Book Review: The Charlton Men by Paul Breen
The Charlton Men by Paul Breen is the first part of a fictional trilogy set in South East London. Although this is classified as fiction, the backdrops to this first book are the real events of 2011 in terms of the London riots and Charlton Athletic FC’s 2011/12 season in League One.
Set against this are the fictional characters Lance and Fergus. Lance is a Londoner and life-long Charlton Athletic supporter who was in the army in Afghanistan, but having returned to London now finds himself working as a caretaker in a block of flats. Fergus is from Ireland and moves to London and becomes a resident in the flats where Lance works. The flats prove to be a vehicle to introducing other characters as the book unfolds, with other residents ‘Merlin’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe’ becoming central to the plot.
One of the overriding themes is that of the past, which in footballing terms, occurs through Lance’s tales of Charlton’s history as he integrates Fergus into the faithful at The Valley. For all the central characters, their past, pre-London, also becomes significant to the book as it develops and impacts on the events of the present.
In addition, there is an exploration of the idea of ‘home’, which as with other themes is looked at from a football angle as well as in a wider context. For Lance a Londoner born and bred, South East London is home and always will be and is expressed further by his love and devotion for his football team and its ground, The Valley. Just as Lance returned home after Afghanistan, so did Charlton after being forced to play at West Ham and Crystal Palace. For Fergus, Ireland is ‘home’, but does through the book come to see London as another ‘home’.
This is also a book with great characters which explores relationships in various forms, whether this is about how people relate to each other, how people relate and interact with their surroundings or how a football club connects with the community and those who live within it.
Overall Breen creates great atmosphere and tension with his writing, whether in the football grounds of League One or on the streets of Greenwich and his penchant for metaphor paints some wonderful images of London. The Charlton Men is a book which operates on a number of levels and therefore will appeal to football fans and non-fans alike. The ground has certainly been laid for part two of the trilogy.