Book Reviews Week: The Away End

Posted by on Jul 13, 2012 in Book Review | 3 Comments
Book Reviews Week: The Away End

The Away End by Dean Mansell
Published by CreateSpace
June 2012 £6.95
ISBN: 978-1477654262

Our Book Reviews Week draws to a close with regular contributor Craig Telfer providing his thoughts on a book brought to us by Chesterfield fan and blogger Dean Mansell along with a preface from that doyen of Yorkshire and North Derbsyhire football correspondents, Alan Biggs. Dean can be followed on twitter at @awayend.

You’ll see that Craig’s review is quite a mixed one so in the interest of balance, here is a link to the amazon page for Dean’s book where it is warmly praised and is also available for purchase.

Dean Mansell’s website The Away End is based on a simple premise: fans meet online to swap and share their various experiences from following their clubs across the country. For his first book – also titled The Away End – Mansell has taken the very best of these stories and compiled them into a single volume.

The author (a disingenuous title – Mansell has only contributed two articles to the book himself; the title ‘editor’ feels more appropriate) claims ‘the experience in a modern day away end is not quite like it used to be in the good old days of football’ and despite around half of the tales taking place in a contemporary setting, The Away End would appear to be his attempt to embrace and re-engage with ‘terrace culture’ from a bygone era. Mansell rejects the vapid commercialism and globalisation of the modern game, defiantly stating: ‘This was and still is a working man’s game.’ Needless to say, the words ‘prawn sandwiches’ appear more than once.

Only one of the tales can be hailed as a triumph: Craig Baillie’s ‘Big Tam’, a story about a drunken night out during Celtic’s UFFA (sic) Cup run in 2003 is uproariously funny (although Mansell inexplicably describes Baillie as a ‘Glasgow Rangers’ supporter). Without wishing to spoil it, Baillie and his friends carry the eponymous lush onto their supporters’ bus after a night out in Blackpool, only to realise that – ten miles from Gretna – he wasn’t actually part of their original party.

Other stories merit praise: Micky Walker’s description of ‘Croaker’, a belligerent supporter of Crewe Alexandra in ‘A Few Tales To Tell’ contains some wonderful lines; ‘Crusaders to the Rescue’ by Danny Lannon, a stream-of-consciousness depiction of an away trip to Hartlepool United, is winningly shambolic; and Ady Mirf’s decision to follow the advice from a well-meaning but woefully misleading supporter in ‘280 Miles – Wrong Ground’ is warmly amusing.

These yarns, however, are the book’s rare exceptions. Some of the stories – particularly those submitted by Newcastle United supporters it must be said – come across as nasty and mean-spirited and lack the warmth and humility one might expect from such a tome. ‘Simon’s’ ‘Brighton Rock’s’ (sic) is particularly malicious. It depicts the author and two friends making their way to Brighton for a cup tie. During their journey, they become engaged in a dispute with a cyclist over directions and decide to exact a perverse revenge.

The passage is written exactly as it appears in the text:

My brother in law who was driving was given the instruction to ‘follow that cockney****” which he did. My Brother in laws brother (there should be a quicker name for him lets call him Neil) wound down his window as we pulled up alongside the cockney cyclist and kept pace and said ‘I bet you’re sh*tting yourself now eh f*cknuts’ and took a long swig out of his brown ale can. He then proceeded to exhale said brown ale with great accuracy right in the face of the offending cyclist who lost control of his erstwhile vehicle falling off it and buckling his front wheel. I am positive that as he was falling he heard the cry of three Geordie voices driving into the distance shouting ‘Cockney w*nkaaaaahhh’.

This isn’t funny, this isn’t ‘banter’ – this is loutish spite and utterly devoid of any humour. The high-jinks of ‘Simon’ and his in-laws shouldn’t be celebrated. These are the kind of people you would deliberately switch train carriages to avoid sitting next to them. Their behaviour is utterly contemptible and yet in The Away End, it’s passed off as comedy. Other articles such as ‘Don’t Show Me Up Woman’ and ‘A Fine Weekend In Blackpool’ seem unpleasant and misogynistic, while in ‘Fun in Frankfurt’ and ‘There’s Always A Way!’, two tales of supporters’ travails on the continent, strong hints of xenophobia linger.

Perhaps more pertinently, The Away End is just dull. All too often, the stories quickly topple in on themselves – sometimes the punchlines fall flat; other times there are no punchlines at all. A sense of surreal anti-humour pervades throughout and to even describe the book as a collection of stories feels a little misleading – it feels more like an assortment of incidents, the kind of things you might bring up to break the silence during a monotonous car journey, than something that merits publication.

For instance, take this brief tale from the Chesterfield fan ‘Warfey’:

I’m in a wheelchair in the middle of winter at a night game in Plymouth. Could only get back to Bristol, spent all winter night in disabled toilets to keep warm till next morning.

When stories of this calibre are included, one can only wonder what was omitted.

The biggest grievance towards The Away End, however – as can be seen in some of the examples above – is the complete lack of care and attention given towards its production. Spelling errors, unforgivable in any publication, routinely appear. Apostrophes are scattered across the text at random, ‘there’ and ‘their’ are often confused, and there appears to be no attempt to create any kind of cohesive ‘house style’. The whole volume, from the first page to the last, is in desperate need of being brutally edited and proof read. To be quite frank, it seems astonishing that the book was even published in its current state.

In his introduction, Mansell admits he left each article in its ‘original form as some are written in their local dialect and this adds to the tale being told’, but to the more cynical reader, this seems a tacit admission he was too lazy to make the necessary amendments to the text himself. If the author or his publisher doesn’t care, then why should anyone else?

Mansell comes across as an honest and amiable writer and while The Away End is a commendable and worthwhile project, its execution is naive, clumsy, careless and most of all, utterly amateur. Other than a handful of exceptions, the stories are tiresome, spiteful and charmless and riddled with butchered grammar and inexcusable spelling mistakes.

In one story, a seagull shits on a supporter’s head. And that just about sums up The Away End.

The Two Unfortunates
The non-partisan website with an eye on the Football League

3 Comments

  1. Helen
    July 14, 2012

    Wow, whilst I don’t expect every book review I read to be a positive one I think it’s safe to say I have never yet read such a viscious attack on a book before. I’m not sure the word review really covers what has been written here, as a review should be constructive and considerate of all the parties involved, it shouldn’t rely on out of context quotes, and certainly should give the impression that the reviewer has finished the book rather than just copy and pasting elements of it.

    Dean is the author of the book because he has put the project together, he writes the introduction, the summary, (though elements of this are copy/pasted they are ignored as part of the content in the review), designed the initial book cover and spent years on this project, all at his own expense. He has never stated anywhere that all the content was his own, and this is made clear on the front cover of the book.

    The stories in the book are varied and will not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s the whole point of this book, it’s written for fans everywhere, so there’s something for everyone. It’s not supposed to be just a book of funny stories either, it’s the real life experiences that fans have had, not just the comic ones.

    The fan descriptions in the book are those provided by the fans themselves, including their choice of name they wished to appear, Dean hasn’t taken the liberty of describing anyone as anything other than the description given to him.

    I can assure you that both the author and publisher care very deeply about this book, and a lot of thought was given as to whether to leave the stories in their original form or not, however, it would have been unfair to re-write the stories from the fans, the book was always about football stories in the fans own words.

    I think that overall the book has been misunderstood in this review as some form of comedy journal, not a collection of fan stories.

    When I read this review I cringe, it is overly critical, misunderstands the book and seems unecessary cruel to the parties who contributed to the project.

    The book was about bringing fans together, regardless of which club they supported or their background. These are not what is important, it’s the overall love of the game that was being celebrated here.

    I have to say having read the reviews on Amazon, and then having read the above I do wonder, they are so far apart. I also find it quite interesting that the site owner felt the need to point readers over to the reviews on Amazon in the interest of fairness and balance, as balance is certainly missing from this particular review.

    Reply
  2. Dean Mansell
    July 14, 2012

    As the author of the book, I feel it is probably only fair to respond to what is let’s face it, a less than flattering review.

    First of all I would like to thank Craig for reviewing the book. I obviously accept your opinion as we all have them, thankfully it is not one shared by my readers. My initial disappointment at the review has now vanished as I am convinced he simply does not ‘get’ the book.

    Regarding the criticism of the right to call myself the author, my reasoning is this. I initially came up with the idea of a platform where like minded football fans of all clubs could share their own experiences and funny tales of following their team. The website was born and over time become fairly popular. After receiving my 50th story earlier in the year, I thought a collection of the best ones would make a good, entertaining read. Over a period of a few months, I proceeded to put the book together and with the help of the publisher, present and package the stories in a way that provides the reader with an overall idea of life as a die hard football fan.

    I wrote the ‘kick off’ introduction, ‘extra time’ closing chapter and decided to only include two of my stories to give a broader picture of life as a football fan and not just that of a Spireite. Being labelled the author obviously gives me the responsibility of the books content. I have hopefully been up front and honest about the book being ‘Football Fan Stories by the Fans Themselves’ as is written on the cover. In no way have I tried to pass off all the content as my own and I have endeavoured to promote the book as ‘by the fans, for the fans’.

    Admittedly, the guy in a disabled toilet overnight story is not going to win any comedy awards, however surely goes to show the lengths that fans go in their devotion for their team and football, that said the book was not and is not a compilation of just humorous stories, it’s a collection of real life stories from the fans. The Newcastle story quoted has been quoted out of context. If Craig thinks the only stories of merit are the ones listed, thankfully there are different types of sense of humour in existence as stories involving ice cream vans, Sir Matt Busby and the Queen Mother somehow fail to get a mention as triumphant yarns.

    I never intended this book to be a ‘classic’ and have no illusions it is. This being the first bad review has strengthened my already strong belief that the average football fan will find it an immensely enjoyably read.

    Life, as in football, is all about opinions. If we all liked the same thing, what a bland and dull existence it would be. Thanks for the review Craig, and one final thing. You make a very strong point about the spelling and grammar errors in the book. The copy you reviewed I assume was the PDF review copy issued out to blogs and websites before the finalised print version. Hopefully these errors were corrected before the book went to print, I will endeavour to check. Your very own review is certainly not void of spelling mistakes which goes to prove things can sometimes slip through the net (no pun intended)!

    Reply
  3. Lanterne Rouge
    July 14, 2012

    Thank you for your comment Dean – it does you immense credit – pointing out the difference between the earlier manuscript that was sent to TTU and the final printed version is very important.

    Thank you also Helen for your equally considered reply. We did agonise over whether to publish the review and I appreciate that the positive impressions Craig has outlined above are rather drowned out by the negative ones – that any review is just one person’s opinion is clear as those amazon reports show.

    We did feel in the end that we did not want to indulge in censorship and felt that Craig’s opinions merited an airing – your responses will hopefully mean that most readers will choose to obtain a copy of the book themselves in order to make up their own minds.

    Reply

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