Book Review: Far from the massive crowds by Mark Cowan

The ‘diary of a season’ has become a popular genre within the football writing fraternity and therefore new additions have to offer something different for any potential reader to take a chance with it.

In the case of Far from the massive crowds by Mark Cowan, the title offers some clue to the unashamed tongue-in-cheek puns that follow in this Kindle book and provided this reader with some eye-rolling and laugh old loud moments.

However, this isn’t to take away from Cowan’s well observed look at his local team Guisborough Town and their 2010/11 campaign in Division Two of the Northern League, a league which was founded in 1889, and can lay claim to being the second-oldest football league in the world still in existence after the English Football League.

The world of non-league is a very different one from the professional game and the author provides a well-drawn picture of the realities of the game at this level and the ‘characters’ that inhabit this world.

This was, despite it being a common theme and standard diary format, an ideal Kindle read whilst on holiday. Since returning home though, the desire has been to find out more on what has happened to the club, some of the central figures and other teams in the Northern League.

SPOILER ALERT – the book follows the 2010/11 season, which ultimately saw Guisborough Town, nicknamed The Priorymen, get promoted after finishing second to claim their place in Division One.

In the seasons since, the club has maintained its status in the top division of the Northern League with the following finishes, 2011/12 (16th), 2012/13 (11th), 2013/14 (4th), 2014/15 (3rd), 2015/16 (3rd), 2016/17 (20th), 2017/18 (15th) and 2018/19 (15th). The club did finish in the relegation places in 2016/17, when a 3 point deduction for an ineligible player looked to have condemned The Priorymen to life back in Division Two. They were saved however after a protracted appeal with The FA, who had initially ruled that the Northern League should proceed in 2017/18  with 21 clubs rather than 22, after the resignation mid-season of Norton & Stockton Ancients and the promotion of South Shields to the Northern Premier League (NPL).

Whilst on the subject of the NPL, one of their club sides, Whitby Town were also to feature in the careers of two of Guisborough’s influential figures in the 2010/11 season. Club captain and leading goal-scorer that campaign, David Onions (nicknamed DO by the Guisborough faithful), left for The Seasiders in March 2012. Interestingly though, DO has come full circle, with him currently back with The Priorymen as Assistant Manager.

Guisborough’s manager in that 2010/11 promotion winning season was Chris Hardy who left the King George V Ground and was appointed manager of Whitby Town in December 2015, where he remains to this day.

Finally, a story which shows how perilous life can be lower down the football pyramid. In the book during the 2010/11 season, Cowan details how Gillford Park had struggled to get games played at home in the first half of the season, due to being locked out following a dispute with the landlord of the ground. The following season the club though was promoted to Division One after finishing runners-up. In 2012 there was a name change to Celtic Nation after major sponsorship by a Scottish millionaire. However, there was to be no fairytale ending as in 2014/15 after the club finished 21st in Division One they were disbanded.

Far from the massive crowds is a very readable introduction for those familiar and unfamiliar with football below the pro-game and indeed the lower reaches of the national league system. It’s worth a go, as is any visit to your local non-league club. Go on, you might just like it.

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