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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Book Review: Saturday, 3pm: 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football by Daniel Gray

Although published in 2016, Daniel Gray’s Saturday, 3PM couldn’t be more fitting for the current times. Ask any football fan what they’re missing about matches played behind closed doors or the entire absence of football in the lower leagues and they’ll reel off a selection of things that Gray includes in this book of his ‘fifty eternal delights of modern football’.

Starting with seeing a ground from the train through to the last day of the season, Gray picks out those wonderful – and often weird – quirks of a football fan’s existence, the small as well as the large pleasures of the game that only true followers will understand – ‘watching an away end erupt’, ‘talking to an old man about football’, ‘physiotherapist races’, ‘club eccentrics’, and, yes, even ‘losing’ (I’m not entirely convinced by the latter!). In fifty bite-sized and accessible chunks, he waxes lyrical on this half-century of football fetishes, in genuinely evocative and, dare I say, even poetic, refrains. Indeed, the descriptions and sketches are compellingly vivid in such a way that they send the reader whirling back in time and place to when football stadiums were open, and crowds were part and parcel of the sporting experience.

Reading this book mid-lockdown, mid-pandemic really is a poignant and nostalgic experience that leaves you hankering for the thrills of matchday, whether that be ‘slide tackles in the mud’ or ‘seeing the team bus’, ‘visiting a ground for the first time’ or ‘standing on a terrace’. They’re simple experiences but ones that are fundamental to football fans and the whole panoply of going to a match, and ones that are sorely missed right now. And although a book can’t replace the real thing, I felt myself soothingly transported by Gray’s words, wrapped up, as he describes, in the ‘warm blanket football is’, and what a joy that was after so long in the wilderness. I suspect other readers will feel the same too, and it’s rare that a book can conjure such magic, such feeling, and it’s all the more powerful for doing so. Similarly, very few football books are truly universal; autobiographies tend to be only interesting or enjoyable to those readers who like the particular player or their affiliated teams, whilst other football non-fiction can feel quite didactic. But Gray’s book is genuinely for all fans and will be completely relatable for everyone. It’s also a really nice, effortless read that can be easily dipped in and out of. So for anyone struggling to choose what to buy a football fan, I would recommend this book without hesitation, regardless of the recipient.

And whilst my one disappointment was that I would have liked to have seen more of Gray’s writing, and certainly a few additions to his list of fifty football delights (I could think of a number to add, not least that classic football moment of the ref falling over or similar), what a bonus to discover a follow-up book was published as recently as October 2020 (mid-VAR and mid-pandemic) and I can confirm that I’ve already placed an order. So whilst I long for the day that normal football resumes and I can watch a match live, I rest easy in the knowledge that, for a short time at least, Daniel Gray will once more transport me back to the stands, to the joys of ‘defensive walls and drop-balls’ to ‘jeering passes that go out of play’ and ‘watching in bad weather’, and the thrills of ‘getting the fixture list’, the ‘ball hitting the bar’ and ‘outfield players in goal’ will be all the sweeter when they finally return.

Gray’s book concludes with his reflections on the end of the season and that abyss when football is missing, ending with a fitting homily for the times: ‘The sun sets but we all know morning will come again soon enough, bold as brass and brighter than ever. The birds will chirp to a new tune. That’s football genius. It never really ends.’ Thank goodness that it doesn’t.

Jade Craddock


(Bloomsbury Sport. October 2016. Hardback 160 pages)