Have forensic website sleuths blown The Secret Footballer's cover?
With almost 50,000 copies sold, I Am The Secret Footballer was second only to the perennially popular Match Magazine annual as the biggest-selling football book of 2012.
A spin-off from the Guardian newspaper column of the same name, I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game sold 15,000 more copies than Steven Gerrard's My Liverpool Story and enjoyed almost double the sales of Wayne Rooney's My Decade in the Premier League.
Part of that success clearly stemmed from the kind of revelations the author felt safe to share from behind his cloak of anonymity, detailing the pressures and pleasures that come with being young and loaded.
There are some serious messages, emphasising how a life of luxury cars and expensive jewellery funded by enormous salaries cannot always be a shield against corrosive self-doubt. The Secret Footballer himself claims to have suffered from depression.
On the other hand, tossing in the spicy details of an unnamed former teammate's intimate liaison with another player's wife in an hotel pool and a few tales of booze and drugs and probably didn't hinder sales, it has to be said.
But the big selling point was the author's ability to convince the readers of his veracity as a real footballer, rather than the product of some journalist's fevered imagination, as was once suspected.
Yet his closely guarded identity is under threat after a group of analytical readers announced that they had worked out who The Secret Footballer really is and outed him -- as the former Reading and Stoke City footballer Dave Kitson.
This is the conclusion reached by subscribers to the website www.whoisthesecretfootballer.co.uk who pored through the book for clues and came up with a list of 41 pieces of personal information that might identify the author.
These range from the very basic, identifying him, for instance, as 'English' and 'married' and 'not a goalkeeper' to the more specific, such as the 'subject of a deadline-day transfer' and 'involved in a last-day relegation battle'.
The detail of that relegation battle, in which the author's team were relegated by 'a goal going in at the other end of the country in the dying minutes of the final game of the season' in what would be his last game for that club -- at least until he returned on loan -- points strongly towards Kitson.
He played his last game for Reading ahead of a transfer to Stoke City in a 4-0 win at Derby on May 11, 2008 that was not enough to keep them in the Premier League on account of Fulham's late goal at Portsmouth on the same afternoon, which enabled the London club to survive on goal difference at Reading's expense.
Some of the site's subscribers were enormously excited when The Secret Footballer was interviewed by Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5Live, claiming that the voice was unmistakeably Kitson's -- only for the presenter to insist that it was actually that of an actor.
This in turn sparked a new debate over whether an actor posing as The Secret Footballer in a supposedly live interview would have thrown in quite so many stutters and pauses and ums and ahs as Derbyshire's did.
Kitson is now at Sheffield United, who have declined to comment on the basis that whether or not he is The Secret Footballer is none of their business.
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