By Benjamin Massey Eight Six Forever
Book Review: Cracked Open by Paul James
In Canadian soccer, Paul James is as controversial as anyone. He’s never kept his opinions about anyone to himself. So it’s not surprising that James indiscriminately goes on the attack in Cracked Open, his equal-parts soccer memoir and harrowing personal tale of drug addiction. In fact, it would have been more surprising if he hadn’t.
All the same, James’s venom is staggering. When he writes a short article in The Globe & Mail calling for Dwayne De Rosario to leave Toronto FC, that’s one thing: in book length, with James calling out players who didn’t commit to his teams and executives who didn’t support him and would-be friends who betrayed his trust, it’s overwhelming. One minute James is relating a gritty story of trying to overcome his crack cocaine problem, and the next he’s trying to settle an old score.
This book is an extraordinary thing. Self-published online by James, this is raw in the best sense of the word. James lashes out at, none-too-gently, an entire who’s who of Canadian soccer: Stephen Hart, Jason de Vos, Julian de Guzman, Ali Gerba, Chris Pozniak, Tam Nsaliwa, Dwayne De Rosario, Bob Lenarduzzi, just to pick the ones you’ve heard of. That’s not counting foreigners who spent time in Canada like John Carver and Tommy Soehn, or figures from the past like Kevan Pipe. He takes shots at the Voyageurs, Canada’s national supporters’ group, as an organization (and a few individuals). And woe betide anyone who is too aggressive about the 1987 Merlion Cup.
What I think James wanted was a memoir detailing his spiral into drug addiction, his fight to get out of it, and his opinions on how society’s mistakes make an addict’s problems so hard to recover from. What we got was a bit of that and a tonne of vitriol and old score-settling as James takes his hatchet to anybody who’s gotten in his way over thirty years in high-level soccer. For Canadian soccer fans it’s almost an essential read, but that doesn’t mean James comes off well.