Book Review: Fan – A Novel by Danny Rhodes

It is twenty five years since the Hillsborough disaster and this year saw the beginning of fresh inquests after the original hearings were quashed. Of course the 96 victims who died and the hundreds injured in the tragedy, along with their friends and families have been the ones who have suffered the greatest loss and pain as a result of the events of 15 April 1989 in Sheffield. However, there is also another set of people who have had to deal with what they witnessed that day. These include all those who attended the game that day.

In his novel, Fan, Danny Rhodes writes about that group of people through central character John Finch (or Finchy to his footballing mates). The story in set in 2004, with John working as a teacher and living in the South with fiancée Kelly. However, the storyline leaps back and forth in time with the reader being taken back to eighties and various significant moments. There is for instance reference to 1984 and Finchy’s first visit to the City Ground to watch Nottingham Forest against Sturm Graz, as well as the football tragedies in 1985 at Bradford City and Heysel. The book captures the reek and authenticity of the eighties, especially when Finchy is transported back to the 1988/89 season, where as a teenager John worked as a postman in his hometown of Grantham…

…Grantham the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher who in the eighties tried to destroy the Unions and succeeded in dismantling the British Mining Industry, wrecking communities with it and laying the foundations of the greedy, money-obsessed culture we have now. A Prime Minister who tried to kill off football with membership schemes. All that social history lurks in the background of the tight, non-stop prose of Rhodes.

The Cup run towards the fateful Semi-Final is documented with brief match details, but the images and nightmares that Finchy carries from Hillsborough crop up at various parts during the story and tell the reader that this is a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, Finchy is trying to cope with so much more and with the death of Brian Clough he decides to face various demons from his past by returning to Grantham, so that he can make sense of his future.

A cracking and compulsive read which drives you relentlessly on – football, the eighties, relationships and growing up – it’s all in there…

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