Sport: Book of the Week - The fans united will never be defeated

Build A Bonfire - How Football Fans United To Save Brighton And Hove Albion Stephen North and Paul Hodson (Mainstream, hardback, pounds 14.99)
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The Independent Online
"Oh dear," someone sighed with undisguised boredom on a radio phone-in recently, when the subject of Doncaster Rovers came up. "It sounds like Brighton all over again."

This was arguably the first recorded outbreak of Brighton fatigue, and in some respects it is perfectly understandable. What with pitch invasions, boycotts, marches, petitions, the demolition of the Goldstone Ground and a very close brush with relegation from the League, the Seagulls' troubles have rarely moved far from the news pages during the last three years. Don't they ever stop moaning?, fans of other sides in the lower divisions might be forgiven for wondering. We've got problems too, you know.

But if Brighton fatigue is a problem, Build A Bonfire is the cure, a timely reminder that it might easily have been them - and still could be. There must be dozens of clubs with just one significant asset - the land they play on - who are just as vulnerable to the sort of disaster which befell Brighton, and if nothing else, this book will serve as a useful guide to intelligent, effective guerrilla warfare for any fans faced with a similar predicament in the years to come.

It is much more than that, however. Ingeniously, it is written not as a conventional narrative account, but as a series of interwoven, first-person recollections from the people involved, who quickly become familiar characters as the saga proceeds. You can feel the pain, frustration, anger and joy as their campaign hits peaks and troughs, and above all, their unshakeable determination, even when the team is 11 points adrift at the bottom of the League, that they will not let it die. For some, it is clear, direct action was something nasty that unwashed students did - until someone tried to ruin their football club.

As a result, this is not the story of unrelenting gloom which some might fear. The draw at Hereford which kept them up at their opponents' expense on the final day of the 1997 season is an obvious high point, but the recollection of Fans United day, when supporters from many clubs - including Hereford - arrived at the Goldstone to show their solidarity is just as moving.

Adversity always generates better copy than success, and this is an astonishing - and as yet unfinished - story, elegantly told. If your team is standing anywhere except in the top half of the Premiership, read Build A Bonfire, learn from it, hope for the best - and prepare for the worst.

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