Book Review: Just Visiting – A grumpy old fan’s journey into English football’s Promised Land by S. B. Mann (Match Reports by Mark Gardiner)
“Just Visiting”, is the story of Crystal Palace’s 2013/14 season in the Premier League, one in which the football pundits, (and maybe even some of the Palace faithful), predicted would see the club from Selhurst Park confirm their ”yo-yo team” status and return to the Championship.
Indeed the belief that ‘The Eagles’ sojourn in the English top flight could have been a brief one, is alluded to in the title of this book by S. B. Mann.
The cover is eye-catching, featuring the black away kit used during the season which came to be known as the “evil sash”.
Of the book itself, it consists of 343 pages and follows a diary format from the preseason outing at Dagenham & Redbridge, taking in the League Cup and FA Cup fixtures along the way, through to the final Premier League game at Craven Cottage against Fulham.
In terms of the content, there is a formulaic approach with S. B. Mann providing his thoughts and anecdotes on match-days, with a detailed report by Mark Gardiner, which includes Gardiner’s marks for the Palace player’s on the day. The book also contains a season summary, which includes a review from Mann and Gardiner, details of their ‘Player of the Year Awards’ and a more comprehensive match-by-match analysis of the marks awarded by Gardiner. This approach and detail ensures that the book is a thorough review of the season from two obviously very dedicated and devoted Palace fans.
Interestingly and honestly, Mann explains that the idea for the book didn’t come prior to the start of the season, but was triggered instead by the visit to Anfield a couple of months into the campaign. This meant that the author had to retrospectively recount his thoughts from the preseason and the games up to the Liverpool fixture.
The reason for mentioning this is that rather like Palace’s opening fixtures in the 2013/14 season, the book is slow to start and this is maybe down to the fact that Mann has to recall his thoughts from the early games. Indeed, in a parallel to ‘The Eagles’ fortunes, the longer the book goes on, the more the author seemed to warm to the task and the immediacy of the diary approach works, as the reader is introduced to Mann’s match-day routine at home and away.
Mann covers many of the gripes that affect modern day fans – price of tickets, changing of date and time of fixtures, clubs fielding weakened team in the League and FA Cup, the influence of SKY – as well as talking about events such as Heysel and Hillsborough. His use of ‘endnotes’ is useful in providing links to articles and websites that reinforce his points.
However, there are other topics which get quite an airing, these being away ticket allocation, the issue of fans standing or sitting, the treatment of disabled fans and finding somewhere at grounds to smoke. Mann’s concerns around the method of away tickets allocation and the standing/sitting debate, is an issue close to home as it relates to his mother and the need for her to be able to sit down with an unobstructed view. The author approaches the subjects with an honesty and integrity that is apparent throughout the book.
Whilst Mann provides overall observations on the fixtures he attends, Mark Gardiner provides detailed match reports, which as Steve Browett (Co-owner of Crystal Palace) observes in the Foreword, “are far more valuable and insightful than any that you will have read on the back pages of the Sunday papers.”
Gardiner writes with no little humour; some of it very much tongue-in-cheek, an example being that from a preseason friendly at Selhurst Park, in which he observes, “Lazio spurned some good chances and probably eased off in anticipation of sampling a night out in Croydon.”
The combination of material from Mann and Gardiner works well and as stated earlier, this is a book with honesty and integrity. Overall, it is a good review of a memorable season for the Palace faithful, through the eyes of two loyal fans. There is so much that is positive and can be recommended about “Just Visiting”, however it has its faults.
Mann openly apologises for the “inevitable proof reading errors”. However, despite his candidness in this, the reality is that the book would have benefited from a more thorough proof reading and editing exercise. The book unfortunately does contain grammatical errors, missing words, poor paragraph spacing, and inconsistent use of fonts, with even mistakes on the front cover.
Perhaps surprisingly, there is also a football error in relation to Mann’s visit to what is detailed as the “Hearts v Dundee” fixture. Firstly, the game in Edinburgh featured Dundee United rather than their neighbours Dundee and secondly, Mann states he “headed off in search of Tannerdice”. This is unfortunately wrong on two counts – firstly the spelling should read, Tannadice, and secondly, the game was at Hearts, so the ground he attended was Tynecastle.
Mann states that, “writing a book is often a compromise between the desire and the practical” and so this book is an attempt, “to accomplish something worthwhile within a reasonable budget.”
“Just Visiting” is a book that achieves that aim.