Book Review: Another Bloody Saturday – A Journey to the Heart and Soul of Football by Mat Guy
With the recent demise of Bury Football Club with its expulsion from the Football League after 134 years, this book first published in 2015, is a timely reminder of what loss means both in the footballing and human sense.
Author Mat Guy takes a diary format look at his journey through the 2014/15 season (with a couple of flashback chapters to 2006) as he seeks to celebrate, “all that is great with the game of football, as seen through the eyes of a club and fans rarely bothered by satellite television cameras and the riches of the elite game.” It takes him from an early season Europa League Qualifier in North Wales, to the Wessex League Premier Division over the Festive period, via the Faroe Islands and North Cyprus, with Accrington Stanley featuring large in the books twenty-six chapters.
From this book, it is evident that football for the author, like for so many other people, has become deeply embedded in his psyche. For example, the game and attending matches on his own brought solace for Guy when his father took his own life. Whilst the affection he had for his grandfather is warmly described in memories of the trips they took to watch Salisbury City play. However, like the authors’ father and grandfather, the club was taken away from him, when in 2014 the club was disbanded and with it the very physical presence of their ground Victoria Park and the memories it evoked.
The sense of loss is at the centre of the book, as is though the desire to once again feel the connection and almost child-like joy of attending games as he did with his grandfather.
Does Guy achieve this? Well, the author certainly takes in the full gamut of the football experience as the tradition, passion and volunteer spirit that enables non-league clubs to exist is detailed with his trips to games in the Wessex League. He also explores the rise of the Women’s game as he takes in a World Cup Qualifier, the 2014/15 WSL Cup Final and the momentous friendly international between England and Germany at Wembley.
The stand out chapters though are from 2006 as Guy reveals to the reader football experiences that the average fan in the UK will never get to, in trips to the outpost of the Faroe Islands and Northern Cyprus for the ELF Cup (Equality, Liberty, Fraternity), with Crimea, Gagauzia, Greenland, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Tibet, Northern Cyprus and Zanzibar, the participants.
However, nearly a third of the chapters are devoted to Guy and his fellow travellers as they find a new ‘home’ in the guise of Accrington Stanley. It is somehow fitting that for the author his connection to the game and what he feels is at the heart and soul of the match experience is found in a club that folded back in 1966, only to be reborn in 1968 and once more find its way back into the Football League. Guy is won over by the honesty, the friendliness and eccentricity of the those who follow ‘Stanley’ home and away and the people working to keep the club operating.
The finding of the connection at Accrington and indeed the writing of the book and the different experiences along the way, are no doubt a cathartic experience for Guy, who acknowledges in the final chapter that despite the loss of Salisbury City and the memories of his grandfather at Victoria Park, “it’s time to stop mourning, because it is all here in spirit.”
Right, now for all those associated with Bury FC, they will be consumed by grief and will be mourning the loss of their team and what it has meant to the town. All they have right now is memories, but Another Bloody Saturday gives us hope that there is a new future born out of the spirit of the past.