Book Review: Saturday, 3pm
by Daniel Gray
Published by Bloomsbury
There’s much to be disappointed about in ‘modern football’ as it has come to be known and Daniel Gray commences his new book with a quick list of the more visible and agonising abuses.
However, that would be to misrepresent what he sets out to achieve for Saturday 3pm is a an elegiac, poetic tribute to what there is to love about the game and the experience of watching the sport; its fifty neat essays treating us to a succinct version of what the crew behind 500 Reasons to Love Football provided us in the past and concentrating largely on the actual physical experience of going to games alongside more vicarious pursuits such as the vidiprinter, spotting shirts on a line and scouring the results columns in the Sunday papers.
I’m far from a ‘you have to be there in person in order to form an opinion’ jihadist these days having chalked up only my fourth live game of 2016-7 on Boxing Day but Gray’s book is timely in reminding me why I got into football in the first place — his descriptions of pre-match routines, the first and last days of the season, terracing and the first glimpse of green all resonated wonderfully and took me back to my initial trips to games with my father in the 1970s.
But this isn’t necessarily a nostalgic book — it’s Gray’s contention in the subtitle that the ‘delights’ therein are ‘eternal’ and while many who have consumed their national sport merely via various forms of media may be puzzled by some of the descriptions, the long list of stadia where you can still watch a game standing up is evidence that many of the old experiences can still be found.
Hence, he is as enthusiastic about floodlights along the rims of shiny new stands as he is of the old triffid like variety and devotes a whole chapter to Jimmy Armfield. If any single figure succeeds in being the walking embodiment of why I love soccer, it has to be that man.
I found myself agreeing with almost everything Gray brings up including attempts to spot football stadia from the train — neck still sore from multiple attempts to spot the white elephant Reynolds arena – physiotherapist races and listening to the results in the car — never on Talksport of course.
My disagreement with the author is more a reflection of my shameful abandonment of ‘proper’ football fan status in recent times — hence, I probably would go for Japanese dumplings over a dogburger (albeit not for £5) — while I am not sure most fans are as happy as Gray to see an away stand of opposing fans erupt. Personally, I can actually identify with the vague sense of admiration that one feels at this sight, despite myself.
One aspect of being a football supporter that Gray is right to write about is schadenfreude at the sight of an opponent shinning the ball out of play or missing an open goal and I’d extend this to enjoying the slide down the leagues of a club that has shown fiscal irresponsibility. I think most non-Pompey fans I know feel that only a smidgeon of the Faustian debt they owe for celebrating winning a cup final so enthusiastically has so far been paid.
Others I might put forward for a second volume would be walking into a pub in — say — Carlisle and recognising everyone in there; a kind fan giving you an un-needed season ticket stub for the day; a pie with a roundel of ketchup and a vertically positioned fork; stewards who will chat to you; watching generations of people grow up on the terraces; the anticipation over whether an ex-player will be booed or cheered; fat stretcher bearers and looking out for work colleagues’ teams on Final Score.
Gray is skilful throughout to make this a universal book so little is argued from the point of view of a supporter of Middlesbrough, of whom the author is a devotee. That said — and while the fifty items discussed will all be present in football for some time to come, they are undoubtedly being experienced by fewer folk. This wonderfully bijou volume, replete with a beautifully designed cover, serves as a description of nothing less than a way of life