Monday, 8 April 2019

17 years ago today - Chapter 12 of The Quiet Fan



Seventeen years ago today on Monday April 8th, 2002, I went to watch Boston United play Stevenage Borough (as they were known back then) in the fifth tier of English football. The game ended 0-0 and I can not remember a single thing that happened on the actual field of play. Yet I recalled the evening well enough for the game to become the backbone to Chapter 12 of The Quiet Fan, 'Reconciliation'. It was the first game that my long since divorced parents, myself and my sister had been to watch together as a family in a quarter of a century.

Here's a short extract:


That Monday afternoon my dad had come round like a moping teenager to just sort of hang out at his ex-wife’s, and said he had no plans for the evening. And so we thought we should do something together, which wasn’t something that had ever gone well. In the 1970s this meant trips to stately homes (I would always throw up, usually in the car because I was too afraid to admit I was feeling ill), Sunday walks in the Wolds (my sister in a perma-huff, walking either 100 yards ahead or behind), a day in Skegness but with none of the fun (I wasn’t allowed to waste money in the arcades), or weekends with relatives or family friends my parents would complain about all the way home. Whatever the trip, my sister and I always, always wanted to stay at home.

proposed Boston United v. Stevenage Borough. Boston was a club that had

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Football Stories: From fictitious reality to 'real' fiction


I delivered the following paper at TU Dortmund University on July 13, 2018, as part of a two-day conference on the theme of 'Writing Football'

Football Stories: From fictitious reality to 'real' fiction

Nick Hornby once said in an interview words to the effect of, "Who needs football fiction when the game throws up so many of its own stories?" But that's like asking, "Who needs novels and movies when so much happens anyway in real life?" Sometimes a true story can be more effective when removed from the context of actual names and real events. Based on real events, but not enslaved by them. In this paper I want to look at three different ways that football narratives are presented through writing, and to argue that the most dynamic and engaging form of football writing is one that has yet to be properly exploited or appreciated - adult football fiction.

What we get, 1: True Stories morphing into Unreal Fiction. As Hornby remarked, every game throws up degrees of sporting drama. When the purely sporting side of football is converted into fiction, it quickly tends towards a banal recreation of events that are much more exciting in reality - in that sense, his initial quote is fair enough. These narratives focus on football's most obvious stories - goals, trophies, comebacks, mavericks, and so on. They are, however, inherently meaningless. Re-produced for fiction, they become regurgitated cliché. Decades of boys' comics and lame feature films re-tread a variation on the same story line - the sensational last-minute winner in the cup final scored by the (anti-)hero. The team of misfits, deviants and layabouts beaten into shape by an unlikely coach - ultra-hard but ultimately human - overcoming multiple obstacles, also to score a sensational last-minute winner in the cup final.   
This is football's escapist equivalent of romantic literature, full of the good, the evil and the triumph of the best and most deserving, but not necessarily reflecting the way that the majority of people experience the game or what it means to them. The truly exceptional real-life experiences that eventually make football rewarding for the patient, long-suffering fan or player are translated into the expected, trite normality in the realm of juvenile fiction. That is, the last-minute winner you may experience as a

Monday, 7 January 2019

"A Memoir of Sorts": The Quiet Fan - review

My gratitude to @ArloMBloom for the following review of The Quiet Fan, which first appeared late last year on the Soccer America website.
Ian Plenderleith’s The Quiet Fan is an ode to the fans whose hearts always have room for their teams but do not match the popular image in which they’ve been portrayed.
"Football fans may be more interested in the fate of their teams than is perhaps healthy, and they may spend too much time and money on their interest (but then what’s a hobby for?). Some of them may, for a short while, take defeat far more seriously than is rational. These are all parts of being a normal football fan. ... For the most part we are not, as commonly portrayed, obsessives."
Plenderleith skillfully maneuvers a dozen themes – Cursing, Tears, Kissing, Violence, Despair, Hope, Change, Love, Death, Birth, Reconciliation, Success – all linked to soccer games, in this memoir of sorts.
Laced throughout are sometimes delightful, sometimes sad stories from his life in and around soccer. What is most enjoyable is how much Plenderleith speaks to you, the reader. His voice isn’t condescending, he’s not afraid to break the fourth wall, often cracking jokes at his own expense, giving his audience the life lessons soccer may teach.
Plenderleith attaches a distinct human experience to specific games of his

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Selling out in public

A not strictly accurate
 book description tailored
 to a specific public.
The Quiet Fan is my third book, but the first where I've had the chance to sell copies directly to the public. It's a bit like hosting a party, where the only questions that plague your mind are, "What if no one comes?" and, "What if people do come and then have a shit time?" Except when selling a book in a public place you worry, "What if no one buys it?" And then, "What if people buy it, but then hate it?" 

At least when you sell someone a book they are unlikely to stand there reading it while drinking heavily and then, within a few paragraphs, announce, "This is shit! I want my money back." At the moment where they hand you their cash you are so grateful that all you can think is, "Please, please let this be something they like." I have to counter an instinctive temptation to hand it over for free, while apologising in case it might not be their thing.

'Quiet Fan' strictly limited edition
postcard by @Urban_Country
Last Saturday, while manning my book stand in the Fan Zone at Lincoln City FC prior to their home defeat to Crawley Town, I also handed out freebies. I had a few leftover sets of crowd-funding postcards depicting scenes from the book by illustrator @Urban_Country (WSC illustrator and New European cartoonist Tim Bradford); a few old Lincoln City replica shirts; and the original match programmes from some of the games that are referenced in the book. No one expected giveaways, and almost all opted immediately to take the postcards, because they look pretty cool. And who doesn't love getting Stuff for Nothing, like stickers, key rings, pens, t-shirts and fridge magnets? [Begins to imagine 'Quiet Fan' merchandising empire.]

One fan, though, was immediately attracted to my old Lincoln home shirt from the 1995-96 season. "How much is that?" he wanted to know. "It's free if you buy the

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

How I tried, and failed, to boycott the World Cup

Having watched almost every kick of the previous 11 World Cups, my family and friends were sceptical about my ability to boycott the 2018 competition (see polemics passim). Having ignored the qualifiers over the preceding two years, though, I was more optimistic. Wrapped only in abstract but righteous armour, I sat out the first round of group games at Russia 2018 with barely a glance at the screen. Soon after that, I left Germany for a French hamlet in Burgundy where - thanks to the generosity of friends - I stayed alone in a farm house with thick stone walls, uneven floors, and neither a TV nor an internet connection.

2002: the innocent age of pre-HD television
The night before I left, though, my wife and youngest daughter were watching Croatia v Argentina while I packed, and their yelps and yells were impossible to ignore. I thought back to when I was watching Senegal v France, the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. I had loudly exclaimed throughout that astonishing match, but at one point found the whole family - wife and two daughters, then aged 6 and 3 - standing next to me and asking, "Jesus, is this what it's going to be like for the next four weeks?"

We've come a long way. They shout, emote and cuss now too, and they claim to have learnt it from the best. Now here I was, 16 years later, wishing that they would keep the noise down. I was wishing even more that I could sit beside them on the

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

China - Super League, super fans

How did I imagine Chinese football fans? The truth is that I expected them to be passive. I have no idea why. I'd never been to China in my life, let alone a Chinese football match. Maybe because it's a nascent league perceived as being desperate to establish itself after starting 100 years too late. Possibly, I thought (though not with much depth), the fans wouldn't really know how to support their team. You know, because they don't have a century of tradition behind them, and all that bollocks.

United in blue - Shanghai
Shenhua fans (pic: TQF)
European football's default position on any league beyond its ken is that it must be second-rate. Our perception of the Chinese Super League has largely been as follows: its owners are just chucking huge money after aging stars, in the manner of Major League Soccer since the Beckham Rule, and the North American Soccer League of the 1970s. Japan and Australia have been down that route too. We condescendingly wave a knowing goodbye to star players who fly East to bow out for one last pay-off in a sub-standard league. 

Lazy narratives are borne of a lack of curiosity. Both apathy and a lack of interest almost caused me to stay away from Shanghai Shenhua against Hebei at the tail-end of March. Yet if I'm in a new

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Boycott the World Cup properly, not diplomatically

The attempted assassination by assailants unknown on the Skripal family in Salisbury, England, has prompted the kind of decisive political action that the Russian annexation of the Crimea, the country's mass-murderous involvement in bombing Syrian rebels, the suppression of domestic dissent and gay rights, and its state-sanctioned blanket cheating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics was unable to provoke. Yes, some countries will be boycotting the 2018 World Cup.

Not an actual boycott, though - just a symbolic one. Rather than withdrawing their teams, countries are apologetically deciding to keep their official delegations at home. So, politicians on a free jaunt to watch some football are sacrificing themselves. The retreating refugees of eastern Ghouta will surely be impressed. And just imagine the hurt of the Russians when they see that the Icelandic

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Quiet Fan - another explanation

Faster than the speed of publishing
- Clive and his... vehicle.
As The Quiet Fan's publication date approaches with all the speed and reliability of a Sinclair C5, I'm once again having to face up to the question, "Soooo, what's the book about?" Ask any author this question and you're splitting them internally in two. One half of them is in panic, thinking, "I do not want to answer that question because I don't even really know how." And the other half is also in panic, thinking, "I have to answer this question. Because this is something I suppose that I really ought to know, having actually written it."

It's complicated, of course. No writer wants to look so superficial that they can sum up their book in one pithy sentence that will lure in a potential reader. That's the domain, we elevated scribes suppose, of trash literature and its easily satisfied readership. "A duke falls in love with a milk-maid while on his way to rescue the last existing copy of the Magna Carta from the power-mad, totalitarian Monocrats

Monday, 18 December 2017

Should I go the game or the anti-Trump demo?

Last Saturday I was cycling to the Bundesliga game between Eintracht Frankfurt and Schalke 04 when I passed close to a crowd demonstrating against the decision of US President Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I could hear someone with a megaphone calling to the protesters, who responded to each prompt with a chant about a free Palestine.

Or: 'Demos not football'?
I hadn't been aware that the demonstration was taking place. It would have been easy for me to get off my bike, lock it up, and go to join the demo instead of pedalling on to the football. But I didn't. I didn't even hesitate, even as I was arguing with myself that this was certainly what I ought to be doing.

Let us imagine a (plausible) worst case scenario - that the US decision has catastrophic consequences for the situation in Israel, the Occupied Territories and the wider Middle East region. There is a devastating war involving all the mass consequences that accompany

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

At the Champions League - with the Kardashians!

There would be no game without the fans, we are often told by football's guardians of insight. They are the most important people in the stadium. A new generation of fans is taking this truth to extremes. They are starting to think that they are the only people in the stadium.


Football from around the time
Rangers used to do well in Europe
(actually a mosaic at the Stadio Olimpico).
Last week I went to watch a Champions League group game for the first time since I saw Paul Gascoigne and Rangers humbly succumb 3-0 to the Grasshoppers of Zürich in the autumn of 1996. I had a letter printed in the Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger complaining that the club had increased ticket prices seven-fold from what they charged for Swiss League games. It failed to trigger the popular revolution that I'd hoped for. And anyway, I was part of the problem too - I'd bought two of the jacked-up stubs for the privilege of seeing another highly tipped Scottish failure.

At games back then no one except the official photographers had a camera. It was around one year later in that very same ground when, for the first time, I was sitting next to someone who took a call on their mobile phone. I was incredulous that technology was heedlessly devouring my world view. For Christ's sake, you sociopathic