Book Review: Past Imperfect by Brian Halford

I remember buying my copy of Past Imperfect as if it were yesterday. In those pre-internet days it was often hard to get a Lincoln City fix, and in my late teens it was almost always Brian Halford that satisfied my thirst.

Halford wasn’t your usual sports reporter, rarely did he conform to the expected rules of match reporting. He was far more ambitious with his language, some may say a little eccentric. Oddly whilst I remember procuring my copy from the club shop, I do not recall reading it, something that made tucking back in recently seem quite exciting.

This is a well-researched book that starts at the beginning in the Monson Arms, and slowly winds its way chronologically up through the (few) highs, down with the (invariably common) lows and eventually ending up at the turn of the century, some 17 years ago now. That in itself made me resent reading it a little, as if it highlighted how time had passed me by. That can hardly be attributed to Halford though, can it?

Some of the stories made me chuckle, and some perhaps wouldn’t have been recorded had he not put pen to paper. I first found out about Barry Fry’s interview for the manager’s role from Halford’s book, as well as the club flying players and fans up to Workington in the 1970s. These are stories you can’t find looking through old programmes, and for an Imp such as myself they’re golden anecdotes otherwise lost to history. That is one thing Brian Halford has done superbly, weaving the big moments and memorable matches with the smaller stories to create a fuller tapestry of history.

So, it must be a great book, right? I’m afraid in my eyes it is not. I can’t fault most of the content, but I can fault other aspects of it, aspects which at first were an irritant but latterly began to really cloud my enjoyment.

Halford likes to repeat himself, he has his favourite phrases and sentence structures that personally do not read well to me. I got fed up of reading about managers ‘hitching up their trousers’, four or five apparently performed this ritual through the book. The elephant foot coat stand in the manager’s office got more mentions than Gary Lund and Gareth Ainsworth put together, and it is these curious moments that detract from the overall read. His handling of fan opinion is also very clumsy, on no less than ten occasions a sentence reads something like; ‘they muttered in the Monson Arms and the Golden Eagle, they debated in the Shakespeare Inn and the Travellers Rest’. It began to read more like a compendium of pubs in Lincoln, not something I bought the book for.

There are arguments for the book and against my moaning. If you liked Halford’s style of writing and his predication for naming each and every pub there has ever been, maybe you’ll find this more enjoyable than I. If you don’t annoy as easily too, if reading about inane pieces of furniture that may or may not have existed is something you can tolerate, you may be okay with the book. I cannot and I found it turned what should be my favourite book ever into an arduous and gruelling read.

My copy had other issues too. A picture of Graham Bressington was labelled ‘Grant Brown’, and details of when Bressington signed were incorrect too. As immaculately researched as this seemed to be, there were errors that a Lincoln City fan would not have made, and therein lies one of my fundamental issues with the book. It attempts to tell the story of the club, it wants to draw out the stories that mattered, not just the ones that made headlines. It aches with a desire to set the scene in the Monson Arms and the Barbican Hotel, the Golden Cross and Cardinals Hat, but it misses the mark factually. How can the reader who truly knows his stuff take the book seriously when it mixes up Grant Brown and Graham Bressington, or when it suggests we didn’t sign the midfielder from Wycombe until after we won the GMVC? Any fan who was there knows otherwise, and with a couple of simple errors the validity of much of the prose is drawn into question.

My copy also had six pages in the wrong order meaning I had to fathom out which page the story resumed on, and the style in which the book was written is not helpful at all when trying to pick up where you left off. At one point I put the book down, lost my place and when I picked it up I couldn’t remember which of the pre-1900 seasons I’d been reading about. I read two chapters before I caught up with where I’d dropped it, and yet the chapters I’d read twice didn’t spark any deja vu in me.

Past Imperfect will appeal to many, and despite its glaring errors and needless reference to pubs, furniture and trousers, it will form an important part of any Imps library. There is information in here that is invaluable to a budding Imps historian such as myself, and as a standalone piece of work for the passing fan it is sufficient to tell our story up until 2000. However, for a more learned fan, one who prides themselves on studying our history accurately and relaying it back in a succinct and relevant manner, there is just too much storytelling in amongst the good stuff.

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