REVIEW: Rafa's Way by Martin Hardy



Martin Hardy is fast becoming the go-to writer for all things Newcastle United. Not content with providing near-daily content on the club via the Independent digital newspaper, he has managed to write three books on the club in the last two years.

The first, ‘Touching Distance’, is probably my favourite Newcastle United related book I’ve read. I don’t mean to go all fan-boy-like over Martin and his words but it is a truly exceptional piece of writing. Looking back at the Keegan ‘Entertainers’ side, it captures Tyneside during some of its happiest times. When football engrossed the city. When hope was alive in the hearts of the locals.

The tone of the book and the style of writing really stood out in Hardy’s debut book. His interviews with some of the heroes of the time (ranging from Toon superstars like Peter Beardsley and Tino Asprilla to those behind the scenes including chairman Sir John Hall) were brought to life so vividly. The only downside was how the story ultimately ended. However, I can’t blame Martin for that!

The second, “Tunnel of Love’, didn’t quite hit the spot in my opinion. Perhaps it suffered from a literary form of ‘second album syndrome’. The story focussed on Newcastle post-Keegan in 1997 to relegation under Ashley and co in 2009. Maybe it was too wide a time-span. It possibly didn’t have as exciting a story to tell than TD did. Something was lacking.

For the third, ‘Rafa’s Way’ I went in wondering whether it would hit the heights of TD or would miss the target like ToL. Let’s just say I left with a smile as wide as when we managed to pinch the title out of Brighton’s hands on that infamous final day.

The book takes a familiar approach from Touching Distance in that it takes a near game-by-game approach to the season. It is scattered with interviews with players and staff, littered with anecdotes from fans on away days and includes some other highlights from one of our most loved seasons in recent memories. “Enjoy the Championship” was what fans across the country said to us. Boy, we did.

The story begins in the Premier League. We had just been relegated. Yet it seemed more like a party than a morgue. Hardy writes, “You knew then. You felt it. Everything changed that day. It filled the city, it filled the people. It filled St James’ Park. You looked around, and everyone smiled and sang and cheered, and they knew too.”

That extract on the first page sets the tone that Hardy uses throughout. Short sentences. Passionate words. Heartfelt messages. And then a longer sentence to end things with and leave you wanting the read more. It takes a real writer’s craft to re-tell a story you know so well and make you want to keep on reading to find where it goes next.

In my opinion, the book’s highlights are the chapters on the making of Rafa Benitez and on THAT away win against Brighton in February. Both offer an insight into the man who has turned the club around, near-singlehandedly, and the fans who now resoundingly worship him. Although I knew quite a bit about Rafa’s early career, I didn’t know the extent of the injuries which crippled his playing days.

Hardy takes great pride in the fact that this book has been written with the insight of Rafa. You only need to have a look at his current pinned tweet to see that! You get a real sense that Rafa enjoyed talking to Hardy too. To be honest, you imagine that if anyone went up to him and started talking about football, Benitez would turn around 3 hours later and thank them for their time.