My difficult publication

Not only is the book hard to find in bookshops (due to factors entirely outside authorial control), but more than several people have by now emailed me saying they’ve sent reviews in to Amazon which have not been used. I’ve tried to have a word with Amazon about that, but that involves speaking to personages in an off-world call centre.

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Here then is Andy_P’s Review which he sent to me by email. Only Four Stars? I ask you…

Danny Blanchflower once said “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It’s about doing things with style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom”.
I had never seen this quote before Stephen Foster brought it to my attention in this book, and I am grateful to him for it. If anything encapsulates my view of the beautiful game then this is it. As Foster opines, if anything was the complete opposite of Tony Pulis’ approach to the game, this quote would be equally perfect. Here lies the quandary, here lies the paradox. How can a supporter of Stoke City dislike a manager so intently when he has just delivered the incredible – a return to the top flight of English football for the first time in 25 years, a feat which seemed less likely to many than finding the lost city of Atlantis? Indeed as a long suffering Stoke supporter of 22 years I have witnessed the worst era in the club’s history, dark days, storylines so ludicrous a fiction writer would be hard pressed to make up, dismissed by his public as too unrealistic. But amazingly here we are about to face the most exciting season in 25 years, a season in the Premiership, the high point so far so in many supporters’ lives. Am I excited? Oddly not really, and Foster’s book goes a long way to explain why.

Several years ago I read Foster’s excellent She Stood There Laughing, an account of Stoke City’s first season back in the Championship. Hard to put down I moved through the book at pace marvelling at the quality of poetic language used to describe so many bleak events. There was much laughter too, Foster’s observations are sharp, witty, and frankly accurate. This hilarious autopsy of Pulis’ first season saw me nodding my head in agreement and wishing I had the talent to express my near identical views in this way. In short it was spot on.
So it was with eager anticipation that I awaited And She Laughed No More. In the intervening years I had met the author, attended the weekend in Brussels recounted in the book, and was a regular recipient of the call to arms – the “Pulis out” text message. If anything this book is better than his previous account of the Stoke experience. It deals with the contrasting emotions of revulsion towards all that is wrong with the Premiership – greed, money, high ticket prices, prima donna footballers, silly transfer fees, and sycophantic media – and the opposite side of the coin, the joy of being there, the experience of competing against the best and not coming up short too often. His accounts of matches I attended capture the moment so wonderfully, be it on the pitch or general atmosphere, that I trust the descriptions of games I could not make in person. Indeed these are often the most enlightening, for Foster sums up so well, I might honestly think I’d been there. Again the author’s analytical nature and self-deprecating wit shine through the inebriated haze of the average supporter to deliver an entertaining and honest account of Stoke City’s first Premiership season. His inclusion of family and friends who endured the season with him adds colour and depth to the account. There is the human story as well as the football story. It would be enjoyed by football fans and Stoke fans alike.

The sub plot to the book is the relationship of the author with the manager Tony Pulis. Considered a dour, negative, cautious individual who has played for “respectable” 0-1 defeats in his time, one might expect that Pulis would be both out of his depth at this level and his dull brand of football could only be the complete opposite of what’s required to remain in the Premiership. Many of us thought so, including the author, and I definitely did! As if in a state of disbelief and denial, I still do, wondering how such an average manager with such a limited set of tactics and almost at times a contemptuous disdain for football could manage such a remarkable achievement. This book elaborates how. Foster set out to chronicle the Premiership adventure not knowing where it might lead, suspecting an instant return to the Championship like many more of us. However in the course of the season he describes the sometimes dire, sometimes lucky, and sometimes heroic way that a team of largely average footballers come together as a galvanised determined unit for their gaffer, and keep him and the club in the Premiership. The infuriating tendency to sit deep away from home and invite defeat was an insult to the hardy travelling supporters and for likes of Foster and myself, exiles living many miles from Stoke-on-Trent, the home matches were like going away too. But here the experience was different. Not always pretty, rarely in my view entertaining, the Britannia experience was a passionate one, and the willingness to compete and clinch hard working results proved enough for the majority of the fans. Foster captures this feeling within this book superbly, and it is this match day experience that sees his attitude to Pulis change. While I found Pulis’ negative style increasingly depressing, and had seen enough of it over the manager’s too long tenure to consider it predictable and less deserving of my time, Foster sees the unexpected competitiveness of the underdog team as unpredictable and increasingly engaging. Slowly Pulis earns his respect, and while there are deserved criticisms and cynicism along the way, Foster finds numbering the Premiership managers he’d actually swap for Pulis as very few. Football is about being there cheering on your side, the glory and flourish as Blanchflower said. Apart from Aston Villa and Arsenal at home there seemed little glory and flourish for me throughout the majority of the season, which resulted in my absence towards the tail end. It is a credit to Foster that his accounts of matches in the latter stages of season actually make me regret my decision to avoid them.

This book is a must for Stoke fans, both PHWs and Pulis’ stalwarts alike. Both can savour the fine and amusing account of Stoke’s first Premiership season, a tale of the unexpected, a momento of the roller coaster ride that led to unlikely survival. Both can perhaps re-evaluate their positions, a new grudging respect for the manager by the PHW camp, while his ardent fans might acquire an understanding and acceptance of justified criticism towards him. Those looking in from outside can enjoy a humorous and true depiction of Stoke City’s season far removed from the clichéd media and their lazy journalism. They might portray Stoke and supporting the club as simple and easy to summarise, but Foster demonstrates it is far more complex than that: the games, the heartbreak, the boredom, the frustration, the excitement, and the joy of supporting your team are skilfully detailed in this book. It is a story that any supporter could relate to. A story enhanced by the unlikely outcome.

Four games into the new season I’ve been living in the USA since May and missed attending the matches that see Stoke currently fifth in the table on seven points. What I’ve seen and listened to on the internet has not altered my view of Pulis, the frustrations remain, the pleasures are not derived from his methodology but solely the result. Meanwhile the arrival of Tuncay Şanlı, in the transfer window arouses some excitement and no doubt augments further the ‘Pulis love” felt by the author, who described the Turkish international in the book as the second best player to grace the Britannia pitch last season. I might not fully agree with Foster’s change of heart towards the manager, but I heartily recommend this enjoyable and well written book. I would have given the book full marks too if it wasn’t for Foster’s surprise admiration of BBC Radio Stoke’s John Acres, a man whose standing with me runs close to Pulis, and the author’s treacherous desertion from the PHW appreciation of the beautiful game in favour of graft, mediocrity, and single digit scorelines 😉 I’m still with Danny Blanchflower, but get yourself a copy any road.

****

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24 Responses to My difficult publication

  1. OS says:

    Bravo, Andy. A magnus opum of a critique, if I may so…apart from a few missing commas. 😉

    I can’t wait for ‘Rails and Tales of Bruxelles Ales’. With your sharp eye, witty castaways, map reading skills, ability to take point, and attention to detail, it should be good. Carry on. 🙂

    Pulis out!

    GGOS.

  2. AndyP says:

    It’s lacking a few clear paragraphs too how Foster has pasted it up there. It took me yonks to write, I was quite pleased with it, and much pissed off that Amazon didn’t stick it on their site. Several reviews gone AWOL? Are conspiracy theories brewing?

    I’d blame Pulis… naturellement.

  3. Stephen Foster says:

    What? 😉

  4. AndyP says:

    By the way, how can you like Acres? He’s a Rimmer Extraordinaire. I thought anchormen were meant to be impartial? I’ve lost count of the times he’s shouted down or cut off callers with valid criticism of Pulis. As they say round here, he irritates the tar outta me. A valid deduction of one star in my view 😉

  5. calvininjax says:

    How can you have a sub-plot in a book that is non-fiction? 😉

  6. AndyP says:

    See this is where one needs a good sub-editor. I wrestled with the term “sub-plot”. It was originally “sub-text” and wasn’t sure if that was right or what I wanted to say. I bow down to your professional knowledge 😉

  7. Stephen Foster says:

    I must of* only heard the best of Acres; he’s certainly a lot better at anchoring a phone-in than Alan ‘now this is MY opinion’ Green.

    Sub-plot, sub-editor, subtext, substitute (get him off the bench Pulis you tool!)

  8. Daftburger says:

    Not as good as Ilford Daves or Raffy’s review. 😛

    Does the fact the author has become another sheep explain the attraction to the Welshman?

    A principled Pulis Out!

  9. AndyP says:

    Alas I have not seen the great works of RAF or Ilford Dave. Is there a link?

  10. makemeadiva says:

    I liked the book (which I ordered from Amazon) and I liked your review too Andy.

    I have now lent (sorry) it to a student from Serbia who supports Liverpool in a quite rabid fashion and hates the bones of Rafa. The point being that we are trying to improve his English.

    Get it on the GCSE text list 😉

  11. Stephen Foster says:

    Surely that should be, ‘improve his fucking English, for fuck’s sake.’ 🙂

  12. makemeadiva says:

    Well maybe…

    It is a good example of literary vernacular 🙂

  13. Stephen Foster says:

    Indeed 🙂

  14. Daftburger says:

    Have you tried to find an Ilford Dave post? It’s like…..

  15. RAF says:

    I wrote a review saying how ace that Raff bloke sounded, but apart from that it was a dour cacophony of cheap subplots and mindless antiquated quotes.
    1 Star ‘Can’t do better’ 😉

  16. Stephen Foster says:

    There’s no such thing as bad publicity daftburger ;–)

  17. OS. says:

    That link is rather depressing, Mr D. I struggle sometimes with people who read a few pages and then give an opinion. Half a book: probably. Three quarters: certainly. But a few pages? It would be like judging Pulisball after five minutes. Bejizus…the stadium would be empty.

    NB: I don’t think the analogy is a very good one. Pulisball doesn’t work without Mama Sidebe holding the ball up, just as winger’s book doesn’t work because nobody’s holding it in stock. Mmmm, maybe that’s a better analogy. I’ll think about it. 😉

    GGOS. (Retired exentrick.)

  18. OS. says:

    I don’t know whether this will work, winger, but I reckon its worth a try.

  19. OS. says:

    There. It did. I reckon J zee knew your book was coming out. 😉

    GGOS. (Giggling exentrick)

  20. OS. says:

    Turn the bass line up. Uhuh. That’s better, Uhuh uhuh.

    Hahahahahahaha. 🙂

    When my situation aint improvin….

    I don’t how to sleep. Stay on my toes.

    It’s a hard knock life…for us poor scribes.

    Uhuh. Uhuh.

  21. Daftburger says:

    Well done to you in believing that, keep your pecker up youth!

    (Do you think that comes over as a bit patronising? :D)

    The problem is with choosing a marmite poster is that you are never going to get a unbiased response. I’ll see if I can drum up some trade (NQM).

  22. AndyP says:

    What a fantastic and influential signing Tuncay is turning out to be. Pulis out!

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