Every fan knows there's nothing more important than football. But what exactly is the importance of the world's greatest game?
In this memoir about the combined folly and delights of supporting Lincoln City, Scotland and Rangers, Ian Plenderleith speaks up for the fans you never notice - the quiet ones sitting among the howlers, the shouters and the fist-shaking fanatics. Across twelve games from a grim and foul-mouthed fourth division encounter in early 1970s Lincolnshire through to a star-studded orgy of fireworks and excess in 21st century New York, he examines the role of football as a reassuring, ever-present background to life's thrills, pains and fluctuations.
Tears make him think of Lincoln City v Plymouth Argyle in 1978 and his inability to cope with a last-minute equaliser. Despair reminds him of the 1984 Scottish Cup Final, locked inside Hampden Park with a raving right-wing Celtic fan. Love evokes memories of Birmingham City losing 6-0 at home to Crystal Palace. Leyton Orient's 1989 playoff win over Wrexham a few weeks after the Hillsborough tragedy is forever tainted with death. Birth is intrinsically linked to a Uefa Cup tie in Zürich and the shame of carrying a mobile phone for the first time, while familial redemption plays out to a background of Boston United drawing 0-0 with Stevenage Borough on a dark Monday night.
This is a book about football's role in the world. It speaks to the mass of low-key supporters who are neither hooligans nor obsessives. Generally they are disappointed, but struggle on with being a football fan as they do in life - quietly, stoically, without a drama, and taking what they can from the game without expecting it to answer any questions, or to fulfil all their needs and desires.
In a pacy mixture of observation, anecdotes and analysis (both serious and flippant), this book finally places football in its proper context. So much more than a game, so much less than the universe. Or, as the book's opening paragraph puts it: "Some goals may be attained, but most of them won't." Still, we'll hang in there for the peaks and pits of an always turbulent but invigorating ride.
Chapter Two – Tears
Lincoln City v Plymouth Argyle, League Division Three, Saturday November 18, 1978.
Death On The Glorious Twelfth
The 1978-79 season began on the ‘glorious’ twelfth of August, Lincoln going 2-0 down at Bradford City in the first round, first leg of the League Cup, and my Uncle John falling to his death at the age of 40 from the roof of his house in nearby Leeds. During the following winter, strikes and heavy snow brought the country repeatedly to a halt, and the media-appointed Winter of Discontent signalled the end of Labour Government and the imminent rise to power of Margaret Thatcher. My grandfather set his flat on fire when drunk and died from smoke inhalation, my Dad left my Mum for a younger woman, and Lincoln finished at the bottom of division three after a miserable season. If I’d only been able to sing and play guitar I could have written a country, western and blues album and made a fortune.
My uncle and I understood each other perfectly because he was a football fan. Now, my Dad is a fan too, but not in quite the same way. My Dad is a cynical, pessimistic fan who always expects the worse, and who also manages to affect an air of detachment if his side is losing. He’ll generously acknowledge talent on the opposition team and accept defeat if it was fairly handed out (except when Scotland lose, which is always somehow unfair and always will be). But my uncle was a fan who saw each fresh game as an empty palette of sporting possibilities. Whereas my Dad would set out for Lincoln City with a stoical sigh, as if about to embark upon the hundredth battle of a grim and futile war, my uncle went to Leeds United and came back full of it – Eddie Gray’s dribbling, Peter Lorimer’s shooting, Billy Bremner’s fighting or Norman Hunter’s fouling. He loved every moment, good or bad, because it was all part of the spectacle, and once he got going on the subjects of Leeds and Scotland he would talk twice as quickly and twice as fervently as at any other time.
“When Leeds are away from home,” he once told me, “there’s no greater pleasure in life than running a hot bath on a Saturday afternoon and then listening to the second-half radio commentary and the final results.” This is possibly the wisest thing that anyone in our family has ever said, although once my cousins were born I doubt that he ever managed this on more than one or two occasions. I can still remember the way he said it, though, in a tone which implied that although he didn’t regret for a second getting married and having three kids, he would be willing to pay several hundred pounds for the chance to sit in the tub on a Saturday afternoon, undisturbed but for the bubble bath and the bubbling voices of Peter Jones and Alan Parry and forty-odd thousand screaming people in the background.
Dear backers and potential readers,
The boxed set for Chapter One, 'Lincoln City v Exeter City: Cursing' is now on my pledge page. There will be future boxed sets for each specific chapter, though not necessarily in any coherent order (depends which cupboards and boxes I open first).
After an Introduction severely doubting the worth of Albert Camus' quote connecting football to morals and…
These people are helping to fund The Quiet Fan.