The football fan autobiography is a classic genre on our sports’ bookshelf. Soccer, more than any other sport long invited fans and authors to write about their rooting experiences. These develop into valuable recruiting tools in places where European football fandom continues to grow.
This author is a fan of Arsenal because of Fever Pitch, for example. But we are entering a new era that influences the quality and interest in this genre. The first is the rise of blogs and podcasts. These provide daily perspective as opposed to the staggered released from bookstores. The second is the COVID era. The game itself acts as a supporting character to larger societal issues.
Leading the way (at least chronologically) is The Year of the Robin by Jen Offord. Offord is a veteran sports writer and podcaster who decided to more closely follow Charlton Athletic for a year. That year, 2019/20, proved to be particularly interesting on and off the pitch. As readers, we follow her and her family, as well as the larger Charlton family, navigating unprecedented times.
The Year of the Robin book
Offord picks up the story at the beginning of the 2019 season. She purchased season tickets for her brother as a gift as he soft protests the ownership of the club. As the season progresses, Charlton’s chances of staying in the Championship fade. Simultaneously, changes permeate on the pitch and at home. For the club, Charlton seeks new ownership while attracting fans and staying up. For Offord, it’s growing closer with her family and friends. Her direct family grows via pregnancy. Yet, societal issues push people away due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
As many of us know, Charlton suffered relegation on the last day. Offord expresses the range of feelings that come with a club battling relegation.
One twist Offord brings is interviews with Charlton fans from a variety of different, official positions. She speaks with LGBTQ club teams, advocates for female fans and clubs in soccer, long-time supporters, and anti-racism advocates about soccer in England today. Some of these conversations only briefly touch on Charlton. However, each shows her strength as an interviewer and someone who helps her subjects speak to important topics comfortably.
Differing perspectives on a tumultuous year
While reading this book, it struck me that this was almost a Fever Pitch adjacent book. Our main character is not the soccer obsessive, which is the usual focus. Rather, it is the sister and friend who attends matches with the soccer obsessives. I enjoyed this similar style. Readers get to experience fandom with someone who jumps into and out of passion for a club. This, I’d argue, is the true experience of the majority of soccer fans. The pandemic first-person experience was also a jarring reminder of what 2020 was and what we experienced. Many more books will soon dull that chocking reminder.
I appreciated this book and Offord’s perspective on soccer fandom. The Year of the Robin appeals to the majority of readers except those who only enjoy the most academic tomes. It adds an element to soccer books that gives a voice to those fans who support their local club despite commitments to work and family.
Just because you do not attend every match, name your child after your favorite player, and clear your schedule for deadline day does not mean you are not a true fan. You are just doing your best to be your best fan.
‘The Year of the Robin’ is available from Amazon and all fine booksellers.
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