Book Review: Written In The Stars by Richard Stokoe
Every now and again a book comes along which wonderfully describes the idiosyncrasies and experiences associated with being a football fan – Written In The Stars by Richard Stokoe fits into that category.
From the moment the reader learns that the five-year old Stokoe became a Manchester United fan based on the fact he possessed a Subbuteo team featuring the colours of the Old Trafford club, you know this is going to be one enjoyable yet eccentric journey.
Stokoe uses a diary style format covering the period from 1975 to 2012 to look at his attachment to the game of football in general and in particular his relationship with three clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea and Wimbledon FC/AFC Wimbledon.
Whilst the book does follow a chronological timeline, Stokoe also on occasions drifts back and forwards in time in a cinematic manner. In essence this device is used to provide a sequence of events and outcomes that meets the authors desire to find a ‘happy ending’ to key games, rather than reality.
Indeed the filmic theme is extended to the clubs’ in Stokoe’s life, with Chelsea, cast as “the faithful, enigmatic wife”, Manchester United, “the jilted ex-lover” and Wimbledon FC/AFC Wimbledon, “the quirky down-trodden mistress”. This is translated in the book by Stokoe’s narrative on his early following of United, which is broken by a visit to Stamford Bridge in September 1984 and thereby starting his love affair with Chelsea that to this day survives, despite his brief flirtations with The Dons.
What is interesting is that Stokoe is open from the start in stating that despite not being a fan who attends games week-in, week-out at Stamford Bridge, he is one of many, “who are still adversely affected by the outcome of a game that they’ve chosen to avoid.” It is a fair point, since today satellite television, clubs’ own channels and the written and social media allow fans to watch and consume everything about their team without ever setting foot in the ground. This globalisation of the sport through modern technology has changed the fan experience and Stokoe successfully makes a case in this book that this new way to connect is still an emotionally engaging and demanding experience.
Overall, the book effectively captures so much of what it is to be football fan – positive and negative – whether this be match-day habits and superstitions, the feeling of dread at watching our team or the inevitability and fatalistic outcomes brought on by certain games and opponents. This idea of fate is reinforced through the title of the book, taken from Gary Neville’s commentary during the Second-leg of Chelsea’s Champions League Semi-final against Barcelona in 2012, and the destiny that sometimes besets our football experience as fans.
For all that is presented and maybe perceived as irrational thinking, behaviour or reaction by Stokoe the fan, the book itself is wonderfully and logically constructed, with links to relevant events and circumstances providing a strong connection throughout, with a good dose of humour thrown in for good measure.
Undoubtedly this book will appeal to Chelsea fans, but in reality has as a wider attraction for football fans in general, and in addition those who don’t follow or understand the game, yet have to endure the ups and downs of friends and family who do.