BOOK OF THE WEEK: Around the football world in 237 days

Football Fanatic by Ken Ferris (Two Heads Publishing, pounds 8.99)
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The Independent Online
A football fan might draw approval for never missing a home game, but the claim to have been to every away match, too, for any number of years sets a tiny alarm tinkling quietly in the back of the mind.

And when someone says he intends to visit all 93 League football grounds in England - "Don't forget Berwick Rangers play south of the border" - suddenly the bells are clanging fit to announce a five-engine fire.

Even Ken Ferris felt obliged to reclaim his right to pass unquestioned among his peers by linking his trek into the Ninety-two (plus one!) Club to an attempt to claim a place in The Guinness Book of Records by doing the tour quicker than anybody else.

It was just as well he did, because that target kept him going through those inevitable times when the niggling thought "I must be mad" was advancing with a sense of purpose from the recesses of his mind.

One such moment in his record 237-day odyssey, which began in September 1994 and ended the following May, came during a run of eight games in 14 March days (five 1-0s and three 0-0s) that took him from Berwick to Swansea via Molineux and Old Trafford. After watching Rotherham beat Cambridge United by the only goal, he was forced to admit: "I was not sure I could manage one more game let alone another 27. It is strange how anything taken to excess ceases to be much fun."

Fraught parents hope their offspring will have spotted that one well before the age of 10, but it is Ferris's boyish enthusiasm allied to his journalist's eye (he works for Reuters Financial Television) that makes his account of the ordeal for the most part fascinating.

Wisely keeping match-reporting to a minimum, he preferred to describe each ground's atmosphere and environment, delve into club history and relate experiences and conversations with those he met on the way, from the crew-cut young Sunderland fan on a train to the game's rich and famous. So he explains why Stanley Matthews memorabilia leaves the Tower and the illuminations standing as an attraction in Blackpool, and how Mikhail Gorbachev came to be a Wigan fan.

That balance means the book can appeal to fan, "football widow" and those simply fascinated by obsessive behaviour. I would suggest it as a stocking- filler, but I suspect that would inspire one of Ferris's occasional light- hearted but mildly irritating sexist comments. Still, it is difficult not to find him endearing and not to be grateful for his sake that the Football League has never welcomed one of his local clubs - Barking.

Mark Burton

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