Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Fan

The Fan by Hunter Davies
Hunter Davies
Pomona Press
ISBN: 1904590020; Paperback, 352pp

As a season-ticket holder for both Tottenham Hotspur and their
North London rivals Arsenal, Hunter Davies has a stronger claim
than most to the title of "The Fan".
His loyalties lie with Spurs (he shares his Highbury seat with another
semi-regular), but as he explains with his trademark good humour,
his true passion is the game of football itself.
That love, though, is not unconditional. In his collection of observations of the game between 1996 and 2003 - first published in his fortnightly
column in The New Statesman - the prolific and celebrated
author is clearly unhappy with the direction the British game has
taken in an era when Sky dictates kick-off times and players earn
tens of thousands of pounds a week before the bum-fluff has been
blown from their chins.
Like many supporters with middle-class sensibilities, Hunter had
a satellite dish installed only when it dawned on him that any attempt
to face down the Murdoch media juggernaut would be self-defeating,
depriving him, as it would, of his raison d'etre - long afternoons
and evenings in front of the box, soaking up anything from the Champions
League to the French lower divisions.
The original format for his musings mean the chapters can seem unconnected
- a diary this is not. But all of the important occasions are there:
Euro 2000, the departure of "our Kev" and the arrival of Sven, the
World Cup in Japan and South Korea, and the stirrings of Rooney-mania.
In between we are treated to entertaining digressions - set out
in short, pithy chapters - on everything from following Carlisle
United, Davies's topsy-turvy diet, his neighbours in the stands,
the FA, Sky (again), Julie Burchill's excruciating attempt to explain
David Beckham's sex appeal, Prince William's support for Aston Villa
and, in a more serious vein, Spurs' latter-day neglect of their
elderly former legend, Bill Nicholson.
There are also vignettes from the Davies household, usually involving
genteel digs at his wife, who, despite her preference for evenings
alone at the theatre or cinema, probably knows more about football
than her hubby lets on.
Who, after all, could have lived with a man of Davies's obsessive
nature for so long and not be influenced by it?
The reader's time in his company is limited to a few hours over
300-plus pages, but his seductive techniques, buttressed by amiability
and humour, are no less sharp for that. For most of us a season
spent watching football at White Hart Lane is a terrifying prospect,
but one imagines being able to sit next to Davies at his wryest
every other Saturday would make it more than bearable.
Compared with the (surely worn-out) fandom genre whose writers delight
in recalling pints sunk and noses split, or miles clocked and funny
foreigners encountered, Davies occupies another football universe.
As a highly recommended close-season read through "The Fan" should
prove, "Hunt" is no mere "supporter with a pen," but, happily for
us, a first-rate writer who happens to be barking about "footer".

Justin McCurry

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