Christian Flinn's 'Sunday League': A Warm & Relatable Football Funny
I had the opening line for this review all worked out early on. ‘This novel is great fun, a really entertaining read though a bit far-fetched’, it was going to be... but then I realised that in fact it isn’t that far-fetched at all.
I suppose such realisation comes from the kind of outlook held by supporters (sufferers) of Leeds United, of which I am one. However, 'Sunday League' isn’t about Leeds, it’s (unofficially) about another club frequently in the headlines for the wrong reasons, with one fiasco following another and it all feeling more like a pantomime than a professional football club. I’m talking about Newcastle United, where ‘normality’ is a rarity, and I say that with no disrespect to them or to their fans.
Here, Christian Flinn calls the club ‘Newcastle East End’, but the famous names of past number nine strikers from the Magpies’ history give it away, if indeed you hadn’t already sussed. Well, you know now! Worry not, this isn’t a plot spoiler. Flinn also writes about his pub team, the Coal & Iron, and that is a landscape perhaps most of us can enjoy and relate more easily to - all the shite players, the shite conditions, the shite jokes, the shite hangovers, the shite pitches and the shite erm… dog shite, placed so lovingly upon said shite pitches.
The story then reaches new almost uncharted heights with a look in to main character Danny Milburn’s football ‘career’ which works very very well and consistently amuses. Incidentally, I once wrote a short story called 'Dog Shit Ref!' but I’m not trying to take any credit for any excremental inspiration here.
Danny is 29 years old and his best mate is Rich. The tale, and the way it’s written, reminded me of two other heroic comedic Geordie lads who never fail to make me chuckle whenever they’re on the telly. No not bloody Ant & Dec - Bob & Terry, 'The Likely Lads'. Thankfully, even though this is set in deepest Newcastle Upon Tyne, there is a refreshing absence of Gazza, Newcastle Brown Ale and Geordie meatheads taking their black & white striped shirts off to reveal black & white striped tattoos. But 'Sunday League' isn’t just a comedy, there is plenty of realistic depth and emotion within its entwined plots, and it is all written with a warm panache that makes you happy you’ve read it and glad too that you found out what happens at the end.
Buy it or borrow it from a library, it’s a little belter.
Robert Endeacott is the author of novels such as One Northern Soul, No More Heroes, Dirty Leeds and Disrepute – Revie’s England. His biography of The Stranglers, Peaches – A Chronicle of The Stranglers, 1974 to 1990 should be out in the next few months.