Angus MacPhail: authors shoot and hit the target

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Having been invited to a book launch that took place in Edinburgh at the start of this week, I thought it only polite to read in advance the book in question so I would be aware of the context and content of what was being released.

Reading is one of my favourite activities so normally this would have been a literary foray to look forward to.

However, this particular book is football-based. From a young age, despite being brought up in a house where football was fairly prevalent, this is a sport I have never managed to find any pleasure from following, reading about, watching and especially listening to others talk about.

The exploring of this particular novel was, therefore, expected to be a tedious chore.

With the expectation of a homework-like assignment ahead of me, and with the scars of long journeys with band mates boring the breeks off me droning on about this player and that player and this fixture and that manager and all the usual jargon of the part-time football fan, I purchased and began reading Saturday Bloody Saturday, co-written by Alastair Campbell and Paul Fletcher.

How wrong my forecast was!

All my football prejudices immediately disappeared as, from the first page, the language, the narrative, the characterisation, the tension and the excitement gripped hold of me and, until the book was finished, I felt like an addict unable to control the craving for the next chapter.

I have read some stinkers of books in the past year and it feels like such a frustrating let-down when you have given so much valuable time attempting to draw learning and/or pleasure from a piece of work that in the end does nothing to fulfil any desire.

What satisfaction to read something that turned my expectations upside-down and delivered, contrary to my predictions, one of the most satisfying reads of recent years.

Apart for the page-turning narrative, the main strength of this book is the clear characterisation. It frustrates me deeply when, as a reader, you are left unsure what the author’s intentions are for the perception of a character.

In this book, the fault lines are refreshingly clear. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the complications and contradictions of all are also given sufficient presence to maintain credibility.

The combined knowledge and experience of the two authors in the various threads of subject matter – football, politics, terrorism, internal team battles and potentially crippling personal battles – mean that the book is steeped in a realism and authenticity that can only be achieved by writers who really know their subject and have fully researched any cracks in between.

The combining of Campbell’s political background, genius for clarity in message and overall flair as a writer with Fletcher’s experience as a top professional footballer and stadium developer is a collaboration that has produced a piece of work far greater than either could have achieved individually.

It will not bring them a Nobel Prize for Literature, but it presents a rip-roaring and insightful window on worlds that most know little about. It will grasp your attention throughout and it delivers an ending of sheer brilliance to outflank the very finest of any page-turning best-seller.

Saturday Bloody Saturday may even convert me to becoming a football fan – and I am hoping for a sequel.