Book Review: Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

With the end of the 1991/92 season, the format of football in England shifted seismically; Leeds United were the last Football League Division One Champions and in 1992/93 the FA Premier League was born, to change forever the soccer landscape in this country. 1992 also saw the release of Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, which transformed the way football literature was viewed to become a seminal work in sports writing.

The book in structure is divided into three section, 1968 – 1975, 1976 – 1986 and 1986 – 1992, with a brief Introduction. Within each section, Hornby highlights certain fixtures to detail the relationship between his life and what he sees as the intrinsic links with football, rather than a ‘match-report’ format. Hornby is clear in the introduction to the book as to his reasons for writing Fever Pitch, detailing that it “…is an attempt to gain some kind of angle on my obsession…also, in part, an exploration of some of the meanings that football seems to contain for many of us…about being a fan…”

When first reading this book twenty years ago, it was a revelation to read something that I could relate to in terms of the passion, fanaticism and obsession with ‘my’ team. Hornby had captured the enthusiasm of going to your first game and how it hooks you in, continuing the story through adolescence to adulthood and the ‘highs and lows’ that occurred both in supporting your team and the angst associated with growing-up. The book had a ‘current’ feel to it as it was written and published with a backdrop in which the English game was still recovering and coming to terms with the fallout from the (then) recent events of Heysel, the Bradford City fire and Hillsborough.

Reading Fever Pitch again at the end of the 2012/13 season, Hornby’s Arsenal find themselves at the Emirates Stadium in a league that is a global brand, with a team where English players are in the minority and the days of epic FA Cup ties requiring numerous replays, are a thing of the past. This change in the football landscape over the last twenty years perhaps explains why for me reading the book second-time around, the focus fell more upon Hornby’s emotional journey through depression and his personal story than the footballing context. That said, Fever Pitch is still a hugely influential read in football literature, but given the shift that has occurred in the English game and its implications for clubs and all those involved in the sport, including fans, the time is surely ripe for a second football offering from the author. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be a Fever Pitch 2 as Hornby has said that the success of the original altered forever his relationship with the club, in that he could no longer write from the perspective of the fan. Therefore, Fever Pitch should be appreciated for the classic it is and will continue to be in the future.


Book Review: The Great English Final – 1953: Cup, Coronation & Stanley Matthews by David Tossell

David Tossell’s book about the 1953 FA Cup Final when Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 makes a grandiose but puzzling claim. It says that the “…legendary game continues to occupy a prominent place in English football legend…” (sic) because it has, “…come to represent a Golden Age…” But it doesn’t even leave things at that. Not content with such a mighty claim about the game’s footballing pedigree, it makes wider claims for the match that cannot possibly be substantiated. The raw material for a really good story about football is there all right, but he nearly messes it up by trying to bring in too many different themes. Happily, he is saved by the fact that, finally, the Final delivered.

It is hard to work out exactly why people who want to read about a football match that has come to be known as ‘The Matthews Final’ have to wade through so much that is not actually about the game itself, nor indeed even about football. That is, until you realise that most of the match up to the climactic ending was rather dull. In searching for something more to say about it, Tossell greatly widens his remit to look at the “…merging of historical, cultural and personal narratives…”

Some of the things he says are pretty much beyond question; the game did take place in Coronation year, Mount Everest was conquered for the first time, it was watched by a much bigger television audience than any previous one, post-War food rationing did stretch out till that year, the Duke of Edinburgh apparently did say the Bolton kit made them look like a bunch of pansies. However he tries, particularly in the first half of the book, to make the 1953 FA Cup Final carry much more weight, culturally, than is fair for what was, after all, a football match. He makes a nod in this direction himself when he says, “…the threat of nuclear obliteration notwithstanding…”

A major problem with the book is its structure. Even before the account begins, we are given pen pictures of the players, curiously called the ‘Cast of Characters’, something that could surely have gone to the back of the book to ease the narrative flow. Except that there is no narrative flow. He repeatedly breaks away from his match report of the Final itself, gleaned from having studied the DVD, to explore his themes. Therefore, his first interlude arrives after a mere seven and a half minutes of uneventful football. He continues to encounter difficulties with this approach until the game itself takes over narrative duties. But before that, we are torn away from our match report yet again, this time to get, er, a match report of the Semi-Final.

Although a little credence can be given to the Final having had some degree of cultural impact since it was watched by so many, it is always dangerous when authors generalise, especially about things like the public attitude to Elizabeth II’s Coronation. People never did and never do act with one mind. Tossell seems much more comfortable and is on much safer and more interesting ground when he talks about the players and supporters. This is, in any case, what most readers of football books want all along. An over-generous helping of social enlightenment is not what they crave.

Isn’t it more real and interesting to read about Stanley Matthews having personalised boots made in Heckmondwike? Isn’t the reader more engaged by the many and varied attempts made by fans to get tickets for the Final? Isn’t everybody happier reading about Blackpool fans presenting a huge stick of rock to Number 10 Downing Street in the days when you could actually walk up to the door and knock?

Once the author has bravely trudged through the historical and cultural narratives, and most of the personal ones, he relaxes much more into what the match itself has to offer and it is amusing to note how he can barely tolerate the legendary commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary of the legendary game. And he teases the reader throughout, being unprepared to admit it was ‘The Matthews Final’. He does have a fair point since Mortensen and Perry made pretty important contributions, too, in actually scoring the goals. Yet the match, in an era when substitutes were not allowed, was turned on its head by Matthews in the final minutes as Bolton tired. They let a 3-1 lead slip and the nation’s most popular player, Matthews, won his medal aged 38. The book’s clanking title ‘The Great English Final’ obstinately launches a counter-claim, but its cover admits the reality. One picture of little Queen Elizabeth, no Everest, no Bolton pansies, but three shots of Stan. 2nd May, 1953 – The Matthews Final.


Review by Graeme Garvey


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Review: Book Clubs by Tommy Sauce

Tommy Sauce is a UK based graphic design company headed by business partners Andrew Woods and Ben Evans. Their latest project has seen them produce a series of prints titled ‘Book Clubs’.

In terms of the inspiration for the idea, the partners had been playing around with various pastiches of classic Penguin books, when it suddenly occurred to them that the ingenious colour-coded tricolours on the Penguin and Pelican covers, designed by Edward Young in the 1930s, would lend themselves to the world of football. So, they began by filling in the panels with colours, say claret and blue, and then coming up with a line from a song or a reference understood by the club’s fans. This was then inserted as the title of the book; in West Ham United’s case ‘Fortune’s Always Hiding’. This struck the partners as being a poignant memoir detailing the story of a football team. Woods and Evans deliberately avoided current, time-sensitive references and just went for classic, literary-inspired titles. In addition, the well-recognised markings of the six-yard box and centre-circle were added to the panels; with the print completed by the inserting of the wording ‘First Edition’, which signified the year the club was formed.

Currently, the prints available include English Premier League clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Liverpool and both Manchester teams, Scottish clubs, Celtic and Rangers and other English teams such as Bradford City, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Stockport County and Wolves. However, the company does custom orders so if your favourite team isn’t available, the option can be discussed with them.

The response to the design and product has been astonishing and it has been featured across all forms of the media, including magazines, newspapers and blogs, with a celebratory purchaser from a regular presenter on Match of the Day 2.

These prints work because they are an excellent example of the saying, “…less is more…” with a simple, clear and innovative design. They manage to capture both a retro feel, acknowledging the 1930s Penguin influence, yet a modern edge with the clean minimalist style. Tommy Sauce has combined the football and literary worlds with a classic, arty and inventive idea to produce unique prints.

A good read will always leave you asking questions. If your club was a book or a novel, what would it be called?

Find out at Tommy Sauce designs by following this link.

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Book Review: A Fulhamish Coming of Age (Fulham in Europe 1973–2003) by Alex Ferguson – The Traveller

Alex Ferguson started watching Fulham in the 1950s and did so through the many ‘ups and downs’ the club endured, until his untimely death in 2006. Alex became one of the most recognised, if not the most renowned fan of the club, following the ‘Lilywhites’ wherever and whoever they played. No matter if it was the first-team, the reserves, the youth team, Fulham Ladies – league, cup, testimonial, friendly; Alex was there. He also watched England at all levels with the same enthusiasm and fanaticism and his journeys with both club and country earned him the moniker of ‘The Traveller’.

Alex recorded the details of his years watching his footballing loves and these gave rise to two books published by Ashwater Press. The first in 2003 titled, ‘Pandora’s Fulhamish Box’ and the second in 2006 called, ‘A Fulhamish Coming of Age – Fulham in Europe 1973–2003’ which is reviewed here.

The book begins with an introduction from ‘The Traveller’ which tells the reader that this volume, “…chronicles thirty years spent watching Fulham Football Club competing in recognised UEFA competitions in Europe…comprising Anglo-Italian Tournament, Intertoto, UEFA Cup and Women’s UEFA Cup fixtures…” This equates to twenty three games, with each having their own chapter in the book.

In terms of style, the writing has the intimacy of a diary and therefore a language that is personal and in Alex’s case, a wit and quirkiness that requires the reader to think on their feet as they read. Each game is captured in terms of the facts of time, date, venue, line-ups, substitutions and goals. However, this book is not about page after page of match reports, instead the chapters are more anecdotal, as Alex shares details of the travel, the location, the atmosphere and his observations. The intuitive writing is complemented by a range of pictures, which show programme covers, tickets, posters, press cuttings and team sheets, giving a ‘scrapbook’ feel alongside the diary content. It is an immensely enjoyable read, with the contrast of the first European games in the early 70s and those thirty years later an interesting point of comparison. If I have a criticism and it is entirely a personal view, it is that I would have preferred a chronological lay-out of the chapters, so offering the flow of time and progression through the respective tournaments.

It is interesting to reflect on how the Intertoto fixtures in 2002/03 were written about by Alex as Fulham left the Cottage for their spell at Loftus Road. Thankfully by the time the book was published in 2005, ‘The Traveller’ was still around to see his beloved ‘Lilywhites’ return to the ancestral home by The Thames. Sadly just a year later, Alex died and it begs the question as to what he would have made of the European adventure that lead to the Europa League Cup Final in 2009/2010 and the disappointment of the campaign in 2011/12? Unfortunately we will never know…luckily though, we will always have this book as part of the legacy of ‘The Traveller’ who was there when it all began in 1973.


This book and other Ashwater Press titles can be purchased by visiting the following website:

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Book Review: The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown

Back in 2012, Paul Brown edited an anthology of Victorian football writing, titled Goal-Post. This has now been followed up with The Victorian Football Miscellany.

Whereas Goal-Post focuses on twenty one articles taken from periodicals of the time dealing with specific players and games of the era, the Miscellany is a collection of “…trivia, facts and anecdotes from football’s earliest years…”

The amount of research carried out by Paul Brown can only be admired as the tales of Victorian ‘eccentricity’ spring forth from the pages of the book. Amongst my favourites are the following two pieces:

“…A curious game of football took place at the annual Windsor Revel in August 1840. The four-a-side game involved players having ‘their legs tied 15 inches apart, and their hands confined’. According to the Era newspaper, the winners were presented with a cheese…”

“…At Westminster school in November 1856, a football match was played that was billed as ‘Handsome vs. Ugly’. It was ‘a fine game’, apparently, and the Ugly XI won 3-2. ‘Luckily for Ugly,’ reported Bell’s Life, ‘this match was played in fog’…”

Whilst the examples above show that there is humour and quirkiness within the miscellany, there is also a great deal of material which provides glimpses of the serious issues of the day in terms of the developing game. Amongst these are the creation of the Football Association, the agreement of a uniformed set of laws, professionalism and the establishing of the FA Cup and the early international fixtures.

With no particular topic going beyond a page, this makes for a great ‘pick up and put down book’, so is ideal for those short journeys on the bus and train. However, it is such an alluring mix of stories, facts and figures that it makes you want to carry on reading, and indeed these ‘teasers’ made me want to go and investigate further many of the stories. The book is also helped by the fact that it is ordered chronologically which assists in providing a logical structure and flow.

In reading this book, it brought home the reality of how different football was during the Victorian era, especially when trying to visualise the game under the first ‘Laws of the Game’ as drawn up the Football Association. When these first rules came into being, there were no solid crossbars, goal-nets or penalty kicks. Whilst we look back on those early games in Victorian games will some incredulity, what would they make of the ‘Global Game’ we have now? As The FA celebrates its 150th Anniversary, this book is a cracking insight into those pioneering days – a veritable cornucopia of eclectic Victorian footballing splendour! Play Up! Play Up!



Book Review: Crystal Palace FC 1969-1990 – A Biased Commentary by Chris Winter

Take all the years you’ve watched your club and then try and pick the best eleven. A time-honoured debate for any football fan, one which can provide heated discussion whilst on the longest of away trips or during the quietest of post-match pints. Quite simply this is the premise for Crystal Palace FC 1969-1990 – A Biased Commentary.

Author Chris Winter attended his first game at Selhurst Park in September 1968 when Palace played Carlisle United in the ‘old’ Second Division, who they thumped 5-0. However, the story of the book begins with the following season 1969/70, with Crystal Palace playing in the top flight of English football for the first time in their history. The book then covers a twenty one year period to 1990, which sees Palace in the ‘old’ First Division and reaching (and losing after a replay), the FA Cup Final against Manchester United. The intervening seasons are a roller-coaster worthy of any theme park, let alone Selhurst Park, and cover Palace suffering consecutive relegations in 1972/73 and 1973/74 down to the third tier of English football. Whilst there, under the flamboyant Malcolm Allison Palace reached the 1976 FA Cup Semi-Final and as quickly as they had left the top flight, they were back after promotions in 1976/77 and 1978/79. However, it was a brief stop as at the end of 1980/81 relegation back to the second tier occurred for a team unfortunately dubbed “the team of the eighties”.

Through the various ups and downs, Winter doesn’t aim, as he says in the books Introduction, “… to produce a definitive statistical record…but rather to set down my…subjective memories of the last twenty one years and my opinions of the characters involved…” The author is as good as his word as the season by season chapters pick up on key games as well as the players, managers and chairmen; some of whom are immortalised in pencil sketches by the author in each section of the book. Winter is not afraid to give his opinions, whether that is in praise of heroes such as goalkeeper John Jackson or damning criticism of short-lived manager Alan Mullery.

What is also evident besides the fluctuating fortunes of the club on the pitch as they bounce between promotions and relegations, are the changes wrought on the club by Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables. In 1973/74 Winter details how Allison changed the colours of the club, the badge and nickname, so that ‘The Glaziers’ became ‘The Eagles’ and “…another gimmick, thankfully a short-lived one, was the printing of bogus nicknames in the programme alongside each player’s name…titles which also embellished their track-suit tops…” However, on a more serious level, Allison also put in place an excellent Youth set-up which Venables when manager benefited from, as he went on to develop a team playing a patient passing game for the Selhurst Park faithful.

After charting the highs and lows of the period from the 1969 -1990 period, the author gets down to the business of selecting his ‘best eleven’. As a reader you might want to skip the books Introduction as Winter provides the eleven selected upfront. My personal preference would have been to only provide the ‘dream team’ once all the analysis of the various players in each position had been provided by the author. However, this doesn’t take away from a book which will provide Palace fans old and new, with material in abundance to discuss the merits of former heroes and villains. Finally, this book is the first of two volumes which cover Chris Winter’s years watching Palace as he also went on to release Crystal Palace F.C. 1990-2011: More Biased Commentary and in that produces not only a ‘fantasy team’ for 1990 – 2011, but a ‘best-ever eleven’ covering 1969 – 2011. Forty two years, now where do you begin…


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Book Review: Northern Monkeys by William Routledge

Northern Monkeys was first published by ThinkMore in 2012 with the limited edition run, selling out. Given this success a second edition was published in 2013 which contained some addition material. This review is based on the latest edition.

If you are looking for a run-of-the-mill football hooligan book with pages dedicated to tales of ‘battles’ on the terraces and high streets of towns and cities up and down the country, then you are going to be sadly disappointed. Instead William Routledge offers the reader a journey which involves football, fashion and music centring on the North West of England.

The journey seeks to define the ‘Northern Monkey’ and their evolution with Routledge going back to the 1870s to look at the Victorian gangs in Manchester and Liverpool to start the story. There is then pretty much a leap to the 1950s as the book goes through the decades up to the present day. Through each passing period, Routledge tells his own story and introduces personal recollections from the people who lived through it. These tales tell of the Teddy Boys, Mods, Skinheads, Punks, Scooter Boys, Soul Boys; their music, their fashion and their mentality. It is also about the cities and towns of the North West itself and stories of nights out in the clubs and pubs  of Preston, Blackburn, Blackpool, Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester, Lancaster and Morecambe.

These recollections and those of Routledge himself are the honest reminiscences of those who genuinely experienced the events. Some of the anecdotes are brutal, whilst others are dark, but most are sprinkled with the joy of being alive and living for the moment.

The chapter which most grabbed my attention was that titled Social Entrepreneurship which features interviews with Robert Wade-Smith, Barry Brown and Gary Aspden. These three tell of their success in business associated with the rise of the casuals from the early eighties through to today. The ability of all of these men to see their chance and with a few ups and downs, make it happen was compelling reading.

The excellent writing is supplemented by a range of colour images which enhance this fine publication. These include shots showing the ranges of clothes and trainers of Adidas, Diadora, Fila, and Lacoste etc. to pictures of the author and the contributors in their youth. For readers of a certain age, these images will draw a knowing smile.

Overall this is a wonderful piece of social history, a candid ‘warts and all’ account of life as a ‘Northern Monkey’ through the decades; one which will leave you with a smile as wide as a grinning chimp.

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Book Review: My Fight with Life by Leon McKenzie

Robert Enke (2009), Dale Roberts (2010), Gary Speed (2011) – three men from the world of football who in recent years took their own lives. That list has nearly been added to by ex-players such as Dean Windass and the author of My Fight with Life, Leon McKenzie, who have both attempted suicide.

From a football perspective, the book details McKenzie’s journey from making his debut and scoring as a seventeen year old for Crystal Palace in 1995 through to his last playing spell at Corby Town in 2012. McKenzie spent five years at Selhurst Park playing in the Premier League in 1997/98 season with brief loan spells at Fulham and Peterborough United, before permanently signing for The Posh in 2000. McKenzie proved to be a hit with the fans and his form in his three years at Peterborough earned him a move to Norwich City in 2003, where he was part of the side that was promoted to the Premier League. In the 2004/05 season McKenzie proved he could play at the very top level in the English game, but The Canaries were relegated on the last day of the season after capitulating 6-0 at Fulham. However, as the 2005/06 season dawned, problems on and off the field were beginning to impact on McKenzie both physically and mentally. Injuries were starting to significantly cut into his playing time, whilst his marriage was on the ropes. Against this background, McKenzie looked to make a fresh start and signed for Coventry City in 2006. Here though his playing time was again hit by a series of injuries, but he did score his 100th professional goal against previous employers Ipswich Town on the opening day of the 2008/09 season. After three years McKenzie was again on the move this time, this time to Charlton Athletic, where with injuries seemingly bringing him to a standstill and the loneliness of living away from his family, he attempted suicide in 2009. His last professional club was Northampton Town in the 2010/11 season, before short stints at Kettering Town and Corby Town.

McKenzie is forthright in his views of the managers and coaches he worked under during his playing career. These range from then Crystal Palace boss Steve Coppell who McKenzie describes as “…a great bloke and real inspiration…” to Alan Smith (whilst at Crystal Palace) and Gary Johnson (whilst at Northampton) as “…by far the two worst managers…ever encountered…” The Professional Footballers Association doesn’t escape his criticism either, as he lambasts the organisation for its slowness in addressing the issue of depression in current and ex-players.

Away from the football, McKenzie is equally direct when talking about his life whether it be his famous boxing relatives, (dad, Clinton McKenzie and uncle, Duke), his marriage break-up, his stint in prison for motoring offences, his plans for the future as a professional boxer or working for Elite Welfare Management advising players about depression. There is much to be admired in that McKenzie is so open in talking about the depression he suffered and the attempted suicide, detailing and understanding how his injuries, coming to the end of a career and the impact of his childhood and family life, brought him to that fateful date in 2009.

However, the book suffers from a numbers of errors which proof-reading should have picked up on and from a lack of editing. This book would have been better served by a linear timeline rather than chapters which jump back and forth and therefore lack fluidity for the reader. Tighter editing would also have ensured that the repetition which occurs in the book was also avoided and the bizarre change in Chapter 14 where the narrative switches from first-person to the third-person.

Ultimately though, this is a brave story and one which can give hope to people (in whatever walk of life), that out of despair can come a positive future.


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Book Review: Thierry Henry – Lonely at the Top: A Biography by Philippe Auclair

Where do you start with this review? In finishing reading this book and reflecting on the experience, my views and thoughts have been many and varied, which has subsequently made the task of writing a critique a difficult one. So let’s start with some basics.

The author Philippe Auclair is a freelance journalist who has worked as the United Kingdom correspondent for the French magazine, France Football and broadcaster at RMC Radio for a number of years. Auclair has also written, Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King, which won the 2010 British Sports Book Award for Best Football Book. This second book is an unauthorised biography, but as Auclair says in the Acknowledgements, “…Thierry Henry himself, who was aware of my project…from the start, made no attempt to interfere with it or impair my research…I’m grateful to him for that…”

In terms of the book itself, it is set over 337 pages, but contains none of the glossy pages of pictures that accompany most of the autobiographies and biographies published today. Instead, there are simply a series of black and white images which adorn the page at the start of end new chapter and act as an introduction and lead into each section of the book. It may seem a stupid thing to say but this biography is all about the words and the sparse images act merely to compliment the text. For the most part the book follows a chronological path from Henry’s birth in Les Ulis (a suburb of Paris), through his youth football career, and his international and club appearances up to his loan spell at Arsenal in early 2012.

As for the title of the book, “Lonely at the Top”, this is open to interpretation. It could refer to the playing position of Henry, and the question of whether his transformation from wide player to centre-forward was successful. Or it is saying that Henry was a lonely figure by choice at having only a small group of trusted people through his career? In truth there is an element of both as Auclair seeks to find answers to both of these conundrums.

All clear so far? So why has this book proved a difficult one to review? Part of it lies in the fact that Auclair hasn’t written a run of the mill biography which blindly goes from season to season in a sycophantic ‘the boy done good’ manner. This is a book which has been incredibly well researched and has a gravitas that at times reads like a University dissertation as Auclair seeks to answer questions about Henry, Arsenal and the French national team. Along the way the reader comes to learn about the dominating figure that was Henry’s father (Tony) and the incident that broke that bond, when a proposed move from Monaco to Real Madrid went very badly wrong. Unsurprisingly, Auclair points to the pressure and influence of Tony on his son and the ‘Real fiasco’ as having a lasting impact on Henry.

What lies at the centre of this book is a view of Henry from both sides of the channel and which seems to present two very different animals. Auclair is able to do this because of his French roots on the one hand and as an Arsenal supporter living in London on the other. Therefore it may be that English readers (whether Gunners fans or not), will be perplexed by their view of Titi, the record breaking hero of Highbury and The Emirates, compared with that of a fallen idol in his homeland whose international career can now never be separated from “The Hand of Gaul” incident against the Republic of Ireland which sealed Les Bleus qualification for the 2010 World Cup.

Indeed, Auclair uses the book to explore the French national team through Henry’s involvement in various World Cup and European Championship tournaments. The World Cup triumph of 1998 and the European Championship win in 2000 are analysed as the stock of Henry and the national team reached its peak and gave rise to the “…black-blanc-beur…” (black-white-arab), vision of French society as represented by its football team. However, this dream is slowly dismantled starting with the Group exit in Japan/Korea at the 2002 World Cup and is completely shattered by the players strike in the embarrassing exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Auclair makes a case for ending the book with that disastrous campaign in South Africa, but in a Postscript that takes in Henry’s move to the New York Bull’s in 2011 and a cameo at Arsenal at the beginning of 2012, there is a positive ending. Incredibly for a book that is written so well and is all about the words, the ‘last-word’ is actually achieved by an image. Just check out page 331…


Book Review: Guilty Tiger by Chris Brown

With the advent of books about football terrace culture in the late 1990’s from writers such as John King and more recently Dougie Brimson, this genre has gradually gained an acceptance and recognition in the literary world. Chris Brown is a Bristol Rovers fan, who in the 1970’s was a skinhead on the terraces in the Tote End at Eastville (Rovers home ground up until 1986), who detailed his experiences, the music and fashion of the time in his autobiographical book Bovver (published 2001); it was subsequently updated and released in 2009 as Booted and Suited. Following on from the success of these books, Chris Brown has written his first novel, Guilty Tiger, which draws on his Bristol roots and some of the themes of his earlier work.

Steve Allen is the central character, who back in the 1970s was part of a gang called ‘The Big Five’, who got involved in hooliganism and right-wing politics. Now he has all the trapping of a good life – well paid job, big house, top of the range car, designer clothes and a cocaine habit. However, all is not well in his world; his beloved Bristol Rovers are languishing in the lower reaches of the football league, whilst he reviles the money and influence of the Premiership. Moreover, Steve is frustrated with his sex-less marriage and disenchanted with what he sees around him in the country and the city of his birth; worst of all Allen is suffering a mild-life crisis. However, his life and that of ‘The Big Five’ changes when Kirsty an old flame of Allen gets in touch.

What unfolds is a fast-paced page-turner of a book with revenge and redemption the order of the day. In terms of writing style and telling, it has a graphic quality that would lend itself to a television series, with ‘action’ on the streets as well as in the bedroom. However, Guilty Tiger is not just about the physical, as Chris Brown through his characters, looks at how as people we deal with love, friendship, loyalty and trust, as well the moral dilemma of what constitutes ‘justice’. Brown presents to the reader a world where the idea of ‘good and bad’ and ‘right and wrong’ is blurred, and for all its protestations that we live in a much more moral and politically correct world, Guilty Tiger shows that underneath it all that the corruption, back-handers and violence of the 1970s is still with us.

My only gripe with the book is that the Premiership sub-plot feels slightly hidden and is then concluded too quickly. However, overall it does not detract from a what is a highly readable and engaging first novel from Chris Brown.


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