Daniel Gray’s latest book ‘Saturday, 3pm. 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football’ is a celebration of what makes football so special. Those golden moments that illuminates a football supporter’s life.
These short vignettes of prose-poetry capture the essence of what is still good in the game. What may seem mundane to non-football lovers such as: ‘Seeing a ground from the train’; ‘Getting the fixture list’; ‘Listening to the results in a car’; ‘The first day of the season’ and so on are all rightly identified as a significant part of the football experience.
It is a short read at 144 pages but it is a satisfying book. It is lovingly crafted and can easily be read in one sitting, but you may want to take your time and savour each short chapter before the next delight is revealed.
Gray is a fan of J.B. Priestley’s writing and his ‘through a turnstile into …. a more splendid kind of life’, from The Good Companions is his favourite piece of football writing. Saturday, 3pm, is inspired by Priestley’s ‘Delight’, a non-fiction endeavour in which a self-confessed “Grumbler” imparts all that is good in the world.
Gray’s homage goes a long way to explaining why football is so important in many people’s lives. A recurring theme throughout the book is the escapism that football provides. In ‘Carrying on regardless’ he identifies that we use the match as an escape from everyday life.
“We supporters have our refuge from everything wretched, vicious reality hurls at us. Inside the Stadium, we are protected, and removed from real life. We are a child with her hands over her ears refusing to believe in school”.
The game is certainly the fixed anchor, which keeps fans going through a hard week of work or study. The match is a short holiday from real existence. Gray calls it ‘a time for blissful and infuriating distraction’.
The author is a true football fan whose authentic voice accurately describes those extra special times. For example, the fans shared experience in ‘Watching an away end erupt’,
“What makes it so good to watch is the anarchy of movement. Berserk limbs convulse. It is drunken nightclub dancing but on tightly-tiered rows. Hands are not raised for musical notes, but fists are held to the sky in salute of whichever God gave us goals away from home.”
Gray’s prose-poetry is at its best when describing those shared football experiences such as ‘Listening to the results in a car’.
“To listen to the results in a confined space of a car remains therapeutic. It is the shipping forecast for us football fans”.
Also when describing ‘Outfield players in goal’.
“For some reason a goalkeeper’s shirt, is always too big for an outfield player. It flaps baggily in the wind, and laps towards the ends of his shorts. He pulls on gloves drenched heavy by sweat, yanking Velcro wrist straps tight with his mouth, and only then begins to tuck in his shirt. It is like shoving a flag into a drain and when he is finished, he still resembles a schoolboy dressed from a lost-property box. Once he has jumped up to demonstrate – to himself as much as anyone else – that he can reach the crossbar, play can begin”.
This book reminds us all of the innocent pleasures of the beautiful game and it provides a wonderful antidote to the money-sodden excesses of the modern game.
Saturday, 3pm. 50 Eternal Delights of Modern Football by Daniel Gray is published by Bloomsbury.
This review was published in the October/November 2016 edition of Late Tackle magazine.