Book Review: Extra Time – 50 Further Delights of Modern Football by Daniel Gray

Having recently rattled through Daniel Gray’s Saturday, 3PM and thoroughly enjoyed it, I immediately purchased a copy of his follow-up Extra Time – 50 Further Delights of Modern Football, and it didn’t disappoint.

In Saturday 3PM, Gray selected fifty of the weird and wonderful joys of the beautiful game, and in Extra Time, he details fifty more. This time, he takes in everything from soft-spot teams, to people patting police horses to cup draws and, my personal favourite, having noted its absence in Saturday 3PM, the referee falling over – it shouldn’t be funny, we’re all grown-ups, but it absolutely is. And again he does so in short missives that are perfectly resonant for football fans, but with a literary style and panache that is something to marvel at. There is something genuinely magical about his writing that makes it more than just words on a page; they burst with such precision and detail, such energy and zeal, that he absolutely brings the moments he describes to life, like a painter with words. Readers may think I’m getting a bit carried away, and perhaps I am, but I challenge you to read Gray’s writing and not to find it evocative. And something that I don’t think I’ve ever said about a sports book before – but his use of metaphor and simile is the stuff of English teachers’ dreams. In fact, any English teachers wanting to help students get their heads’ around these seemingly obscure techniques when trying to pick apart inaccessible Romantic or Renaissance poetry may find greater success in delivering one of Gray’s chapters to their pupils and using that as their reference point. His writing does, after all, have a poetry of its own, but one that is universally relatable and transparent – unlike much of the poetry getting thrown at kids in school. To my mind, Gray’s writing is honestly the pinnacle of football writing – there are, of course, different styles and different requirements, but for me, this is football writing at its very best.

Aside from the technical merits of the book, which I think I’ve just about covered, there is the content itself – the fifty delights that Gray writes about, and given that his first book covered fifty such themes, conjuring a further fifty is an achievement in itself. Some of my personal favourites, aside from, yes, the referee falling over, include indirect free-kicks in the box, not being able to sleep after a night match, jeering disallowed goals, clearing the ball off the line, goalkeepers going forward and the roar after a minute’s silence – all of which Gray perfectly captures and manages to conjure for readers who, most likely, haven’t experienced these joys first-hand in over a year now. The chapter on ‘going with my daughter’ was particularly touching, but also especially relatable, and as someone at the other end of the age spectrum, I can assure Gray that the experience gets better – as, later, daughters discuss tactics with their dads, decipher some dodgy chants, pay for a half-time pie and pint and badmouth the referee with the best of them – OK, well, maybe not that last point (or perhaps the penultimate point), but there is much still to look forward to.

Naturally, some of the inclusions are more relevant and relatable than others, and I didn’t connect as much with a couple in this book, but I’m sure every reader will have their own associations and memories stirred by the variety of Gray’s offerings. To my mind, though, there are still plenty of delights remaining, so perhaps we can look forward to a third book? And for inclusion, I will put forward the following: goal celebrations – the slick and the not-so-slick; the choreographed routines and backflips or the misjudged knee slide that ends up causing an injury. But, in truth, whatever Gray writes next – another fifty delights, a separate football book, a shopping list – I will happily dive in (if he fancies doing the government daily briefings, too, I wouldn’t object). And if any programme editors are looking to set the bar for next season, Gray’s writing is the sort that will elevate any publication to new heights, although I’m sure he has plenty to keep him going. Similarly, reading this book did make me think how nice an anthology of this sort would be, with a variety of the best writers around – Nick Hornby et al – extolling the virtues of football, and at a time when lower league/non-league clubs are struggling so much something like that could help to raise much-needed funds. But back to Daniel Gray and Extra Time and I can’t recommend this author enough. I’d advise starting with Saturday 3PM, before reading Extra Time, but either way Gray is a writer that deserves a worldwide audience – and perhaps inclusion on the school syllabus!

Jade Craddock


(Bloomsbury Sport. October 2020. Hardback 176 pages)



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Posted February 21, 2021 by Editor in category "Reviews

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