REVIEW BY DAVE MARPLES @DavidMarples
Fiction for Young Adults is booming and has been for a while now. The recent boom in dystopian fiction, which placed female protagonists at the heart of the action, blew the bloody doors off and authors like John Green (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) are making enormous bundles of hay.
Young Adult fiction seems to be in a healthy place, at least when it comes to girls picking up a book. Before we go any further, of course boys read dystopian fiction and girls read football books but generally speaking, boys are still very reluctant to pick up a book when it comes to fiction, even though they will happily devour a biography of, for example, Neymar, especially one of Matt Oldfield’s excellent ‘Heroes’ series. But fiction? Narratives? Stories? Bit dull them, aren’t they? Besides, they take ages to get through. And yeah, even football stories.
Seth Burkett’s eye-opening tale of his own experiences of trying to earn a living playing professional football in Brazil hinted at an author not only with a story to tell but one who could do so both realistically and lyrically. In No Final Whistle, he turns his attention to the ultra competitive world of academy football, in which the young protagonist Alfie finds himself fully immersed after impressing in a trial match for the fictional Borough Academy.
Capturing the voice of a young teenage boy obsessed with football is not easy, yet Burkett’s third person narrative style captures and establishes such a voice from the start. From the beginning, we feel we know Alfie well or at the very least, know kids just like him.
‘To Alfie, Barnstone’s streets were not just streets, its houses not just houses. With his trusty ball at his feet, every street transformed into a football pitch.’
As the story unfolds, each character we meet is a recognisable one in the football world but Burkett effectively avoids lapsing into Dickensian stereotypes.
In terms of narrative, the football genre lends itself very easily to classic Roy of the Rovers stuff with a pinch of Jimmy Grimble, a touch of When Saturday Comes and a soupçon of Santiago Muñez. Although Burkett doesn’t fully reject such a trajectory for Alfie, he plays with such conventions and is more interested in telling a story about how easy it is to fall out of love with the game, but then back in love again.
Short but not throwaway, easy to read but not patronising, No Final Whistle is a welcome and very much needed modern take on the world of football trials, academy training and rejection. In a world of Elite Player Performance Plans being cast far and wide and kids being signed up by academies from as young as five years old, stories of rejection are far more likely than stories of success. The foreword by Sam Clucas epitomises such a world wonderfully well.
Burkett’s tale might not be as brutal and violent as those in Young Adult Dystopian fiction yet nonetheless will strike a sustained chord with anyone who has been scouted or thought they had a chance of playing professionally. Even young teenage boys.