MATT OLDFIELD reviews a book by a writer from this parish, Mat Guy.
Last year on a weekend trip to Glasgow, I went to watch Partick Thistle play against St Mirren. As football settings go, it sits somewhere between quaint and bleak. What I was paying my £22 for, I had no idea. Certainly not an allocated seat, that’s for sure. I arrived with my English Premier League sensibilities – the 85th minute exodus, the only singing when you’re winning – and I left with them delightfully shattered. The full Jags support stayed standing from the first minute to the last, roaring one witty, self-deprecating song after another in unison. And so the soul of football lives on.
In Another Bloody Saturday, the Firhill Stadium is just one of many football grounds that Mat Guy visits in pursuit of ‘that thrill, that belonging’. His book is a romantic journey to ‘reconnect with those halcyon times’ and football beyond the TV screen. Over the 2014-15 season, Guy takes in Europa League qualifiers, pre-season friendlies, the Women’s Premier League, obscure international matches, and plenty of lower league and non-league British football. At times, the crazy nature of his trips feels overdone but ‘that glorious, infectious belief that it is in fact everyone else who is wrong’ rings loud and true.
Guy is an endearing narrator, writing with great empathy and the genuine passion of a love affair. ‘Honest’, ‘warm’ and ‘magical’ are the buzz words throughout. Above all else, this is a book about community spirit, memories and the therapeutic role that football plays in many people’s lives. Guy’s moving personal story of his late father and grandfather is central, as are those of his travelling companion Emma and footballers Dan Seaborne and Kal Naismith.
Another Bloody Saturday is often touching and sometimes amusing; it contains good travel writing (Faroe Islands, North Cyprus, Bhutan) and good football writing, especially on Guy’s adopted club Accrington Stanley. What it sadly lacks is a strong, over-arching narrative. The book is based on pieces from Guy’s blog ‘Dreams of Victoria Park’ (https://dreamsofvictoriapark.wordpress.com/) and as such reads like loosely connected diary entries.
It also sits slightly awkwardly between football writing stools. John Crace’s Vertigo is a funnier account of being a football fan (memorabilia and all), Daniel Gray’s Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters is a more eloquent look at the British lower leagues, and Ian Ridley’s There’s a Golden Sky is a more profound study of financial inequality. Ridley, ironically, is the vice-chairman of Salisbury F.C., the new club risen from the ashes of Guy’s beloved Salisbury City.
What Another Bloody Saturday does brilliantly, however, is stir your legs for another search for that ‘Victoria Park feeling’. So where to next?