Fan, by Danny Rhodes, is a fascinating social commentary about changing times. Two stories about the same protagonist unfold side by side, one covering his teenage years in working class Nottingham, the other set fifteen years later when he travels from the new life he has carved out for himself down south to confront his demons in the home town he escaped from.
The writing style is raw and sparse but the tale is utterly compelling. There is a great deal of football in the story, but it is the football of the 1980’s when ticket prices were low, grounds were run down and the passion of the fans was pivotal to the lives they led. This was the era of hooliganism and disasters waiting to happen, culminating in the Hillsborough tragedy of April 1989, which the author of the book experienced first hand.
Despite the book pinning its events around a timeline of football matches, it is not a story that requires an interest in the beautiful game. This book is about characters and attitudes, about a bygone era and how the teenagers who lived their lives from Saturday to Saturday coped, or failed to cope, with the changes to the game and to their lives as they aged.
The author manages to give reasons for the violence, to gain sympathy for men who would appear from the outside to be emotionally weak, to have brought their misfortunes on themselves through foolish behaviour, apathy or shallowness of expectation. He harks back with regret to a time that most would be glad to have moved on from, but succeeds in explaining why it seemed good.
There is no redemption or closure, but real life is not a series of neatly parcelled, self-contained episodes. We are made what we are by our experiences and how we deal with them. This is a book that looks at events that affected a nation, and explores their impact on individuals. It is brutal in places, yet compelling and thought provoking. The author succeeds in drawing the reader into his imperfect world and making them care.
My copy of Fan was sent to me by Sophie of Reviewed The Book. I am grateful to her for providing me with a thoroughly good read that I would have no hesitation in recommending to others.