Book Review: How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup

In the lead up to Christmas, we’ll be running a series of book reviews, courtesy of Roy Thomson, to help you with any choices you might have to make for the football fan in your life.

They’re not specifically Lincoln City, but instead an eclectic and varied selection of books to suit all taste. Take it away, Roy.


How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup, J.L. Carr.

 ‘Mr Slingsby (Capt.), reporting on Interim Progress, stated that his team had defeated Hackthorn Young Conservatives (away) 13–0, N Baddesley Congs Tennis & Football Club (home) 14–0, Bennington British Rail (away) 12–0 and Aston Villa (at Wolverhampton) 2–1. The Chairman commented favourably on these statistics …’

I really enjoyed my wife’s recommendation of A Month in the Country by Carr, for which he received a Booker prize nomination. I then soon discovered he had also written a football novella. How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup.

I approached the book with low expectations. I’m not a fan of football fiction and thought a story about a village football team winning the Cup would stretch my capacity to believe the story. However, I soon discovered the book is so brilliantly written, so full of eccentric and colourful characters, that once I started it, I honestly couldn’t put it down.

First published in 1975, it is so much more than a comic book fantasy of underdog success. Whilst it is at times laugh out loud funny; it is also a sharp commentary on provincial life. The narrator is Joe Gidner, who arrives in the village after some non-specified ‘trouble’ at theological college. To keep busy, he quickly takes up secretaryship of the local football club. Gidner chronicles how a tactical masterplan devised by the village doctor, a genius Hungarian émigré called Kossuth, is successfully implemented by a bunch of oddball footballers led by Alex Slingsby. Slingsby actually played six games for Aston Villa before leaving the professional game to move to Sinderby and care for his sick wife. Now in his late twenties, he leads the team on a triumphant march to Wembley.

En route to the final, Wanderers face all manner of opposition, from over-confident local rivals Barchester City to a much-fancied team from Manchester, complete with a large, boisterous following who run riot through the village. The heartwarming tale of Wanderers shock win at Elland Road will strick a cord with anyone who was at Burnley in 2017.

 

Throughout the book, the spirit of village football is brilliantly conveyed. You can almost smell the deep heat in the old LNER railway carriage that serves as the team’s changing room. Veterans of Sunday League have probably come across a  milkman performing heroics in goal, but what about a lightening quick vicar on the wing, who sometimes misses games because of weddings and funerals?

Carr is often at his best when parodying both local and national media. The historic cup run is described in epic match reports by Alice (Ginchy) Trigger a young staff reporter from the East Barset Weekly Messenger. Her stated remit is funerals, inquests, weddings and all sport but she rises to the challenge of the team’s success. Ginchy is complimented along the way by fictional reporters from the Times, Yorkshire Post and genuinely funny caricatures of the Sun and other tabloids.

A special mention must go to the Chairman, Mr Fangfoss, a local farmer who is in charge of the club simply because he runs everything else in the village. He is a lively character and Machiavellian political operator. Fangfoss beats all comers with scathing put-downs, including the long-absent club president who receives short thrift when suddenly reappearing once the club is on the verge of a Wembley appearance.

Fangfoss slowly becomes a media personality due to a combination of his team’s heroics and his forthright character. His fame peaks after a controversial appearance on the BBC. His passionate support of forced labour for the workshy and strident opposition to the common market and nationalised industries leads to the premature ending of the interview and eleven sacks of mail at the club. His comments are even debated in Parliament.

In amongst all the fantasy, humour and astute social and cultural commentary, Carr’s message carries a reverence for living in the present and enjoying the moment. I’d highly recommend it, and you can still buy it on Amazon.