The number of books I consume during a year is alarmingly low, but there are some books that definitely leave you wanting more. This one from celebrated sports writer Stuart Thomas was one of them, and it left me wondering whether there could or should be another set of stories to follow this one up. The author is a former English teacher, so you’re in for grammatically pristine text, well-formed sentences and paragraphs, delightful prose that skips off the page, but more than that, he is a football fanatic and it shows.
This is a collection of short stories, ten of them, and they begin with the very short story of Tilly, age 6, who is just beginning her footballing journey. It is a fantastic introduction to what this book is all about – a beautiful melange of stories from across the spectrum of everyday footballers young and old – and, whilst I was kind of expecting that story to be written as a 6-year-old (it wasn’t quite), it set the scene for the remaining nine stories. It’s where most of us started, so was a logical beginning.
The common denominator of the ten stories is that the subject has become part of the worlds biggest community, some more easily than others. There are tales of immigrants, stories of the difficulties of fitting in, anecdotes of key moments that moulded amateur football careers, injuries and some sensitive themes that keep the reader completely engaged.
Being a collection short stories, you can put the book down and resume later. That’s what I did. There was no pressure to remember the storyline, as the chapters only had football as the common theme. But once I’d picked it up a third or fourth time, there was no stopping until the end, and I found myself reading into the early hours. The final chapter is introspective by the author, revealing even – if you hadn’t taken notice, you may not have noticed that the chapter shares the same name as the author – and demonstrates someone who became part of the football community via a very different route.
There’s a lot to love about this book. Whilst it could be fiction, I’m certain that it is not. In fact I know of one of the subjects, and that chapter is completely factual. It’s not afraid to cover themes that could make the reader uncomfortable, and does so with care and thought.
Well done Stuart on some fine work. I’m so glad to have read your first book, and I am absolutely certain that there will be many more to come. And I never knew you ran a kindergarten… oh wait, not that kind of nursery.