REVIEW BY DAVE MARPLES – @DavidMarples
Who and what is a Quiet Fan?
In a memoir recounting the combined folly and delights of supporting Lincoln City, Scotland and Rangers, Ian Plenderleith speaks up for the fans you never notice – the quiet ones sitting among the howlers, the shouters and the fist-shakers.
The author sticks his flag in the sand in his introduction by explaining what the book is. “This book is an anti-memoir for the majority of us who watch football from the edges, mainly following crap teams and a crap country to help us through life in a similar fashion.” This is something that resonates with a huge swathe of football fans. Too often, too much time is given to the loud ones who curiously have little of note to say while the quiet ones, in whom deep waters run still, skulk around on the sidelines bursting with a Hegelian takedown on Rene Malic’s blogpost on how to how to break down a low (4-5-1) block yet lacking the confidence to air it.
So far, so fascinating. After all, the vast majority of quiet footballing folk do indeed spend far too much time watching decidedly average players in decidedly average football teams, playing the same decidedly average other football teams with alarming frequency. And those who indulge in such activities are certainly prone to a spot of existential navel-gazing regarding their life from time to time – how could one not after you’ve seen a midfielder blaze one over the bar from 12 yards for the billionth time in your football watching life time?
Such a book revolves around the author’s voice and how far you find them reassuring, enlightening and generally likeable. Plenderleith is certainly interesting and enlightening, digesting football across continents throughout his life and like most of us, caught in the ebb and flow of the game we love. Regarding the formation of the Premier League and consequent greed enveloping the game, he captures what most of us probably feel about it now: “Well you might have realised this at the time if you had been reading the requisite newspapers and fanzines, or even paying attention to the bloke from the Football League who was driving you down to Monday-night training at Worcester Park, but I wasn’t.”
His central idea is that football is just about “kicking a ball into a goal” and that the “football game, as I’ve been arguing all along, is just background.” On some level, sport is very important but on another, “football is not as important as some people would like to think.” It’s a philosophy that carries weight and the book is at its best when that relationship is dissected yet such an argument means that the book risks being more autobiographical than the nature of football and our relationship with it.
Early on, after revealing that one football season for him started with death and defeat and ended with relegation and his parents divorcing, we are urged to not “switch off, this is a football book, so I’m only going to mention it in passing.” Yet diary extracts from various phases of his life are frequent; sometimes interesting but at times, merely informing us how he felt he did in an exam and meeting a girl. “And as there was a limited number of vaguely attractive females in Lincolnshire, a certain amount of sharing was inevitable.” Such a line may chime with some readers yet sound like an awfully duff note to others.
It is odd too that for such an unassuming quiet fan, he seems prone to weird outbursts from thumping a Peterborough fan at school when he was 12 as punishment for Posh beating Lincoln City (an incident he shamefully regrets), getting into scrapes in Birmingham as an adult after a remark made in a pub is misunderstood, resulting in a “scooter-loving skinhead” leaving the club and in a separate incident, “waiting hours for me outside” to a drunken night out resulting in him ”dry-humping a sports car that had stopped in front of us at a red light in Trafalgar Square”, which sounds all very Nicklas Bendtneresque. That’s not to say the authorial voice is some sort of Dougie Brimson character – far from it. Indeed, that same authorial voice contributes to this being an engaging book.
He ends with excellent advice: “And please, for Christ’s sake, don’t forget to try and enjoy the bloody game.” And that is a sentiment that we can all buy into.