At the weekend in the boozer, I was having a gas with a football fan. He was a lawyer, so obviously his opinion meant a great deal to him. He asked what I did and I told him about my PhD. Being the experienced litigator that he is, he knew about my quest to map the world’s football fiction in a matter of no time. I’m not sure what he thinks of the quest. You might need to invoke some kind antidote to the client confidentiality clause he keeps up his sleeve for his days at the coalface of human misery. He did however forthrightly give me his opinion on why there’s a shortage of football fiction.
He says its because every single story, every moment of drama, tension, mystery and … he used other words too, a lot of other words, but I was drunk, he was slavering - he’s a lawyer remember. Essentially, while he’d probably never admit to it, he agrees with Nick Hornby (see Fever Pitch) ) who said, “I've never particularly wanted to read a football novel. Like most football fans, I suspect, I wouldn't believe in a Melchester Rovers, nor in a player I'd never heard of. And I'm not sure what the POINT of such a book would be. Real-life sport already contains all the themes and narratives you could want.”
(see Full Hornby Penguin Q & A))
I don’t agree with either Hornby or the lawyer I think there are still loads, maybe millions, of stories, moments, results to discover and perspectives to be offered. There can never be enough football. There will never be enough football, especially well-written football. I do think Hornby and the lawyer have a point though. I think it’s more likely, as my friend big T pointed out, that disproportionate levels of football fiction is due more to the most contemporary of capitalist values, immediacy and consumability. And there’s the solace in forgetting what happened the week before. A devastating early exit from European competition for example, is something you’d want to put behind you as quickly as possible.
It takes time to read and digest a novel. If it’s good you never want to forget it. But regardless of how good it is, it offers very little to discuss with your mates in the pub. Unless your mates are the book club. Otherwise it’s kinda like great sex with the wife, husband, mistress, master or sister. No matter how good it is, you’re not going to be giving a stranger the details over a pint are you? Are you? I don’t know. I have to say the lawyer crossed my mind. And I did say kinda.
Like the most casual, frivolous, promiscuous sex, non-fiction football books offer real-life anecdotes, giggles and embellished tales to share openly. In fact I would say there’s a customary, if sometimes taciturn, one-up-(wo)manship in who can find the best, weirdest, most abstract and utterly scandalous to relay to the lads and ladies in the pub. A dirty, dressed down Sex In The City for football fans if you like. It’s easy to see why there’s so much more non-fiction football writing when it's put like that innit?
Even if he wouldn’t cough up for his share of the taxi, (miserable bastard!) I am grateful to the lawyer. It’s good to revisit the questions that started all this.