By Nick Richards
Published by Grosvenor House Publishing, 2011
£8.99, ISBN: 9781907652929
Nick Richards is the man behind the the Nick Sports Junkie website,a platform for an amalgam of interests including sports collecting, nostalgia and Norwich City. Memorabilia, brought to us in association with self-publishing specialists Grosvenor House, is his first novel and an enjoyable trawl through the avenues and alleyways of British sport, with a transatlantic twist supplied at the end.
Its milieu is East Anglia, but more generally, the amorphous world of middle and working class English culture – most of the action takes place in the pubs and housing estates of provincial towns. In this, it reminded me of several books including Anthony Cartwright’s Heartland (reviewed on these pages last year), Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency and even John King’s The Football Factory, although this is no exercise in hoolie porn.
The dual narrative revolves around two main characters – wide boy wheeler dealer Alex Taylor, a man who makes his living from betting on sporting events, and Jerry Sands, whose son died when he was in his twenties and who lives a solitary existence, yearning for his past. The two men interact edgily and it would be wrong to describe this as a friendship – Taylor in particular has little in the way of positive characteristics and seems intent on little else beyond making a cheap buck, morality frequently tossed to the four winds.
I enjoyed the mention of stars of the past and Canaries’ fans will relish hearing once again of Louie Donowa, Dale Gordon and Ruel Fox, incidentally picked by our own William Abbs in his favourite XI for Two Footed Tackle recently. Astonishingly though, the one event that Norwich fans most like to remind us about – the Jeremy Goss inspired victory over Bayern Munich – doesn’t crop up at all.
The action takes place in 2010, with the Norfolk club cruising to promotion from League 1 and the World Cup gracing South African turf – but the contemporary setting is heavily laced with memories of the past. In all, it’s an at times touching story that does not become too histrionic, although I found the latter sections involving a washed up American football star less satisfying than the first two thirds of the book. Richards should be commended on the achievement of penning a decent sized, highly readable novel and let’s hope it won’t be the first such effort to emerge from the blogosphere.