“Dogs don’t talk s***” – Roy Keane
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
IT IS rare that a book, especially a football book, makes you laugh out loud. A private chuckle, yes, but an audible reaction to something you are reading is unusual, not to mention a little embarrassing if you are on a train, as I was.
The girl sitting next to me was intrigued after I completed my laugh-out-loud hat-trick. “What are you reading? It seems very funny.”
“It’s Triggs, the autobiography of Roy Keane’s dog. Roy was the captain of Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland,” I replied, hoping if not believing my answer would somehow justify my behaviour. I am certain if the train had not been so crowded the girl would have moved away.
A book by a talking dog is either going to be as funny as root canal treatment or a gem. Paul Howard has managed to achieve the latter, giving us a telling insight to a person few outside his immediately family really know. Gary Neville tells the story of when he changed his mobile number he sent it to those in his contacts and received a text back from Keane saying “why the **** are you telling me?” Keano doesn’t do friends, not the human variety anyway.
Keane defends his privacy in the way he protected the ball, once having to be dragged away from someone who took a photo of him and one of his children in a hotel swimming pool while on holiday. Yet while he guards his family with military precision and care, he is happy – okay, willing – to be photographed with man’s best friend.
The humour is often subtle and delicately handled, as it had to be. We are, after all, talking about a speaking dog. Howard has certainly done his homework, interviewing people close – well as close as Keane allows – to the former midfielder, enabling Triggs to observe her (yes, Triggs is a she) owner’s reactions to the many controversial incidents during his career. Reality and supposition may be intertwined but the conversations between Keane and Triggs are far more fascinating and funny than the concept of a man talking to his dog might initially appear.
Howard was a sports writer for the Sunday Tribune in Ireland where he wrote a satirical column based on schools rugby. Blackrock College, Ireland’s equivalent of Eton, is nicknamed Rock and Howard invented a character called Ross O’Carroll-Kelly – ROCK. While Howard admits the essentially local humour would not travel outside of Ireland, the books based on ROCK are set to top the million mark in the Republic with stage plays underlining the success of the novels.
“I took a two-year sabbatical but never went back,” said Howard, a former Irish Sports Journalist of the Year. “The newspaper I took a sabbatical from no longer exists. I thought I’d be in journalism forever but every year it seems another paper closes.”
The seeds for the book were sewn during the 2002 World Cup when Keane was sent home from Ireland’s training base in Saipan after the mother of all rows with manager Mick McCarthy. “I was in my hotel room in Japan watching Ireland’s greatest player, possibly ever, walking a labrador down a lane eight time zones away,” said Howard. “It was an iconic image and I feel Roy knew this. There was a defiance about him walking his dog. Most people in the news for the wrong reasons draw the curtains and stay in. Keane arrived home from the Far East and immediately took Triggs for a walk. The gates opened and the pair parted this shoal of paparazzi who were waiting outside.”
Howard had the idea of “what if Triggs was the boss and Roy was the servant?” He initially wrote some conversations between the pair, but put the scheme on hold for two years before selling the idea to a publisher and completing the manuscript.
“For me the humour was in the language. What if footballers, when they talk to each other, spoke exactly the same way they do in front of the television cameras? I challenged myself to write as many football cliches as I could, not ‘over the moon’ or ‘sick as a parrot’ stuff but things like ‘fantastically well’ and ‘ever so well.’ I mean, no young, working class hetrosexual male would ever say ‘ever so well.’ Unless you are a professional footballer.”
Keane comes out of the book ever so well and Howard said: “I am sympathetic to Roy who was, along with Brian O’Driscoll and Sonia O’Sullivan, one of the three most compelling Irish sports personalities of his generation.”
The difference is, Ireland’s rugby captain and the 1995 World Championships 5,000m gold medallist were more open to and with the media.
Recent reports of her death – GrrrRIP ran one headline – were vastly exaggerated and through Triggs the book provides an insight to Keane with a humour that very rarely fails to hit the button. Here are Triggs’ thoughts on Wayne Rooney:
I’ve always regarded professional footballers as, quite frankly, an intellectually inferior breed. This is a world, remember, in which David James is considered an intellectual because he begins sentences with the word ‘ironically’ instead of the word ‘obviously.’
A memory suddenly pops up at me from out of the recent past. It was one afternoon in Roy’s last full season as a Manchester United player and he telephoned Wayne Rooney at home to talk about some team matter or other.
“Can you phone me back later?” Wayne asked him. “It’s just that I’m reading at the moment.”
I remember the surprised smile that was suddenly slashed across Roy’s face. “What are you reading?” he wondered, always happy to hear about a team-mate making the effort to improve his mind.
“Ceefax,” came the reply.
I always liked Wayne. He was easy company and a great lover of dogs. And anyone expecting a cheap joke here about hookers, young or old, is going to be disappointed. He was, as they say in the parlance, a smashing lad and a top, top player. Yet whenever I think about Wayne, I always think of his mind turning over at the same rate it takes for those teletext pages to refresh themselves.
How did Triggs’ name come about? From Trigger in Only Fools And Horses which also happened to be Jason McAteer’s nickname but the connection is not with the player who famously said he’d rather buy a Bob The Builder CD than Roy Keane’s autobiography. Howard said: “Brian Clough had a labrador called Del Boy which he occasionally brought to training when Roy was with Nottingham Forest. I think Triggs was a compliment to Clough.”
Has Howard had any feedback from Keane? “No.”
Triggs – the autobiography of Roy Keane’s dog by Paul Howard (Orion Books, £9.99).