Published: 18 September 2000
"A Seat in the Crowd" received a rather vitriolic review recently. The reviewer in question (another United fan) earns his living by the pen, but in this case decided to draw his sword instead. This had been in complete contrast to every other review we have received so far. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, but this was an unprecedented assault.
It started us thinking.
What was our crime? Could it be that we had dared to enter the market at a time when we could definitely be viewed as the reviewer's competitors? Even if he does have the might of the professional publishing world behind him, and we are just a couple of first timers, we must still provide some sort of competition for sales.
Once we had cut through the bile and the pretensions to the main thrust of his argument, however, it appeared that there was more going on than simple self-interest - the gentleman concerned did not believe that our book had sufficient literary merit to be published.
It was quite a shock to discover that football books have to be literary masterpieces to be deemed worthy of publication, particularly when remembering some of the very successful publications that have "cleaned up" in recent years.
This puzzled us, and we began to ponder the similarities between this particular set of circumstances and all the other times so-called "experts" and "professionals" like to think they can make our decisions for us. About the times we are lectured on what is "good" art, or "good" literature and about how much we hate the pomposity and the arrogance of it all.
What the hell is this sort of elitism doing in football? Have we given our game over to the middle classes to the point where we have to write philosophical texts in French to get a good review in a football fanzine?
Surely writing - good writing - is about communication? It's about telling a story that people want to read, that leaves them wanting more. When either of us sit down to write a piece about football, we don't set out to produce a literary masterpiece, we set out to communicate with other people - in particular other United fans. If we can do that, and if other United fans contact us and say "your reports bring Old Trafford to life for me" or "it's the next best thing to being there" or "I laughed out loud sitting on the bus the other day" (all genuine quotes) then we have done what we set out to do. We have written something that is "good" in the real sense of the word, whatever literature's purist critics might say. If we can touch something in another person with the written word, isn't that what it's all about? It's certainly what many fans have told us it's about over the years.
But of course this is football in the new millennium. There are so many "experts" these days. Failed footballers who suddenly become experts when they sit in a TV studio and pontificate on a game played at a level they could never imagine. Newsmen who write as if they have intimate knowledge of what being a fan is like, even though they never move out of the press box or the bar. PLC board members who talk about "what the fans want" from the safety of the Directors' Box. But all these fade into insignificance compared to a particular breed of United fan, a self-appointed elite who like to tell the rest of us what we should and shouldn't be buying, wearing, writing, singing - it's never ending. Pretty soon we will have to pass an audition to be allowed into Old Trafford, let alone have the audacity to write about it.
So where does this leave us? With hope in our hearts that we'll never walk alone? Not quite, thankfully! It leaves us feeling quite the opposite - that the face of football is constantly changing, and not always for the best. That those ensconced within the game often have their own agendas and woe betide anyone who enters their world unannounced. But then why should we worry about that when we have been raised on the United Maverick approach and are only following the same principals?
What concerns us is that if a fellow Red can justify a review of this nature - a review which attempts to destroy fellow Reds, then what future is there? For, rather than supporting the efforts of other United fans, and saving their bile for the Scousers or the Bitters, certain self-styled experts seem to relish tearing apart the work of those they should actually be supporting with constructive criticism and advice.
Just a thought.
OUT NOW "A Seat in the Crowd" by Paul Windridge and Linda Harvey
In the UK: From Waterstones Book Shop, Deansgate, Manchester
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