In the introduction to his autobiography, Pat van den Hauwe declares that this is his second attempt at such an undertaking. The other one, written by a media friend in South Africa, was scrapped because the manuscript made him sound, “too nice.” There are no such issues with this effort.
Here, Van den Hauwe is violent, reckless, homophobic, transphobic, drunk, disorderly and absolutely off his tits on cocaine. He squanders what should have been the peak years of his career, he shags around at a prodigious rate, he leaves his wife and young daughter for the vacuous charms of Mandy Smith and he gets everyone in trouble when he flashes his penis at an air stewardess. In short, he comes across as one of those people whose regard and respect for the feelings of others was so fleeting that he must have been a genuinely unsettling presence. As a result, this is a most compelling read.
You might not like Van Den Hauwe by the final pages, but you certainly can’t accuse him of wasting your time. There are few banal stories of childhood, no endless recounting of statistics. All of the usual pitfalls of these books are deftly avoided. It’s a slow build up of off-field carnage juxtaposed against a football career that seems almost incidental and that nearly ends in disaster. It’s incredible that he managed to sustain a career at the top for so long, not least because he has his first nose full of cocaine the night before the drug inspectors arrive at his final English club, Millwall. Fortunately for him, they simply explain their role and then leave without testing anyone.
Everton supporters will love the recollections of the Howard Kendall years, an era of English football that never seems to be granted the recognition it deserves. Players like Graeme Sharp and Adrian Heath come out well, but none more so than Kendall himself, depicted not only as a shrewd judge of character, but also as a man who, much later, would try to help save Van den Hauwe from himself by offering him a route back into the game.
You can already hear the warning sirens sound at Van den Hauwe’s lifestyle at Goodison Park, but when he moves to London, Smith and her terrifying family totter into the frame and the klaxons ring out even louder. Never anything less than brutally honest, he gives an fascinating insight into a back page life suddenly thrust onto the front pages of the tabloids.
Mick McCarthy, his manager at Millwall, has never looked better. Patient and understanding, he puts up with everything that Van den Hauwe can throw at him and even protects him in the media. He offers him every chance to get himself clean and to return to football, but to no avail. The two-times league title winner departs for South Africa, at which point he really does start to misbehave. That he is still here at all to write this book is largely the result of a very patient third wife. Behind the tales of excess there are echoes of Robert Enke here.
It’s not a nice book and, even though he’s settled down, reconnected with his daughter and is rebuilding his life, you’d still think twice before you invited him in for a cup of tea. But if you fancy a look at the naughtier elements of 1980s football, you’d do well to find something more eye-popping than this.