Book Review: Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager: The Story of Mansfield Town FC 99/00 (according to Championship Manager) [Kindle edition] by Chris Darwen
Right, let’s get the tacky cover out of the way at the outset. It’s not the best you will have seen. The long-winded title is clumsy and the author’s name is even missing – this blooper being quite probably a world’s first, yet at least you know what’s coming and it is pleasingly idiosyncratic. It’s not another empty biopic of one of the Premiership super-clubs,and therefore the reader senses that it is bound to be more personal and might even offer something a little different. But…why Mansfield Town? And what was so special about 1999 that merits a book in 2014? These mysteries, alas, are never explained.
Chris Darwen’s Foreword admits it is a selfish act – ‘I had to write a book about it’ and confesses to it being an addiction before claiming there are millions like him. So he’s hoping they will relate to it and buy it. If he is right, he might eventually become a very wealthy man. Mind you, if his predictions in the persona of Mansfield’s Championship Manager are anything to go by, he might not become that wealthy a man. I suppose the e-punter is not risking much at £1.99 a Kindle copy.
The diary-form of narrative has the intention of letting us into the thought processes of Johnny Cooper and Darwen makes it clear his creation is no Jose Mourinho and has pretty much found his true level at Mansfield. You can also see the heavy influence of the computer game as so much of his time and thoughts are spent on wheeling and dealing in the (virtual) transfer market. Indeed, where the storytelling carries most authenticity is when it is closest to ‘Champ Man’ and Mansfield Town appears to be just the random club of choice for the author’s addiction.
Darwen quickly runs in to problems with the tone of the diary as he tries to create Johnny Cooper’s persona. For the football attitude he has taken a generous helping of Barry Fry, though Cooper is cast as a chipper Londoner with more than a hint of Del Boy about him and a tendency to think his jokes are hilarious. Since it is presented mostly as a diary and therefore not spontaneous wit, this comes across as self-congratulatory. I say ‘mostly’ because there are oddities in the narrative such as ‘I only play this game one way, and it isn’t with wingers I tell you!’ and ‘Let me talk you through the game’, where we have a mystery addressee.
The diary-form is both problematic and limiting, though, because it prevents full character development and leads to a narrowness with its episodic plot. Cooper’s ‘missus’ remains an ephemeral figure who occasionally merits fish and chips and his family life hardly garners a mention. So Cooper and the other creations never become three-dimensional people. This is a consequence of trying to fill out a computer game obsession. There is no doubt though that ‘Champ Man’ has gripped the author’s imagination and his enthusiasm comes over clearly in the accounts of the day-to-day running of the club especially his transfer dealings and frequent use of loanees and triallists.
A stylistic manifestation of the too-keen author’s addiction is his overdosing on exclamation marks, with trebles for really special emphasis, six in one (half) line illustrating the point.
For all that, the narrative rolls with undiminished enthusiasm from start to finish using all the expected football jargon; names being familiarised as in Blakey, Clarkey, Chrissy G and there always remains the possibility that his intended audience, his fellow addicts, might enjoy their fix.