When we think of great books about soccer fans, we think of the fanatics. Fever Pitch – which spawned a soccer AND baseball movie – tells the story of a fan so passionate about Arsenal it almost ends his romantic relationship. A Season with Verona is about an American writer following his adopted Italian team around Italy. The greatest books about soccer fans are about those who live the Shankly quote about soccer being much more than life or death.
Ian Plenderleith takes a different and honest approach in his newest book. The Quiet Fan does tell the story of how soccer influences a fan’s life, but the reality is soccer is a bit player in where his life has taken him. That may seem surprising from the author of the quality Rock and Roll Soccer and longtime internet scribe. The reality is that even though soccer has been a source of financial support and joy for decades, he is like many of his readers where the sport is a factor is our lives, but not a controlling or dominant one.
Like much of his writing, Plenderleith does not give you a straight narrative of his life and how A turned to B which became C. Instead, the narrative is divided into themes which is a semi-straightforward biographical narrative. Themes of his life like trying to navigate romantic relationships as a teen, fighting aimlessness in a career, or calling out his hypocrisy in life choices make this a refreshing read. Woven throughout are stories about soccer and his experience with it, but they are not glowing portraits of how players or a match changed his life forever. Rather, they are a supporting player in a (usually sad) story. For example, the chapter “Despair” centers on the author attending an Aberdeen v. Celtic match… with a stranger… who is morally offensive… as a Rangers fan. The match illustrates a larger point, but is not definitive. It’s just a mile marker in his life.
Despite the more unique take, the book does not really grip the reader until about 70 pages in. There the book finds its voice and the author really drives home his points. For example, it takes until the ninth chapter (“Love and Birmingham”) to hit his main point:
When I lived in Walthamstow, in East London, I more or less supported and cheered for Leyton Orient for five years, although for some reason that attachment didn’t last. When I return to watch them now, as I usually do when I’m in London, I spectate with the cold-headedness of the neutral, finding it hard to believe that I’ve paid more than 20 quid to watch this crap.
The point is that while soccer is important, it is not as important as human relationships. Soccer is a fun distraction, even source of revenue at times, but nothing more, to the point where the local club you support can be discarded.
The disorienting story will drive away some readers, and others will be put off by sections that do not fit the point of the book. However, it’s different than most books of this type, and that’s not necessarily bad. If you enjoyed his book on the NASL, or his writing on various websites throughout the years, this book will appeal to you. If you are not, then you still may enjoy the book but there is no guarantee. That said, Plenderleith deserves plaudits writing an open and honest account of his life when playing up his fandom would have been more understandable.
The Quiet Fan is available via Kindle.