Magazine article The Spectator

Shindler's Park

Magazine article The Spectator

Shindler's Park

Article excerpt

Shindler's park

D. J. Taylor

MANCHESTER UNITED RUINED MY LIFE

by Colin Shindler Headline, 14.99, pp. 310

Colin Shindler is a celebrated smalland wide-screen operator whose writing and production credits include Lovejoy and the feature film Buster. Manchester United Ruined My Life is an account of his sport-obsessed adolescence, dominated by fixations on Lancashire County Cricket Club and, as the title suggests, Manchester City FC. It is not a particularly good book, or a particularly original one, but it illuminates the most blatant procedural trick of modern sports writing with painful clarity.

Sports writing of the Fever Pitch male confessional school is one of the great publishing phenomena of the late 20th century. In case this should sound like sour grapes or Olympian detachment, I ought immediately to say that I have profited from it myself, and that the knowledge -- acquired in about 1993 - that parts of the reading public actually cared what Norwich City were up to in the Premiership is one of the consolations of my literary life. And there I go already, you see, restating an assumption on which books like Colin Shindler's present effort are based. This is that sport - usually football - is a very serious business, so serious as to dominate the frail lives lived out in its shadow to the exclusion of all else.

Well, make that `bogus assumption'. By far the most embarrassing item in Shindler's book is the larky prefatory 'warning' (`Do not attempt to read this book if you are a Manchester United supporter. Any Manchester United supporter who causes wilful damage to property after reading this book cannot use the contents of this book as a defence in law' etc). The second most embarrassing item is Shindler's claim that, when told of the death of Bobby Kennedy, he innocently enquired why anybody should want to kill the Manchester City player of that name. I had trouble believing that story. Likewise I don't imagine for a moment that Shindler, who is an intelligent man - history degree at Cambridge and all the rest of it - really believes that Manchester United (the more successful of the two Manchester sides, it should be pointed out to tyros) ruined his life. Nevertheless, with soccer grounds around the country still ripe for disruption by the small minority of people who do believe that the game is a matter of life and death - a Fulham fan was murdered at Gillingham only last month - this kind of mock-authentication of an emotion which is bogus, and which most of us know to be bogus, can ring slightly hollow. …

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