Sometimes when someone comes out with a Big Reveal or a Hot Issue in a Big Interview promoting their New Book like Richie Sadlier did on The Late Late Show last Friday, there’s a chance that’s all the book could be reduced to. That you don’t want or need to know any more. That you don’t need to read on. That that’s all there is to it. That it was all covered there so you needn’t bother seeing what else is in between the book’s covers.
It would be a mistake to make that mistake with Sadlier. Recovering, his autobiography superbly and tightly co-written with Dion Fanning, is a compelling and ultimately uplifting read, about how a good-natured kid lost his way, in no small way because of how dark and awful aspects of Irish and football life could be, before committing to helping himself and then others.
Already, through his work in education and as a psychotherapist, Sadlier is playing his part in helping Ireland get to and become a better place. And with this book he might be doing his old sport quite a service too.
Sadlier’s account of his playing days at Millwall is another reminder of how warped and unhealthy an environment an English football dressing room and club in the nineties and noughties could be.
Not only was it an environment where boys couldn’t cry — though it would try its best to make them cry — they couldn’t even drink water in training under one manager because it “wasn’t a fucking holiday camp”.
Team-mates could be more judgemental and scathing than the club’s notorious fans. Every appearance on the treatment table was viewed with suspicion. Every time Sadlier gave the ball away, a veteran would mutter or utter an expletive, compounding and perpetuating the kid’s sense of uselessness.
In stark contrast in Irish set-ups under Brian Kerr and Noel O’Reilly, he thrived under their constant positivity and care.
Over time, Sadlier would encounter some warmth in his time at The Den. The physio was a constant friend as well as companion.
Ray Harford is depicted as a compassionate man and Mark McGhee as a manager committed to improving his players. But, as Sadlier outlines, the pervasive culture with its pathetic machismo was one he himself bought into “way too much”.
Irish readers in particular will be intrigued by another dressing room that Sadlier paints — the RTÉ studio. In a chapter rather sardonically titled The Football Men, Sadlier gives a nuanced yet typically candid account of how challenging a place it could be.
While Bill O’Herlihy was a Ray Harford-like figure, always genial and encouraging, and John Giles in the early years offered constant advice which was ultimately more helpful than interfering, Eamon Dunphy was a constant source of antagonism, be it over Pep, Wes, or John.
Like with most things in his life, Sadlier would learn ways to cope and even thrive, particularly when deciding he “didn’t care about being the respectful new recruit anymore”.
The last time he and Dunphy were in the same room, at a book launch, they avoided each other for the night.
It can be a cliché in reviewing books to describe a particular effort as astonishingly honest but that is what Recovering is.
Like other abuse victims like Dub Sub Confidential John Leonard, Sadlier does not detail what happened in that room when as a 14-year-old he went to be treated for back pain, probably because he doesn’t need to.
Everything else, the devastating consequences, are graphic enough.
He gives everything of himself here. His description of his father, another man who gave up alcohol in his 30s, and their relationship with all its complexity and twists, is particularly moving.
His mother and siblings also proper three-dimensional characters, fleshed out here in a way few sporting autobiographies achieve.
Perhaps the most arresting relationship though in reading this book is reconciling your previous public image of Sadlier with the character whose career and life is unravelling beyond control.
That for years the highly presentable man on the box whose photo byline and insightful columns you’d see every week in the paper, holding down responsible jobs like CEO of St Pat’s, was routinely wasted, out of his head on drink and drugs. Living a shallow life because of demons and issues buried so deep.
He and his book is all the more impressive for that journey and struggle. This book is not mere or more misery lit as has become increasingly common with sports books and particularly popular with those who dish out awards in that genre. Indeed it breaks with all kinds of conventions. In that space usually reserved for acknowledgements, Sadlier instead provides contact details of organisations like One in Four and the Samaritans to support people who had been impacted by similar issues as he had.
Sadlier has already been a worthwhile contributor to certain topics in Irish life, mainly our mental and sexual health. But with this book, he’s broadened and deepened the conversation some more.
The title of his book is Recovering, not Recovered; for Sadlier there is or no complacency. But there is now happiness, and through his story, he is not just an example but an inspiration for others needing or ready to start recovering.