More Than A Game
Sabina Park Rangers is the first team of black players to reach the final of the Watney’s Challenge Cup. But coach Horace McIntosh has more selection problems than most. The First Division champions want to sign one of his best players – and right up until the day of the match he is uncertain that he will have a team for the biggest game in the club’s history because of arrests, a scam and an atmosphere of impending violence.
This is a very energetic novel with a clever title, and the liveliness isn’t just confined to the football matches. The characters are full of life and the plot is fast-paced, clever and engrossing. It’s upbeat, even though there’s tension and difficulties to be faced in the novel and it deals with harsh realities of the period the book is set in, such as racism, hostile politics and heavy-handed policing. Life could be uncertain and dangerous for British people of West Indian descent.
There’s much that’s positive, as I hinted at with the ‘upbeat’ remark. Horace, the team coach and our main character, is a generous, encouraging person. He wants to contribute all he can to his community, despite this being made difficult for him by intolerance. This community is caring and tight-knit. It’s reflected in the real camaraderie amongst Sabina Park Rangers’ players. There are some rogues amongst them and rules are there for the bending, but you see and sympathise the motives behind any slightly dodgy behaviour. What really comes over is the genuine wish and need to integrate and be accepted in their adopted country.
The book is set in The Midlands in the 1980s, both a place and a period I’ve experienced first-hand so I can honestly say that the atmosphere of that time and setting are convincing and atmospheric. There’s added pertinence in that the UK is sadly showing a worrying swing to the right at the current time and undervaluing certain members of society for shallow reasons. However, despite the more serious overtones this is an enjoyable and eye-opening slice of 1980s life, politics and people.
Oh, and about that clever title. There’s a reflection in it of the well known saying by Bill Shankly that football is more important than ‘life and death’ so it’s definitely more than a game. Also, given the extra challenges posed by discrimination that Sabina Park Rangers face, football is more than a game for them. It’s about self-worth and acceptance as well as demonstrating talent and scoring goals.
Ralph Robb was born and raised in the industrial town of Wolverhampton, England, and now lives in Ontario, Canada with his wife, two cats and a dog. A proud father of four, Robb works as an engineering technician and loves rugby, martial arts and of course a good book. His world is balanced by his obsession with comic books, quality TV, global events and the great outdoors.
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