win the European Cup and It is remarkable to think that not long before that Howard was playing football for non-league teams and signed as an amateur for Liverpool FC when 19 years old – he was not quite 23 when he played in that semi-final.

In the book, you see behind the scenes of Liverpool FC at the time and get introduced to some of the big characters there through Howard’s eyes. It will be a must for any Liverpool fan, but is very interesting for the neutral too.

He also takes us behind the scenes at Fulham, Newcastle United (both loans – if only the Toon had matched his transfer fee!), Birmingham City FC, Sunderland AFC, Dallas and Blackburn Rovers FC.

Howard’s honesty about his life and experiences is not confined to his career and he is particularly reflective about his personal life towards the end of the book. It was widely reported in the press last year that Howard turned down an MBE and the reasons behind this are also fully explored.

’61 Minutes in Munich…’ is an uncompromising and riveting read, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the social ‘norms’ of the 1980s and particularly to those who want an insight into the experiences of a footballing pioneer.