Book Review: The Lives of Stanley B by Mat Guy

Mat Guy is no stranger to the world of football writing having brought readers three titles in Barcelona to Buckie Thistle: Exploring Football’s Roads Less Travelled, Minnows United: Adventures at the fringes of the beautiful game and Another Bloody Saturday. These are non-fiction and focus on Guy’s travel at home and abroad recalling tales from lesser known clubs and grounds, exploring what they means to their fans and their communities. The Lives of Stanley B sees Guy take a different direction in writing a fictional novel, which whilst does not solely focus on football, has it at the heart of the book.

The story begins with a journalist at a game amongst his fellow scribes as they try to answer the perennial question, ‘Who was the best footballer you have ever seen play?’ The journo is surprised by his own answer as he comes up with a left-back, Tom Maskell who played merely a handful of games in the old Fourth Division. So begins the lead into the first of four major plotlines as the journalist investigates what happened to the player. In doing so, readers are regaled with the journalists boyhood introduction to the game in a path well known by fans, with the thrill, sights and sounds of their first game, the thirst for facts and figures from programmes and newspaper alike, warmly drawn by Guy. The author wonderfully portrays how with the passing of time this experience changes, with attending reserve games with a handful of ‘characters’ transitioning into those once a year visits for Christmas and New Year games, via being a regular season-ticket holder. In the search for Tom Maskell the journalist finds himself on the south coast of Devon and Cornwall where Maskell played in the local leagues before his time in the professional game.

Here readers are introduced to Scot, Gordie Macrae in the second major story, who despite his years, ferries people around the lakes, and like Maskell had a brief flirtation with the professional game in his youth. Gordie’s tale though is not of a successful career, instead it is one ended by injury with significant consequences for him and his family. This part of the book sees the introduction of Stanley B and link into the third narrative with the story of Maisie Buchanan. Her tale is of a strong determined woman who raises and provides for her son singlehandedly, experiencing along the way the trauma of the Second World War, as the port of Southampton is bombarded by the Germans. Maisie’s son is a decent enough footballer to play for the South Coast club in the games played during the war, with the football theme continuing after the war, as Maisie takes in games in and around Cumbria whilst in the North West. The last major narrator sees the story of Eilish, a woman with memories of sitting in the stands watching her father play football, in search of her past.

Throughout the book Guy’s writing has a poetic quality, with his depictions of the lakes and nature in general, painting wonderful pictures for the readers and healing, calming influences on the characters as they experience loss and seek resolution and redemption. However, football plays its part too. Guy’s obvious knowledge and love of the beautiful game evident in his depiction of football at all levels and echoing its importance in the lives of the central characters. The descriptions of the ritual of attending games are incredibly authentic as is the recognition by Guy that being absorbed by the action on the pitch can provide respite from the pressures of everyday life.

Life is indeed a journey and Guy uses football as the metaphor in Stanley B to wonderfully travel it.

(Publisher: 1889 Books. November 2021. Paperback: 248 pages)


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Posted October 15, 2021 by Editor in category "Reviews

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