Book Review: The Chairman's Daughter
The Chairman’s Daughter
by Ian Plenderleith
There are many good football books, but few good football novels. While baseball in particular has featured heavily in the world of American Letters, the national game in England and Scotland has been provided with little literary lore.
From the 1950s through to the 70s, authors such as Robin Jenkins and J. L. Carr produced books such as The Thistle and the Grail and How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup while much of the more successful round ball fiction of the era was aimed at children — Michael Hardcastle’s hero Mark Fox made the transition from local youth leagues to an England youth tournament in Switzerland.
But that was in 1982 and little of note has been published since — even Brian Glanville, author of several gritty, not to say cynical narratives in the 70s and 80s including The Rise of Gerry Logan — seems to have given up the ghost, presumably alternating his time writing obituaries for every coffin dodging footballing celebrity known to man and reminiscing about dinners with Sir Stanley Rous.
But the rise of the internet and self-publishing plus the presence of one or two more adventurous believers has led to a recent rash of new books. Anthony Cartwright’s Heartland was set in the Midlands at the time of the 2002 World Cup and we reviewed it in these pages alongside Nick Richards’ self-published Memorabilia — Nick was subsequently kind enough to provide an interview about his experiences.
Enter also Ian Plenderleith, a Lincoln City fan and When Saturday Comes regular. Having published a short stories selection a decade ago, For Whom the Ball Rolls, his new tale is The Chairman’s Daughter, a rumbustious trawl through the lives of a footballing anti-hero — the old pro fallen upon hard times and forced to seek out his profession via an up and coming non-league club.
The hero is Carl Meacock, originally a teenage wunderkind at Liverpool, before a succession of injuries blighted his progress at a range of clubs, most recently Crystal Palace, his release from whom sees him rock up at Lincoln Dynamo, bankrolled by a poop-scoop billionaire of Antiguan descent and the ‘fourth best team in Lincoln’ — shades of the Housemartins’ self-declared status as ‘the fourth best band in Hull’.
Leaving aside the preposterousness of certain events including the question as to why a 29 year old ex-top flight man would join such a shower, it’s a really enjoyable jaunt — full of amusing set pieces. Most memorably, Meacock is depicted logging on to a Sheffield United forum to defend his reputation but is soon rumbled after failing to use a false name — while this highlighting of modern mores is joined by other topical issues such as fanzine coverage, abuse, race, sexual politics and entrepreneurship while we are invited into the hero’s private life to boot — I’ll stop here without giving anything away.
Set in the author’s home town, the lovely cathedral city provides a good backdrop for the entertainment and ultimately, Meacock comes across as a good egg able to laugh at himself, albeit when offered with very little choice by the events that befall him.
In this interview with the excellent Got, Not Got, Plenderleith promises that there may be more to come and the story line is left hanging on a thread — sensibly given the tendency of the most successful football fiction to follow the fortunes of familiar characters. As for soccer writing as a whole, however, the shot in the arm provided by this new clutch of authors leads me to wonder whether a real defining moment is called for — a novel that encompasses football while sharing the ambition of one of those great American explorers of sporting themes such as Richard Ford or Don De Lillo. Get writing someone.