By now I suspect that most Oxford fans are familiar with the tale of Dave Langan and his tragic fall from the very top of the game to the very bottom of society. His testimonial match at the Kassam last year certainly raised awareness of his plight locally and those who want to hear Dave's story straight from the horse's mouth can now do so following the publication of his autobiography, Running Through Walls.
The book paints an image of Langan as a man who truly played for the love of the game, not for money or fame, and that he was used up and then discarded by the game he had given his life to. His account of his treatment whilst out injured (“The club don't want you around. They don't even pay you, it is actually the PFA that pays you”) reveals a footballing system that treated its employees not as people but as disposable and temporary assets.
Langan clearly hadn't been prepared for life after his sudden retirement and it is impossible not to be moved by his account of the loneliness and humiliation he felt at that time (“you imagine you bow out with your head held high fresh from scoring the winning goal in a Final, not as the sub that was subbed”). I was shocked to hear that almost as soon as he had finished his playing career Langan was forced to sign on and claim disability benefits and that he has had little to no contact with anyone in football throughout the years following his retirement.
Most fascinating for me, and I'm sure for most Oxford fans who read this book, is its first-hand account of Oxford's greatest ever team. There are lots of interesting stories about his time at the club, including his introducing Ray Houghton and John Aldridge to the Irish national team, taking his team-mates out to see an Irish folk band in Oxford, tales of drinking with Billy Whitehurst and Langan forgetting to invite his son to the Milk Cup final.
However, I couldn't help but feel that more could have been included. Langan's first season at the Manor, in which the club won promotion to the top flight for the first time in its history, barely merited a mention and while most of the major events of his time at the club are detailed and commented on, the book lacks some of those lesser-known anecdotes that could have really embellished his story.
The book could also have benefited from some more stringent editing to make it more readable in parts, but there is some charm in the way it is written. Even despite the input of co-writers Trevor Keane and Alan Conway, it feels very authentically Dave's voice that is telling the story.
Further credit should go to Langan's honesty; he pulls no punches when giving his opinion on former managers Ron Saunders and Jack Charlton, nor when describing his experiences with the FAI. Langan has an eye for character, from 'Mr Angry' Jim Smith to the inspirational Brian Clough (who always referred to Langan as 'the Irishman').
I would highly recommend this book, not just to Oxford fans but to anyone with an interest in football. Dave's evident humility shines through on every page, which serves as a refreshing antidote to the frequent tales of egos and greed in modern football, but this is perhaps most importantly a story of human interest, about a man who lost everything and is only now learning to make peace with the demons that have haunted him for more than 20 years.