Friday 20 September 2019

English football's place in the world has been altered

And the Sun Shines Now
And the Sun Shines Now

Alan Aherne: Book Review

What's the difference between a thoroughly engrossing book and a run-of-the-mill offering that would have been left on the shelf with the benefit of hindsight?

A gripping first chapter goes a long way to reeling the reader in, and on that score it's a case of full marks for 'And the Sun Shines Now - How Hillsborough and the Premier League Changed Britain'.

The memories of watching 96 Liverpool fans literally dying before our eyes will never go away for those of us who saw the upsetting television scenes as the tragedy unfolded at their FA Cup semi-final of 1989 against Nottingham Forest at the Sheffield venue.

However, the author of this book, Adrian Tempany, is in a position to relay a first-hand account of what exactly happened on that fateful day.

The avid Liverpool supporter was in his late teens at the time and was on the overcrowded terrace at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

As a result, he is able to convey the true horror of that shocking afternoon, slowly building the picture of the crush developing. And when it gets to the stage where he has lost all feeling in his body below the neck and has no control of his movements, it simply highlights for the reader how fortunate he was to survive.

Tempany is now a journalist and this is his first book, set against the backdrop of that awful day and how football has been altered beyond all recognition in the intervening years.

It shines a light on the past quarter-century and examines the place of the English game in the world at the present time.

Given the shambles of their exit from Euro '16 at the hands of Iceland, it's interesting to read this book and wonder if many of the points raised have contributed to that sorry demise.

Tempany explains the advent of Sky Television as the major power broker in the sport, and of course the creation of the Premier League three years after the Hillsborough disaster saw the gradual but significant shift in the fan base at most English clubs.

Indeed, it's revealing to learn that the average age of a season-ticket holder in England is now 41, compared to 21 in Germany.

It has simply become too costly for many working class fans to support their teams, being priced out of the game as the television money took over and the target audience for purchasing tickets changed from the football scene of the 1980s and before.

Tempany's research is impressive, and he even travelled to Germany to visit some of the clubs who are successfully connecting with their fans in a way that the majority of their English counterparts simply cannot match.

He outlines the Schalke 04 model as a prime example, although to be fair to the clubs in his own country, he also highlights the good work done by many of them in establishing community programmes in disadvantaged areas.

Ultimately though, this book is memorable for the author's riveting, if upsetting, account of his own experience at Hillsborough.

He returns to that theme near the end and again paints a vivid picture of the reactions of the survivors after they are finally vindicated and the fans are cleared of any wrong-doing on the day of the tragedy.

A lot of football books are full of page-filling rubbish, but this is a notable exception and well worth the read.

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