Book Review: There’s Only One Danny Garvey by David F. Ross
Football and fiction – not always the best of teammates, however, There’s Only One Danny Garvey by David F. Ross is a brilliant exception.
Set mainly in 1996, with a sporting background of the Olympics in Atlanta and the European Football Finals in England, accompanied by a soundtrack of Joy Division, Nick Cave and The Smiths, this novel centres on Danny Garvey, who has returned to Barshaw the village where he grew up, after an absence of 13 years, to manage the junior (1) team he once played for. Danny had been a teenage star and in 1983 moved to Aberdeen to begin his life as a professional player. However, injury saw him never make the first-team for the Dons and so he moved to Arbroath to play. His career though was effectively over by twenty-three due to the injury, only to take up the position as Youth team coach, having studied for his badges.
Higgy, whose life revolves around the football club and Libby, Danny’s terminally ill mother, is the driving force behind getting Danny back to Barshaw for the 1996/97 football season. Whilst the events on the pitch provide one narrative thread for the book, there are numerous others focusing on the off-field matters. In returning to the place of his childhood and early teenage years, Danny is forced to face his demons including the disappearance of a primary school classmate in the early 1970s, and his relationships with his mother, brother Raymond, Nancy (Raymond’s partner) and their child Damo.
Whilst the story is told mainly through Danny’s voice, the other characters do provide some insights, with dialogue in a Scottish accent providing a rawness and authenticity to the novel. Life on and off the pitch are depicted as dark and dangerous, with a subtle black comedic vein lurking just below the surface. The characters are well-drawn, indeed believable, and the writing engaging and absorbing – you can ask no more of a book which draws you in and demands to be continued to be read to the end.
For the football aficionados, whilst Barshaw Bridge FC are a fictional side, Ross details opponents who are part of the West of Scotland League such as Ardeer, Auchinleck Talbot, Beith Craigmark, Muirkirk and Troon, giving the football narrative an authentic feel. Indeed, further attachment to the ‘real’ football world is made with a cameo from ex-Scotland goalkeeper, Alan Rough.
The 20th Century French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, is often credited with saying that, “football is a metaphor for life”. If so, There’s Only One Danny Garvey, would have sat comfortably on his bookshelf.
(1) In Scotland, junior football is a level that would equate to the non-league game in England.
(Orenda Books. January 2021. Paperback 262 pages)