Allthatsleft Book Club #11: FAN by Danny Rhodes

by Ray_North on May 22, 2014

UnknownI wasn’t at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989 – though I’m a Liverpool fan, by then, I had left the North West and was an undergraduate in London – and football for a while was something that I had left behind as well.

Danny Rhodes was there. As a Nottingham Forest fan he sat in the opposite end to the stadium and watched as the horror of the pens at the Leppings Lane end unfolded. For him, clearly, it was a moment when everything changed, a moment when all that he had held dear and important crumbled away and left him with questions that have remained unanswered in the intervening twenty five years and emotions that are still raw.

Few people have considered the other supporters who were at the other end of the ground – I confess that I haven’t – but they have had to endure the guilt of knowing that it could so easily have been them, the guilt of being a survivor.

Danny Rhodes’ book is a magnificent example of writing as catharsis, there is a drunken pub poetry quality to it: at times beautifully sentimental, at times touching, at times aggressive and confrontational as it battles with the questions that neither the writer nor the narrator can ever hope to answer satisfactorily.

The main character is Finchy an eighteen year old post man at the time of Hillsborough, who has grown up on the terraces of the 1980’s football stadia – he boasts of how he saw every game in 1989 and how it meant more to him than anything including the love of Jen, his hapless girlfriend, who loses him to football. After Hillsborough, Finchy faces up to the reality that the life that he believed was set out for him, the life as a hard-working postie living for football on a Saturday afternoon was never going to be enough. He moves away, he moves down south, and he becomes an English teacher, cutting his links with the ‘old town.’The South though and the life of a teacher only partly rids him of the nightmares of the past – Hillsborough has rendered him cold and afraid and unable to properly commit to his new partner Kelly who just wants to settle down and have a family.

In 2004 though, the death by suicide of one of ‘the lads’ forces him back to Nottingham, where he has to face the demons of the world he left behind and the memories of Hillsborough.

It really is a cracking book – like all great football books it transcends football and tells us about people: their weaknesses, their loves, their failures and their strengths. It is also about class – and how the excesses of the 1980s and Thatcherism saw the destruction of so much that was important to the traditional working class, so much that held it together and made being working class special rather than something to be frowned upon and condescended to.

Ultimately, Danny is left with the question that he cannot answer – what is better: the raw energy and brutal excitement of the terraces or the safe anodyne comfort of the modern grounds? What is to be aspired to, the comradeship and familiarity of the traditional working class home or the ultimately unsatisfying baseless success of being upwardly mobile.

One for the pub that.

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