The first question I need to address is... Is football fiction really a genre?
Football fiction may have started with Shakespeare. In act one, scene four of King Lear (1606), the Earl of Kent kicks and taunts Oswald with the line, “Nor tripped neither, you base football player.” I have read too that there are references in The Comedy of Errors (1592). So, it's possible that football fiction has been around for longer than the modern version of the game, which developed some 260 years later. I doubt it though.
In Ray of the Rovers: the working class heroine in popular football fiction 1915-1925 Alethea Melling puts football fiction's roots in working-class “factory or dialect fiction”. But there are examples of football fictions existing before that. In The Encyclopedia of British Football, Cox and company do a good job of contextualising the history of 'football literature', but in following Alethea's lead, they spurn the chance to create a definition themselves.
The only other uses of the term football fiction I have encountered are for classification purposes on the East Sussex (England) public library website and on a gay erotic fan fiction site. I hope the two never get mixed up, the East Sussex WI's knickers' would be so twisted for so long, there would be tears in every brown eye.
In an attempt to broaden the field to include other forms of football writing (a practice I want to steer things away from), including non-fiction, plays, revues, photography collections and poetry, DJ Taylor, in Rally Round You Havens! and John Turnbull, Thom Satterlee and Alon Raab, in The Global Game have assigned the collective works of football writing the distinction of being soccer or football literature.
This was the definition I developed (in an earlier blog). It raised a couple of eyebrows during the auld confirmation process.
Any work of fiction with a significant reliance on football as a central or substantive element of the narrative.
It's still a little spongy. It'll need some reworking, particularly around what qualifies as significant or substantive, but what it does is offer a centre spot, somewhere to play from until the field firms up. Otherwise where would you start?
Do you include Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for a Knave (1969) for example? As John Turnbull pointed out on this site, it’s about a boy and his bird, but there is also a single, narratively ‘significant’, 20 page game (in a book of 159 pages). Do you include John King’s The Football Factory (1996) even though the reader rarely sees any actual football?
Albert Camus and the boy Nabakov have both written about football - particularly their own experiences as players, (see the Global Game site, its full of great stuff like this), should I consider their work? The Plague (1970) is full of football references, well not full, but it is mentioned a number of times.
I would say no to Shakespeare on the grounds of historical perspective. King’s trilogy The Football Factory , Head Hunters (1997) and England Away (1998), works of stunning violence and football hooliganism, are saturated in the parlance of football culture and are assuredly first eleven. Barry Hines makes the subs bench as Billy Casper, the wee boy in A Kestrel for a Knave, is colourfully and clearly developing as a character in the scene that, more importantly, is a sustained description of a football game. As for Camus and Nabakov, I’m not so sure.
This all seems well and good, except people have been making stuff up about football since football began; in skewed match reports, transfer speculation filled newspapers, websites and ‘pub-storytellers’ recounting great events. If you counted everyone who’d allegedly attended Scotland’s defeat of England, then reigning World Champions, in 1967 in Glasgow, the stadium would have been filled at least three times over.
It'll do though. More next week.