There have been influential books on a football theme in recent decades, most notably Fever Pitch and The Damned United. They share another major factor in common besides the Beautiful Game: almost all the lead characters are men. For my second novel Marching on Together, I decided to make 56-year-old Yvonne Fairclough, a passionate and devoted Leeds United fan all her life, a central character. By wonderful coincidence, on the very day I decided to publish a blog on this theme, the BBC carried a profile of This Fan Girl, a new website portraying women fans at the footy – who are around 25% of fans nowadays (I was warned by publishing types while writing the book that ‘only women read novels and only men follow football’ – clearly the publishing industry needs to update its research).
Challenging gender stereotypes further, Yvonne is at a moment in her life where she fears that her devotion to the club is causing her husband Tony to become estranged from her; and frets over whether it affected her parenting of their only son Michael, who is now grown up rarely returns her calls, and never comes to a match.
I first became aware of a significant rise in the number of female footy fans in the 1990s, when I came across two examples of men going to football matches for the first time, because their daughters asked them to take them along. Although I also vividly recall from a Leeds match in 1974 an extremely witty woman mimicking the terrace chants of the lads – she was clearly a regular, as she knew all the words.
The very first Amazon review of Marching on Together is from a Liverpool fan Christina Reece, who wrote: ‘I am a football fan though not Leeds but can relate to the characters’ passion for their club. All different in ages and gender and social status but with the one constant thing that binds them together.’
Of course, Yvonne’s travails are not the only theme in Marching on Together. Set in 2014, she is one of six Leeds fans, two of them brothers, on a short trip to Belgium, for a pre-football season holiday and to seek out the war grave of the brothers’ great-granddad, killed near Ypres in 1915. The sojourn brings to the surface stories they have been telling themselves, and decisions that they have to face, about their lives and their most cherished relationships; their hopes and ambitions – partly or wholly thwarted, in the case of some; with the potential of coming true, in the case of others.
- Marching on Together, Urbane Publications 2017. More at: https://urbanepublications.com/books/marching-on-together/
Pre-publication reviews for Marching on Together
“I very much enjoyed Marching on Together and was happily carried along by the wonderfully realised characters” – bestselling author Louis de Bernières
“A beautifully told story with real characters which will fill you with warmth and make you want to read more” – Sonya Alford, A Lover of Books blog
“Each character was given time to develop and we became acquainted with their personal strengths and weakness – LOVED it,” – Sue Harrison, book blogger
“I was particularly drawn to the two female characters, who to me seemed to have the most depth … I loved the humour in the banter. Somehow you managed to build in the pathos at the graveside, a reminder that we are complex characters capable of empathy while still behaving like a drunken lout at other times.” – Helen Armitage, retired ITV producer