Football writer Ian Plenderleith has been a Lincoln City fan since his dad took him to Sincil Bank in 1972 at the age of six. The author of a book of short football fiction, For Whom the Ball Rolls, and a history of the (1970s) North American Soccer League, Rock n Roll Soccer, he is currently judging, alongside myself and Alan Johnson, the entries for the forthcoming book on Lincoln fans’ away day experiences.
He is also the author of a football memoir, The Quiet Fan, now seeking backers at the crowd-funding publisher Unbound (see below for details on how to pledge for the book, including a 15% discount for Lincoln City fans). I spoke to Ian about the forthcoming book, about whether he’s buying lunch when we get together to judge the competition, and about his relationship to Lincoln City down the years.
SW: To start with a brutally frank question, why should any Lincoln City fan be interested in yet another book?
IP: A large part of the book is about supporting Lincoln in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up in Market Rasen. The 12 chapters are devoted to specific games at key points in my life, and several of the early chapters focus around particular games at Sincil Bank. Even when I moved away from Lincoln to study and work, my experience of being a football fan almost always related back to my formative years in Lincolnshire.
SW: So is this just a lower league Fever Pitch?
IP: The Quiet Fan aims for something quite different, despite in places hankering for a time when Percy Freeman was guaranteed to score and City never seemed to lose at home. Fever Pitch to me was a slightly dishonest portrayal of fans as obsessives, which was admittedly a nice change from all fans being portrayed as mindless hooligans. But I still don’t think that book captured what it really means to be a fan, and why football is important.
SW: Can you explain? I noticed that the website you set up to go with the book has the sub-title: ‘Why football is important. Just maybe not in the way we think.’ What do you mean by that?
IP: That it’s not necessarily the game itself that’s important, but its reassuring ever-presence. As long as the football’s on, then the world’s still turning. In times of trauma and war, football’s one of the first things that stops. For several generations we’ve been lucky to live in an era where that hasn’t (yet) happened in our part of the world. So although of course the games, the players, the drama and the results are what keep us interested, the game’s actual importance is as an anchor of security in our lives. So many really important life events – death, birth, loss, love, despair, hope – are intertwined with particular football memories.
SW: That’s something we’ve noticed from many of the entries to the away days book.
IP: Yes, exactly. It’s not just the memory of a particular game. To be honest, that wouldn’t be so interesting in itself. It’s how the writers remember where they were in life when that game took place – maybe what music they were into, what they were wearing, where they were working or studying at the time, which mates or family members they were with, and what caused them to be in Carlisle with 23 other away fans on a Tuesday night. No one’s looking at the possession stats for that game – the reader wants to know how the hell they got home in time for work the next day, did they find a chippie that was still open at midnight, and did the whole experience prompt them to question what they were doing with their lives.
SW: So give us an example of a major life event that you relate to a Lincoln City game in The Quiet Fan?
IP: The most obvious example I can think of is my first clumsy snog and grapple on the same day that Lincoln played Scunthorpe in September 1980, which is the foundation for Chapter 3. I can’t think of any more appropriate memory for a Lincolnshire lad than having your first adolescent fumble associated with an afternoon watching Mick Harford battle it out with Vince Grimes. If that hardly sounds romantic, it’s because it wasn’t, on any level. Not that I was thinking about Harford and Grimes while I was getting lucky on a bench outside Tealby Village Hall after drinking half a bottle of neat Martini, but when you look back several years later, the two events are irrevocably linked, for better or worse. Mainly for better, I think.
You can order The Quiet Fan from Unbound Books. Readers who pledge to buy in advance will have their names printed in the book. Lincoln City fans can get a 15% discount by typing in the code Lincoln15 at checkout.