Within the field of football writing, the diary concept is nothing new, with countless other fans putting pen to paper recording the fortunes of ‘their team’ week-in, week-out, home and away, come what may.
Shots in the Dark – A Diary of Saturday Dreams and Strange Times, looks the part, front cover resplendent in red and blue (Aldershot Town’s colours), with a football added for good measure, back cover featuring an Aldershot rosette replete with a miniature foil replica of the FA Cup, and the cover spine also striped in that way old fashioned football scarfs are with bars of colour. Inside too, the reader is reassured that this is going to be a football diary, as when opening the book, the endsheets mimic a scrapbook with old action images, programme covers, and match tickets adorning the pages.
However, content-wise it is a bit of a different story. In order to understand why, lets consider a number of factors, starting with the author. The book publicity tells us that, “David Kynaston was born in Aldershot in 1951 overlooking the football ground. He was seven and a half years old when he added his first Aldershot Town FC match in the early months of 1959. So began a deep attachment to the game and a lifelong loyalty. He estimates that he has seen his team play close to 500 times.” Again, affirmation to any reader that this is no fair-weather, armchair supporter, with interest only in the Premier League and Champions League. This is a fan who has seen his team spend its years in the lower reaches of the Football League before going bust in 1992, only to see the phoenix club emerging and working its way through the non-league pyramid to claim a place in the Football League in 2008/09 before dropping back into the National League in 2013 once more in financial difficulty.
What the book PR also tells us is about Kynaston’s day job – “A professional historian since 1973, he has written extensively on post-war Britain; on the City of London; on cricket and on the private school question.” So set against this image of a man happy to stand or indeed sit amongst fellow fans in football grounds around the country, is a person of intellect, one with a wider view of the world beyond the ninety-minutes of a Saturday afternoon. And inevitably these two major parts of Kynaston’s character collide in creating Shots in the Dark.
Kynaston may have set out with all good intention in making the 2016/17 season of his beloved Shots (the nickname of Aldershot Town), the focus of the diary, but with his professional historian hat on, this was never going to be feasible given the football season started only a few months after the UK Brexit vote in June 2016 and the USA Presidential elections in November of that year. Indeed, he acknowledges this in one of the opening entries of the diary, dated Tuesday 02 August (2016), “a diary has implicit rules. Mine are that…it is not just about football (how could it be otherwise at this extraordinary political moment?)”. Indeed in a number of instances throughout the diary, the phrase “football orientated” is used, so reinforcing that early entry in August that the book covers more than just musings of the game.
This does though mean that at certain phases of the book the Aldershot story is well and truly pushed into the background, the prime example being the Trump v Clinton race for the White House. As the build-up to the day of the election draws near, more and more of the entries are given over to what will happen and once Trump become President, Kynaston continues in the same vein.
The reality is that any diary is a record of events, experiences, opinions and even predictions (a nod to the diary title – a shot in the dark, i.e. an estimate or guess). Readers will get to know about Kynaston the fan, which has provided a life-time experience following Aldershot and the solidarity and tribalism that it brings – his Saturday Dreams. On the flip-side, there is the diarist, as the liberal thinker, dismayed by the rise of the right and its influence across the globe – in Strange Times. It is not a run-of-the-mill football diary and as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.
(Bloomsbury Publishing. August 2020. Hardback 272pp)