Sunday 20 April 2014

Fan by Danny Rhodes

In 1989, eighteen-year-old John Finch spends his Saturdays following Nottingham Forest up and down the country and the rest of the week trudging the streets of his hometown as a postal worker. 
2004 sees Finch spending his days teaching in a southern secondary school, delaying the inevitable onslaught of parenthood. 
Leading inexorably towards the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, the worst sporting disaster in British history, Fan glides between 1989 and 2004 when the true impact of this tragic day becomes evident. 
A book of personal and collective tragedy; it s about growing up and not growing up, about manhood and about what makes a man, and above all about football s role in reflecting a society that is never more than a stone s throw away from shattering point.

Fan by Danny Rhodes was published on 15 April 2014 by Arcadia Books.  15 April 2014 was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

I was brought up in a small North Nottinghamshire village, situated right at the very tip of Nottinghamshire and bordering both Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire.  Nottingham, Sheffield, Doncaster, Lincoln - these were my stomping grounds, the places I knew, the places that were familiar to me.
Although I don't come from a family of football fans, we were proud of  Nottingham Forest - this team who had probably the best known manager in the country, the team that had risen and seemed to be winning it all.
In 1989 I was 22 and due to be married on April 22.  A week before that, two of our wedding guests went to Hillsborough to watch their team. They were Liverpool supporters and they were deaf. With no internet and no mobile phones, the waiting and worrying for friends and family, as we began to hear what had happened that day was almost unbearable. Karen and Robert were lucky, they came home.  So many fans didn't go home, so many families ruined - an event that is etched on the heart of so many, an event that should never have happened and an event that still, twenty-five years later is foremost in the nation's mind.

FAN is told in the then and the now by John Finch, or Finchy as he's known as.  'Then' was the late 80s, Finchy was a rookie postman, starting early, delivering the council tax bills and the giros and spending what he had on following Forest. Up and down the country, crap grounds, being pissed on by rival fans, battlefields both on and off the pitch. Losing, drawing - uninspiring. Then Cloughie and the boys turn things around, Forest are winning, they are on their way to Wembley.

'Now' is 2004, beginning the day that Brian Clough died - the end of an era. Finchy lives down South, far away from the bleak Midlands town that he started out in. He's a teacher, he lives with his girlfriend Kelly, but Finchy is troubled, he's unhappy. Cloughie is dead, and then he hears that one of the 'boys' is dead too. Fellow Forest fan Stimmo - hanged himself.  Finchy is going back.

I can't go into detail. Everyone knows what happened at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, and Finchy was there. He and the boys saw it happening, slowly in front of their eyes. They saw people die and those images were imprinted onto their brains for ever afterwards, they would never go away.  Finchy and the boys never spoke about Hillsborough, or what they saw. They went home and carried on living.

John Finch left town though. Not straight away, but not that long after Hillsborough. He came home and he fucked up royally. He didn't tell anyone what was going on in his head, he treated people like crap and then he left.

Danny Rhodes has written a novel that is sharp and raw and convincing. FAN is a story about men, and about how they dealt with the aftermath of this event that changed their lives and the lives of all British football fans for ever.  There is something incredibly unsettling about the words of this story, probably because the reader knows that Danny Rhodes is fully authorised to write them, and that underlying suspicion that actually most of this story is more fact than fiction. There is a compelling need to continue reading despite an overwhelming feeling that one is invading the privacy of the author.

In turns I was chilled to the bone by the stark description of the events of that fateful day, and moved to tears of frustration for the men who went home and tried to carry on 'like blokes do'. No counselling, or talking it over with friends as a group of women would surely do.

I have no doubt that some people won't be able to read FAN. It is a harrowing account that pulls no punches, and for those of us that remember the pictures in the newspapers over the following days, it will evoke memories that have never quite faded away.

Writing FAN was a brave act from Danny Rhodes, this shines through in his writing. The emotion and feeling screams out from the pages.  FAN is an important book, it is a story about humans; the fragility of both bones and of minds.  FAN is a powerful story.

My thanks to the Arcadia Books team who sent my copy for review and constantly feed my appetite with their fabulous books.

Danny Rhodes grew up in Grantham, Lincolnshire before moving to Kent in 1994 to attend university in Canterbury.  He has lived in the cathedral city ever since. After a number of his short stories appeared in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic his debut novel, Asboville, was published in October 2006. Well received by critics, it was selected as a Waterstone's Paperback of the Year and it has been adapted for BBC Films by the dramatist Nick Leather. Rhodes' second novel Soldier Boy was published in February 2009. FAN is Danny's third novel, and he continues to write short stories in a variety of genres.

Danny Rhodes was at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989   #The96

For more information, visit the website  
Twitter @danrhodesuk

A percentage of profits from the sale of FAN will go to the Anfield Sports & Community Centre (ASCC), on behalf and in memory of the Hillsborough 96.

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