The Away End by Dean Mansell
Published by CreateSpace
June 2012 £6.95
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.