There are many examples of our writers turning to football for inspiration. Notts County fan William Ivory’s play Diary of a Football Nobody is based on former player David McVay’s memoir Steak…Diana Ross; Brian Clough comes back from the dead in Forest supporter Stephen Lowe’s play Old Big ‘Ead in The Spirit of the Man; and who can forget DI Charlie Resnick and his creator John Harvey being County fans. But what of the best football-related books with a local connection? Here’s a strong starting eleven:
Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular (2009) by Graham Joyce
As a dodgy-kneed 52-year-old, Graham Joyce finds himself playing in goal for an England Writers XI in the writers’ world cup. The book alternates between Joyce’s time in Italy with the team of writers and a history of goalkeeping, personal and in general. It’s a unique footballing memoir about the custodians of the goal, the loneliest position on the field, blending humour with poignant insight. Graham Joyce taught Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University from 1996 until his death in 2014.
The Unfortunates (1969) by B S Johnson
A journalist goes to an urban city (Nottingham) and heads to a football ground (the City Ground) to report on a match. Attempts to make his weekly report are disrupted by memories of the city and of his best friend Tony, a young victim of cancer. The Unfortunates is a heart-breaking story which celebrates friendship and reflects on death. Described as ‘a subtle critique of the self-serving Sixties’ it’s also an honest self-portrayal. The chapters are presented in twenty-seven unbound packets inside a box, designed to be read in any order, aside from the first and last sections.
The Damned United (2006) by David Peace
A fictionalised account of Brian Clough’s dramatic 44 days as Leeds United’s manager: dirty Leeds, Revie’s Leeds, the league champions. Peace’s tormented Clough walks the line between genius and madness, his present tense, first-person stream-of-consciousness delivering a compelling voice. Clough’s rise at Derby is flashbacked to; a happier time with Peter Taylor and a committed group of players, the opposite of the hostility endured at Elland Road. Peace powerfully captures a complex figure, a force of nature in the eye of a storm.
Provided You Don’t Kiss Me (2007) by Duncan Hamilton
There are loads of books about Brian Clough. This is probably the best of them. Duncan Hamilton had 20 years with Cloughie as his go-to reporter on the Nottingham Evening Post. The relationship was not always an easy one. Hamilton witnessed at first-hand the manager’s mood swings, temper, humour, generosity and genius. Packed with anecdotes it’s a chance to get to know more about the character, his fears and flaws, and his remarkable time at Nottingham Forest, including his falling-out with Taylor and descent into alcoholism.
My Father And Other Working Class Football Heroes (2005) by Gary Imlach
Stewart Imlach played for Scotland in the 1958 world cup and a year later he was man-of-the-match for Forest in the FA cup final. This book is a moving account of a son’s search for the man his father was, in an era when players led similar lives to those found on the terraces. After his dad died Gary lost his passion for the beautiful game. In searching for his father’s life beyond football, Gary blends the personal and the historical, movingly recapturing a different time.
All Played Out, The Story of Italia 90 (1990) by Pete Davies
Davies wrote this inside story of the England team and its fans in the two months that followed Italia ’90. Interviews with Bobby Robson and his players, agents, officials and journalists inform the writing but it’s the fans that feature the most in Davies’ observations. They are legitimatised, with the cultural importance of football explored. This was all in the days when Forest had a strong presence in the national team and the majority of football books were ghost-written pap. Davies wanted to write a work of ‘football literature’ and did so.
I Believe In Miracles (2016) by Daniel Taylor and Jonny Owen
On the back of Jonny Owen’s brilliant film about the remarkable story of Brian Clough’s champions of England and Europe comes this book of the same name. Based on exclusive interviews with virtually every member of the winning Forest team, it covers the greatest period in Clough’s extraordinary career and retells the stories of Forest’s unlikely assortment of free transfers, bargain buys, rogues, misfits and world-beaters, many of whom just happen to be some of the funniest men ever to wear red shirts.
Tied Up with Notts (2012) by Colin Slater
From the birth of BBC Radio Nottingham in 1968 right up to 2017, Colin Slater was the Voice of Notts County covering well over 2,000 matches. It landed him an MBE, a Sony Award, the Freedom of Broxtowe, and a tram named in his honour, almost enough to compensate for watching Notts County for all those years. Tied Up with Notts is Slater’s personal and revealing record of Notts County from 1959 to 2011. It was published in 2012 to mark the world’s oldest professional football club’s 150th anniversary.
Fever Pitch (1993) by Nick Hornby
Fever Pitch is about the all-consuming, obsessive, emotional life of a diehard football supporter. Hornby’s team is Arsenal and he sees his love of the gunners as the one constant thing in his life. The ups and downs of fandom play out against the pressures of being a grown up in this amusing, social history of Britain spanning decades. Fever Pitch finally focuses on the 1988-89 season, a title race which sees Arsenal dramatically pip Liverpool on the last day of the season. It’s this same season that Forest (who finish third) met Liverpool at Hillsborough in the FA Cup semi-final. Hornby reflects on the tragedy.
The Lord of Milan (2017) by Robert Nieri
The Lord of Milan is Herbert Kilpin, regarded by many as the father of Italian football. Kilpin founded the Milan Foot-Ball & Cricket Club, now known as AC Milan, one of Europe’s great football clubs. Kilpin died over 100 years ago but is now getting the acknowledgement he deserves, partly because of Robert Nieri’s book, a fictional account of how Kilpin became such a key figure in the history of Italian football; a journey that begins in Nottingham. For Kilpin, a humble lace warehouse assistant and resident of Mansfield Road, began his football career playing on the Forest, for the love of the game.
The Match by Alan Sillitoe
Appearing in Sillitoe’s collection The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is a short story about a football match between Notts County and Bristol City. County lose. This defeat symbolises a failing marriage and links the protagonist Lennox’s abusive behaviour to his disappointment. Following the match, Lennox goes from the terraces to his terrace house and takes his rage out on his wife. Lennox’s temper and inability to communicate with his wife sees her walk away, ‘for the last time’.