BY MARK GODFREY
I’m not one for books, even if they are football related. I’m not especially into reading. Never have been, which might be a bit odd for someone who writes, but I came by a copy of Saturday Afternoon Fever-A Year On The Road For Soccer Saturday and thought I’d give it a go and review it for The Football Pink.
Written by one of Sky Sports Soccer Saturday’s main men and roving reporters, Johnny Phillips, it’s his chronicle of the 2012-13 season and more specifically his experiences of the people and stories he came across while on his extensive travels.
Far from regurgitating the usual tales of interviewing Premier League stars on the golf course (although the opening chapter starts off with Johnny shanking his tee shot on a round with Kevin Doyle and Shane Long), Phillips takes up the considerable task of recounting more obscure and untold stories from some of the more hidden nooks and crannies of the British game. Right up The Football Pink’s street!
Johnny’s colleague and Sky Sports royalty, Jeff Stelling, does the foreword and waxes lyrical about the roving Scouse reporter (Phillips is a Wolves fan rather than the obvious choice of Everton or Liverpool – something that is explained later in the book).
The format is fairly straightforward – each chapter covering a month of the season beginning in August and ending in May – bringing bite sized snippets of some of Phillips’ more intriguing encounters of life on the road; something that groundhoppers, away day supporters and general travelling football fans will definitely appreciate. This chronicle format of writing makes the book excellent reading for the morning commute or the coffee/bedside table; to be picked up and enjoyed in short informative bursts.
Johnny’s writing is exactly as you’d expect from a man in the reporting media but is also that of a man who is living every supporter’s dream (for those not good enough to actually be a professional sportsman) . His passion for his work and the subject matter he is covering shines through. He gives enough attention to detail as each piece deserves and brings the essence of each journalistic assignment, town, stadium and character to life and has used his obvious wide range of contacts to secure access to the people who star in in each interview.
Speaking of which, I should probably highlight some of my own favourites from the plentiful in-depth stories on offer. Starting off in August on the Fylde coast, we hear about the rise of Fleetwood from the ashes of the town’s economic decline caused by the ‘Cod Wars’ (“the death knell was in the eighties when Marks and Spencers pulled out of the port”).
Moving through the autumnal months, we become more acquainted with former Brentford keeper Richard Lee, who battled with anxiety throughout his career, Charlie Oatway, whose own travails with dyslexia contributed to another lifelong struggle just keeping his nose clean.
Johnny meets Rafa Benitez, the Metropolitan Police and James Thomas – the saviour of Swansea City in 2003 who now drives an ambulance for a living having retired through injury. We also learn a bit more about how the author came to support Wolves rather than either of the two Merseyside giants, growing up, as he did, in the football mad city of Liverpool. He takes this opportunity to introduce us to Graham Hughes, one of the countless unsung heroes who make every football club tick – part tea-lady, part kitman, groundsman, counsellor and any other job you care to mention.
Lee Hendrie’s financial and subsequent emotional woes have been amply covered in the media in recent times but Johnny’s interview with the former Aston Villa man should strike a chord with anyone about how easily life can take a big shit on you if it so desires.
The rise and fall of Gretna FC in Scotland is another topic that hasn’t escaped attention elsewhere, but Phillips helps to recount it with the help of former Sky Sports favourite, Kenny ‘The Good Doctor’ Deuchar in another article that very much has the feel of a feature piece you would see in the pre-3pm kick off slot of Soccer Saturday.
As the months roll on, we are treated to pieces about Forest Green, Sergio Torres, war refugee Kei Kamara and Jamie Carragher. A particular favourite of mine (plenty of bias involved) is the story of the unusual Everton members club set up by a lifelong fan who got sick of shelling out for corporate hospitality way before the phrase ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ was ever coined.
Finally, Johnny indulges in re-living the minute and a half that made him something of an internet sensation during the Watford vs Leicester Championship play-off back in May 2013. Not that anyone who’s ever seen Soccer Saturday needs reminding of Johnny Phillips, a mainstay of the show for many years.
Saturday Afternoon Fever is a good read and would be a very worthwhile addition to anyone’s Christmas stocking or Kindle library. Phillips warmly relays his experiences and those of the people he met on his season-long search for the hidden stories behind the game he loves. This is written in a style that conveys the humility of a man who is not only a professional but is still like the rest of us – just a fan at heart.
YOU CAN BUY SATURDAY AFTERNOON FEVER – A YEAR ON THE ROAD FOR SOCCER SATURDAY FROM AMAZON IN PAPERBACK OR FOR YOU KINDLE BY CLICKING HERE
YOU CAN FOLLOW JOHNNY ON TWITTER @SkyJohnnyP