W C L D N – Glen Wilson
It takes a deft touch and an eye for detail to evoke a sense of place. Glen Wilson has both and so succeeds in taking the reader back to London in the summer heatwave of 2018, during the World Cup finals.
Wilson has written about the game for some years, not least as editor of Doncaster Rovers’ fanzine Popular Stand, long-acknowledged as a more than halfway decent read. But this is an unusual football book in that the football itself, while seeping through every pore, is not the main subject. Instead, Wilson’s focus is on the effect the tournament has on those who take an interest in it – whether passing or obsessive – and in particular how it affects London.
There can be few places in the world where so many nationalities are present in a single city, and Wilson ensures his quest to take in as many games as possible takes in the enclaves and gathering points that become outposts of the competing nations as they play. His observations, sparingly delivered and so all the more vivid, bring the metropolis to life in all its teeming and varied glory.
That’s just one of a number of strands in this brief memoir, described by the author in his introduction as an attempt to write ‘about how such a concentrated global population digested one of the most global of sports events’. It succeeds, of which more in a moment, but it also gives a glimpse into the mindset of the kind of football obsessive that sees the World Cup as a challenge to consume everything served up, to utterly immerse in a special four-yearly ritual. It brings out the true fanatic in us, because while we love to see everyone enjoy our thing – and it is ours, we know – we can also never quite shake the slight annoyance that all these people who don’t get it the way we do are trying to show they get it. The kind of lightweights who think watching four matches in 24 hours is a bit over the top. You know the type.
Added to all this is a more personal strand, which is the struggle with depression and social anxiety that Wilson carried with him throughout that summer. He says in the introduction to the book that ‘I think writing it helped’, and one hopes it did, although his sense of detachment helps make the book what it is on a number of levels. For a start, he’s Welsh, which enables him to take a view of the whole tournament without it being shaped solely by the journey of the England team.
The detachment also comes through because plans don’t always succeed, events disappoint, the expected narrative doesn’t work. The sense of being part of something while not always feeling part of it makes reading this a more powerful experience than you initially expect it to be.
Wilson sets it all out matter-of-factly and in doing so conveys the everyday chaos that gives London so much of its character. There are also some nice touches of humour, perhaps counter-intuitively in a memoir that features a battle with depression but, when you think about it, much about mental health is really about differing definitions and interpretations of the absurdities of life.
This is a book about emotion, people and place. As a lifelong Londoner, I loved the fact that here is a non-Londoner ‘getting’ so much about the marvellous mess that is my city, and Wilson’s take is testament to the fact that you don’t have to hype something to appreciate it. And it should also help in the general push to get mental health care recognised as something we all need to understand and be better at. You never know who’s dealing with what, and Wilson’s bravery in laying bare some of his inner struggles will hopefully encourage more people to share their own and find connections and solutions.
W C L D N was written and published last year, but the challenges of getting independently-published work noticed mean I’ve only just read it. It could have been my loss, but the delay in reading it gave the story an extra dimension for me because it provided a welcome reminder of a world of crowds and togetherness and casual leisure that seems a world away after COVID-19.
A highly-original and absorbing read.