It seems only right that when we were approached to review a book with our name in its title (nothing to do with us, obviously, rather the Saturday night sports papers of yesteryear) that we would take up the offer. That could so easily have led to disappointment though, especially given that Black Boots and Football Pinks was penned by Daniel Gray, one of our favourite scribes. Thankfully, our high expectations were met and exceeded.
This mini-book, with its beautiful cover, delivers the football writing equivalent of the most satisfying cup of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows; thankfully without the sickly after taste that can leave you putting the cup down long before you’re left with just the milky froth at the bottom.
On the motivation for writing the book, Gray sets his stall out early: ‘sketching ghosts before they leave the room’ – it’s a lovely turn of phrase and just one example of the poetic flourish he is so expert at employing. In 50 bite size chapters, he meanders down memory lane dropping love letters to some of football’s lost quirks, collective experiences and personal reminiscences of aspects of the game that have either ceased completely or are fading fast before our very eyes. Gray knows his audience well and just how to reel them in.
The title of the book gives away two of his chosen topics, and amongst the other 48 are more that likely speak to all of us over a certain age to some degree or other: multiple cup replays, proper stadium names, kids playing in the street, and paper match tickets are just a few given the Daniel Gray treatment.
His feels like a voice from another era, and not just the 80s and 90s where his football upbringing is grounded. He communicates in a way we just don’t associate with most modern football writing. It’s florid without being showy; faintly old-fashioned, like your Nana’s best doilies, but he effortlessly paints pictures that transport you to a place and time that you’ve been before – maybe a hundred times – but can barely reconstruct in the fog of memory.
However, before you think this book is just another vehicle designed to make you feel sad for what is lost, Gray pulls off the magic trick of adroitly reminding us why we fell in love with going to football in the first place. It’s both clever and endearing.
In 25 years time, some millennial will attempt to write a similar lament for the dying of the light on the football experiences they held so dear – tekkers, heat maps, Twitter ‘numbers’ and dodgy streams perhaps. If they can do nostalgia anything like Daniel Gray can, even this middle-aged miserablist could be persuaded to buy it.