Book Review: The Long Way
The Long Way by A. E. Greb
Published by Wholepoint Publications
June 2012, £1.50
A week away from this season’s FA Cup third round, it seems appropriate to look back to A. E. Greb’s account of the 2011-12 competition, published in the Summer as an eBook, a collection of the blog posts which accompanied his ten month peregrinations and which concluded with Chelsea’s win over Liverpool in May (at this point I’ll admit that the result of that particular encounter had escaped me – and this from a boy who could at one point tell you all the showpiece occasion’s goal scorers between 1965 and 1996.)
The volume has proved to be deservedly popular – and not merely because of the £1.50 asking price. Forewords from Martin Tyler, ex-Arsenal man Ian Selley, Kingstonian boss Alan Dowson and Brentford goalkeeper Richard Lee (whose own book we reviewed in these pages a few months back) provide it with official approval while a new preface from the author recounts his formative footballing experiences at Wycombe, Holmer Green and the club whose mast he would come to pin his colours to, Watford.
As Greb is at pains to admit, more people have attended every round of a season’s FA Cup than have downloaded Gangnam Style but few have intended to take in a first tie and a replay in each round, made every effort to avoid watching a single club twice or visited a ground more than once, all while studiously avoiding any contact with Milton Keynes Dons.
The result is an exhausting trek around the avenues and alleyways of England and having arrived home late from the one game I accompanied the author to – a First Round replay between Aldershot and Maidenhead United – one can only admire his commitment. Indeed, come the latter stages, he fears the need to register as a fan of another club while the experience of joining Club Wembley for the final two games sounds a dispiriting one – Greb cannot wait to leave the Scousers to their own devices as he hot foots it to a Hendon v Kingstonian tie taking place in the vicinity of the Arch.
That game is provided with its own account and the book never fails to entertain. As the tournament progresses, Greb’s self-imposed rules become more and more compromised and in the end he has to attend a match at Leatherhead for a second time (shameful!) while also suffering ESPN’s coverage of Yeovil v Fleetwood via the Idiot Box.
It’s all highly amusingly narrated though and Greb’s prose brings a smile to the face on a great number of occasions – Walsham Le Willows is ‘suspiciously French sounding’, the youthful ticket sellers at Chessington and Hook United are mistaken for penny-for-the-guy merchants, Hayes and Yeading’s fans proud chants of ‘working class’ when recalling an encounter with Hampton and Richmond are relived, the question put as to whether the qualifying rounds are in fact, ‘improper’, and speculation mounted as to why referees and linesmen don’t wear coloured boots.
The ascent to a seat at Chelsea is compared to the vertiginous steps at Notre Dame de Paris too – but while there is playful humour, there is also a wealth of information. We learn that Paul Telfer, Darren Currie, David Perpetuini, Micah Hyde and Isaiah Rankin are all still plying their trade in non-league and of wonderfully named stadia such as Chalky Lane and Leg o’ Mutton Field.
Greb is never less than enthusiastic – Millwall’s old Joanna anthem ‘Let ‘em Come’ is rightly eulogised, the crackling atmosphere at Goodison Park for a rip-roaring quarter final with Sunderland praised, examples of friendliness and good humour on the part of club officials and fans made apparent at every turn and genuine moments of excitement recalled.
Nor is the author especially sniffy about the Premier League – enjoying his trips to the Emirates and Everton in particular – but it’s impossible to write a book about the FA Cup as it stands today without some criticism of the establishment and its pernicious effect on proceedings.
Without question, the earlier stages of the book see Greb come across as more relaxed and contented about the whole experience and he joins a growing band of bloggers and plain fans who have had their attention diverted by the simpler pleasures of grassroots football.
The various crimes that have demolished the FA Cup’s importance – Selley is correct in his preface to recall a time not that long ago when the competition was actually more important than the League – are recounted and how many remember the winners of the 2002 or 2005 finals? Nor are the ham fisted and opportunistic attempts of Facebook and Budweiser afforded much sympathy – ‘Second Half Coming Up’ proclaims the scoreboard at the semi-final – really? You don’t say.
So it’s those early rounds in which the spirit of the competition most clearly still resides and Greb’s text satisfyingly exhibits this. For half a pint of Rocking Rudolph, a copy can be your’s and it should be said that the material is impeccably copy edited and checked throughout.
A word also on the kindle format – this lover of the look and feel of books will never be that convinced even if the text is easy to devour. You need to log on to the author’s blog or his flickr site to view the photographs that accompany the narrative and one hopes that enough money has been made to release a small paperback run. I’d also add that all bar one of the matches take place south of the Watford Gap – so any intrepid souls reading this should note that there is a market for a more northerly sister volume.