Pitch Publishing 2017
Softback, 382pp, £9.99
Subtitled “An Alternative History of The Beautiful Game”, this is a series of six scenarios where history has been rewritten and there’s a very different outcome to that we’re familiar with. So, Scotland win the inaugural World Cup, Clough’s Derby become champions of Europe, and, in another European final, David O’Leary’s Leeds gain revenge over Bayern Munich with a victory in 2001. Oh yes, England win the 1990 World Cup (beating Argentina of course).
Each of us probably has a moment in our own club’s past when if it wasn’t for the width of a goalpost, a handball not spotted, or deflected shot, then things would have turned out differently. It’s part of the angst we all feel, at the same time both frustrating and somehow liberating, giving us the opportunity to weave a more successful narrative and outcome. If only Mark Hughes had slightly miscued his extra time volley in the 94 FA cup semi-final then Oldham would have gone on to win the Cup, avoid relegation, play in the UEFA Cup and so on. So, this book takes us into such a parallel universe, and, at least for fans of the teams involved, it will be an enjoyable journey.
It's a work that’s both fiction and non-fiction. The author packages his altered reality with a healthy and researched description of the context and background of the competitions he talks about. Thus, for the 1984 Battle of Britain final of the European Cup between Liverpool and Dundee Utd, you are presented with a very good background not only of the Liverpool era of the 70s and into the 80s but also of the Tannadice club and staff. Jim McLean is rightly identified as the driving force behind the club’s rise and there is an insightful piece on its ascent to the top of the Scottish game. In reality, the Tannadice Tangerines lost to Roma in the semi-final but Simon Turner intersperses the factual background with an account of his “alternative history”, the build up to the game, the match itself and reactions to it. And this is his technique with each of the six matches he writes about, so there’s plenty of football history (from 1930) as well as fiction.
Suspend reality and this is a book that works. It’s written in a very readable style and has a strong factual background. It’s escapist in its premise and, like anything that’s the subject of a “what might have been” discussion, should be judged as that. And the next time a shot gets kicked off the line get dreaming about what might have happened in the years to come if it hadn’t.