Monday, 2 July 2012

Life, death, love and loving football: a review of two new football books

In this 'holiday' away from Premier League football, where have had to feed our obsession by watching the Euros and have suffered from the predicted poor performance from the England team, I've tried to follow my special tips on coping with the three month break (see last blog post).

It hasn't been easy...I'd say I've managed to keep up with the exercise, catch up with friends and moan about the Olympics. But must put a massive FAIL next to finding a lover and not talking about Mr Barton. However, I have spent some of that extra time doing a spot of reading. Having recently celebrated my birthday I received from my brother an interesting book by Manchester City supporter Colin Shindler (also writer of Manchester United Saved My Life) who has just released a sequel: Manchester City Ruined My Life. Not long after, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a new QPR book that is due to come out on the first game of the season (18th August, 2012): It's A Game of Two Halves, by Frederick RJ Hartman.

Why was I ok about reading a book about the memoirs of a Manchester City supporter? Well it was a gift, and my brother did say that he thought I'd find it interesting given that I write a blog about the passion of being a football fan. Once I'd finished reading it (and I was so engrossed it took me just a day to do so), and started to read the second memoir by Hartman I was immediately struck by the similarities. However, while the premise of these two memoirs might appear similar at first, there are fundamental differences in the values these two men hold in regard to how they support there teams. And while I'm keen to support a fellow QPR fan, I felt that I could do Hartman's novel more justice through comparing it with Colin Shindler's book.

Here are two English men from very different walks of life: Shindler- a well respected academic and writer who has published several books and novels, and (as I understand it) Hartman, of whom this is his first foray in to the world of serious writing ever. This is apparent in comparing the style of prose - whilst both are memoirs written in the first person, Hartman's  is more chatty and 'colloquial' while Shindler's has a more prosaic ebb and flow that draws you in immediately and is in some ways, easier to read because of that.

Interestingly, both men are Jewish, but Shindler was brought up in Manchester and Hartman in Neasden, London and Norfolk. And whilst neither could be called practicing they both chose to talk about how the identity has shaped (or not) shaped their lives. Not only this, but the experiences we see and live through in their eyes are not always happy ones: the death of their close family members and friends are somehow woven in to a timescale defined not just by months and years but by football seasons. I found myself crying as I read some of the most personal details of pain and suffering that Shindler witnessed and felt (remembering my own struggles at the loss of my mother), and while Hartman's prose didn't move me to tears, I was still touched very much by these important events in his life.

However, I am afraid it can't be said, and it is obviously apparent in the title, that Colin Shindler has as much love for his football team as he did when he first started supporting it. He tells the story of having been disillusioned by the billionaire buyout of the club: first by the corrupt Shinawatra and then by the very private Abu Dhabi royal family. And he also talks about how he just can't cope with the idea that fans from places like China might be able to support his team via 'mobile phone' apps. Much of this, it has to be said, stems from some of the ludicrous marketing ploys of ex chief Garry Cook. It can't be easy supporting a team that - in fairness - already has a following much bigger than that of Queens Park Rangers, to find yourself facing owners who are terrible at communicating, and do not make their fans feel loved. I for one think that Shindler is living in a fantasy world. It appears he is a purist when it comes to football in the modern day - and while I can understand where is is coming from, he has stopped himself from the joys of supporting a football team because he has a strong moral stance on the whole issue of where football in this country is going. I am afraid I am not that moral. Call me a dirty slut, but I'm enjoying the entertainment that it brings and enjoy it for what it is, just like I enjoy the X Factor (well ok, a bit more seriously than that). But perhaps it is because City have not really been through the real lows that Queens Park Rangers has, that he cannot understand the sheer joy fans of the Rs feel simply because we don't have to worry about administration anymore. Is that really the world that he would rather inhabit than one where the fans can really enjoy watching a good football team, albeit because it has more money?

It's all upset Shindler a lot. So when I picked up It's a Game of Two Halves it was a fresh relief to just read indulgently the passions of a mad football fan. The first half of the memoir charts Hartman's growing obsession with the Rangers from childhood to the present day, with the second half focusing on each game of the season that we were promoted to the Premier League. It's lovely to read about the songs he sings, the crazy things he does to support his team home & away and sometimes on QPR Player, because it is something most of us fans can relate to. And while Shindler sits there, from his very middle class and educated world (both kids having gone to Cambridge and he is a lecturer there), moaning about the money-oriented business, we have Hartman who in the 80s still used a tin bath in the living room to wash and still spends his hard earned money obsessively supporting his football team. I remember writing some time ago (after the Manchester Utd match away), about the fact that one day even we may have to put up with the globalisation of our team. And we already are. The team is going to Asia for pre-season tour, and two planes are going to be branded 'Queens Park Rangers'. But we have clever owners. Fernandes is a keen fan of twitter and we are regularly kept abreast of developments at the club. It makes us all feel involved in the process even if really aren't. I don't know what it's like to support another club, but with all the changes that have happened it still feels like we're a family.

Funnily enough both writers also talk about the rise of social media. For Shindler, he has absolutely no interest and considers itself something he has no sympathy for in 'modern society'. Again, it's another example of how a part of him won't move with the times and simply let go. The truth is, if you aren't online, you don't exist for a lot of people now. So while I was a little sad not to find a twitter page for him I was more annoyed that if I wanted to I probably had to write an old fashioned letter to him  sending it by post, to say thank you for creating a great book. Hartman on the other hand was able to find his long lost friend Nigel Paice, the publisher of said book via Facebook. And social media is also how I have managed to impart these words to you all. So there!

So with these thoughts swirling in my head some things did strike me. Being a female and a football supporter, I was struck with how emotional both Hartman and Shindler were and just how much they revealed about their lives and how the door was open for us to feel their hurt and suffering. Perhaps it's because I am a relative outsider to the UK not having been born here that I notice it more? Then again, I've always said you only really see English men show emotion when they are watching a football match. Naturally, this is a sweeping, broad generalisation and it isn't just about men at all really is it? Being committed to supporting a football team brings with it a certain license to be emotional about something we cannot control but which (for the most part) brings us great joy (yes, even through the games where we lose). And I suppose it helps us deal with all the things in our own lives that are sometimes just too tough to manage alone. Even if we choose to exclude ourselves from it like Shindler does so defiantly, we are still defining our lives by it.

So between Hartman and Shindler who is right in all of this? Well, both are really. And both have a right to be. As it turns out, Hartman's final analysis is to step back from the Rs a little as well, but not for any 'moral' reason only simply because his best football friend  'Queenie' is now sadly passed on and he feels that something has died inside him as well.

And my final analysis?  If you want to experience a bit of indulgence go for It's a Game of Two Halves. If you want to depress yourself with a negative prose about the future of football feel free to go for Manchester City Ruined My Life. But even better, do what I did and go for both. It'll refresh your memory as to why and how we get obsessed with football and what it means to this island nation of ours.

It's A Game of Two Halves will be published on the 18th August, 2012. And is available to pre-order on this website. It will also be available on e-book that day.  Please also take the time to make a donation to the wonderful Tiger Cubs of QPR Community Trust on the same site.