When I was little, and lived in Devon, Chelsea came down to play a local team. Big teams never came round our way, so my dad and his mate took me and my younger brother to watch. It would have been around ’91/’92, and I would have been 7-ish years old. At the time, I had no idea why my mum was so anxious about letting us go. I had never heard of Hillsborough.
Fan has the 1989 Hillsborough disaster at its centre, as it follows avid teenage Forest fan John Finch (Finchy) going to matches, and the match, in 1989, and his adult life down south in 2004, which is not going well. The book moves seamlessly between the two time periods of Finchy’s life, something that’s rarely done really well. This is a grim and raw book, with so much unhappiness, and one in which you are not always going to like the central character. But it’s also gripping, beautifully written, and feels emotionally true (the author was also a Forest fan at Hillsborough that day). That truth is not just about the disaster, but also in Finchy’s development as a character – there are no great leaps for the sake of a story, but something slower and unfinished that feels more true to real people.
Although the term ‘PTSD’ is never used, you can clearly see how the the trauma of witnessing the disaster has had huge effects on Finchy and his old friends. Related to this, the book also deals with masculinity and coping, and the impact the stereotypical ‘men don’t share their emotions’ can have, as well as the different ways people cope with trauma. It’s also about communities – small towns, at work, as fans – and what happens when you leave them, and when you go back.
I’ve fallen seriously out of love with football as I’ve gotten older, but Fan is not ‘just a football book’, and even if you, too, don’t like football, I’d still urge you to pick this up. One of my favourites of the year so far.
I received a free copy of the new B format of Fan in exchange for an honest review.