Bleak and blue - and that's just the reader: Book of the Week

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The Independent Online
Bleak and Blue: 22 Years at the Manchester Academy of Football Farce

Craig Winstanley

(Sigma Leisure, pounds 8.95, paperback)

THERE IS a newish buzzword in the United States: oversharing - when somebody tells more than you could ever possibly want to know about their lives and the inside of their heads. Craig Winstanley proves himself to be a master of such excess.

The Manchester City saga is an undeniably extraordinary story of decline, but this is a fan's memoir too far, consisting largely of match reports of every single City game the author has ever attended - and lots, lots more he hasn't. So if you want to know that City kicked into the Platts Lane End during the first half of a League Cup tie in the late 1970s, Winstanley's your man. At one point, to take another example, we learn about the awful time he had looking for his car after an Everton match. But the fact that an event occurs does not in itself make that event significant.

There is no overall perspective to this book, no sense of an historical overview beyond the fact that City have been unsuccessful for 30 years. We don't need to know that the serial number on Winstanley's first season ticket was Block Y2, Row 24, Seat 4, or that, the night before a Manchester derby, he saw the Ramones at the Free Trade Hall.

The fanzine movement has been a largely successful exercise in giving supporters a voice, but I cannot imagine anyone other than the most fanatical of City fans struggling through more than a few pages of Bleak and Blue.

The jacket makes several unsupported claims. For example: "An essential book for all Blues fans: and for all football fans - especially the supporters of rival teams!" City followers may revel in the detail and delight in having their memories jogged. Other fans, though, whether of rival teams or not, will dread the thought of wading through nearly 300 pages of run- of-play minutiae.

"A brilliant read, even if you know nothing - and don't care - about football. Understand the mind of the football fan!" is another claim. For those indifferent to the national sport, being made to read Bleak and Blue would be akin to a lover of chamber music being trapped in a locked room with only Motorhead for company. As for understanding the mind of the fan, this book is an illumination-free zone, beyond the fact, which is hardly a revelation, that supporters tend to stay loyal to their clubs through good times and bad.

"A big book in every way: all the major games covered in relentless detail - a one-man obsession." This is a big book only in terms of long-windedness, and for a book intended to convey the misery of supporting an under-achieving team, we learn precious little about Winstanley himself, the biographical details sketchy.

For City fans, this is a diverting read. Everyone else: steer clear.

Chris Maume

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