Review: BOXING CLEVER by Andy Costello

There are few sporting stories that combine the achievement of so much, followed by utter collapse, as that of Andy Costello. 

I first met Andy some six or more years ago. He had called and asked me if we could get together over a coffee to talk about his life story. It sounded interesting, and I agreed to see him. 

Andy was a tall, very wiry man with a calm, gentle aura. I knew he had been a serious fighter, that he had been in trouble with the police, and had spent a few years in prison. I confess, I was slightly nervous. After all, turning down someone who has a career as a cage-fighter could lead to my seeing a more aggressive side to him. 

However, he remained polite and thoroughly professional at all times. I found myself warming to him. 

He led me through his life story. There were no apologies, only a self-effacing embarrassment on occasion. I took copious notes, and at some point I decided I really wanted to work with him on his memoirs. It should be really interesting. When I got home I set out the synopsis for a book, sent a copy to him, and when he approved it, I sent it to my agent. 

And that was where things went wrong, sadly. My agent was happy enough, but every editor she spoke to said that they had too many ex-police memoirs on their books already. Although she tried to explain that this was a totally different story, they wouldn’t listen (editors are like that) and regretfully my agent decided she was flogging a dead horse. I couldn’t work on it without an advance of some sort – my finances were in their usual dire state at that time – and so the project lapsed. I had to apologise profusely to Andy, and tried to support him. I did say that if he continued with it as a project, I’d be delighted to read through his manuscript and offer any advice I could.

About eighteen months ago, he wrote to me to say that he had written and published his book, and would I like to see a copy. I read it, and it blew me away. It was brilliant.

So, who is this Andy Costello?

A chess champion in his early teens, Andy learned Judo to overcome his weight problems. He went on to become one of the country’s top martial artists when he was seventeen, representing his country and becoming six times the UK champion. 

Good education and an exemplary record helped him join the police. For a solid, well-brought up middle class lad, it seemed a good idea. His life was moving upwards at speed.

But rarely has a man with such promise fallen so far.

In the police there was a strong drinking culture, as was common for jobs with very high stress and a certain amount of danger. However, for Andy the strain was much worse. Because of his position with the GB Judo squad and his success in Police Judo circles, whenever there was a dangerous situation, a domestic fracas, a robbery, or a drugged-up teenager with a knife, the police invariably called on their resident martial artist. 

His success with early scenes of violence led to his being called up more and more regularly. He was the expert in Exeter, the one officer who could be relief upon to stop violence without needing a firearm. And that reputation, the constant stream of highly dangerous circumstances in which he found himself, and the police culture of heavy drinking, all took their toll.

In 1999, Andy was found to be drunk in charge of a police car, and his life came to a halt. 

In short order, he lost everything: his job was gone, and he knew no other. The camaraderie that was so much a part of his life went with it. But worst of all, with it went his self-respect. He was forced to take jobs as a doorman, setting up his own company, and kept the wolf from the door. 

This is a story of three parts: an ordinary childhood showing extraordinary promise, followed by what appeared to be success with a career in a professional police force. 

The tragedy for Andy was that the police did not help or support him when it became obvious that Andy was going off the rails. The lost of his prestige and self-respect as he lost his job, and the continued drinking as he slipped further into alcoholism concludes with the return to competitive success.

Although this book could appear to be more of a misery memoir than a sporting success, it will work for many readers. Andy is a very competent speaker and this book will be motivational. It will show how even after the worst of disasters, determination and drive can push a man to great heights and renewed success. 

The book will appeal to fans of martial arts, cage fighting and chess boxing,  yes, but it will also appeal to many because Andy is a positive role model. With the focus on police culture and the treatment of battle-scarred and traumatised officers, this book will appeal to a much broader audience.

It is a brilliant story, told extremely well by a guy who has been let down enormously badly over the years. It’s a seriously good read, by turns funny and terribly sad.

Highly recommended – one of my favourite books about the police and policing.

One Response to “Review: BOXING CLEVER by Andy Costello”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    A Review from Michael


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