By Danny Rhodes
It’s hard to shake the feeling that most football-inspired fiction consists of children’s books. Anodyne rubbish served up to kids who hunger for something stronger.
FAN is a novel for adults.
It is not a work of fantasy, where the author lives out some childhood dream of being a footballer, a manager or (heaven help us) a club chairman.
This is a gritty novel. No flights of fantasy. Just compelling reality in all its glory.
Author Danny Rhodes has drawn upon his own experience as a teenager following Nottingham Forest the length and breadth of England in the 1980s to flesh out a book of raw emotion fuelled by the energy of youth.
FAN tells of a man’s plunge into the past to reconcile his present. John Finch, a reformed Nottingham Forest supporter, parted ways with the game he loved after the Hillsborough disaster, moved to London and started a new life as a school teacher.
In 2004, he is jolted from his mundane existence when he hears the news of Brian Clough’s death. When he discovers that one of his old football mates has committed suicide, the terrors of his past resurface after being buried for many years.
Finch decides to confront his past, which could have a profound impact on his future. He returns to Nottingham, where he tries to reconnect with the people and places of his youth. But the events of 1989 have left deep scars not just for Finch but for everyone he knew.
Through the eyes of Finch, Rhodes recreates the world of the Saturday afternoon football terrace. Crammed together in perilous conditions in pens unfit for animals, voices thundering around decrepit stadiums. Tense away trips.
This is more than a novel about football or being a football supporter. In many respects FAN is a story about Generation X facing the reality of growing up. Finch has shirked responsibility and many of the trappings of adulthood. In Nottingham he sees in his old mates what he could have become had he stayed instead of fleeing south.
The story whips between 2004 and 1989 as the story develops and as Finch unravels. The details of the darkest days of Finch’s life are teased out until they collide and threaten to overwhelm.
FAN is a novel grounded in authenticity. Rhodes evokes time and place without sacrificing story.
A compelling book.