REVIEW: More Than a Game by Ralph Robb
I wanted to read this book because it's set in the West Midlands where I grew up. It's set in an era (the 70s) which certainly defined me as a teenager, there the conicidences end for it is the story of a male black football team and I am a female white writer but the power of nostalgia being what it is, I could not resist.
The beautiful game is central to the characters' lives. Based on a realk-life team: the Sabina Park Rangers trained in a Wolverhampton defined by the National Front, racist attacks by skinheads and the police, it is a unifying factor in a black community struggling not to be stereotyped as inherently criminal. Even so, everyone's looking to make a bit of extra money, so when one of the local Asian shopkeepers hatches a brilliant scheme for importing coffins, the word soon spreads and people invest in the plan with the promise of double their money when the coffins actually arrive. With the match approaching, many of the team see that and the promised money as being life-changing events. One, Mark, a once-great football player, naively hopes that he can escape his mapped-out life and run off with his lover, who is in turn planning to scam the local pools winner, who thinks he's God's gift to all women... Like a bizarre 'La Ronde' everyone is connected to each other, the get-rich-quick scheme and of course, the match.
Its fair to say that the scheme doesn't turn out as planned. Neither does the match for that matter but you'll find no spoilers here. Suffice to say that lives do change - not always for the better. There are many flashes of humour throughout the story, thank goodness, else the racism and sexism would be hard to stomach. It has to be said that women are pretty sidelined here: dutiful wives, suffering mothers, drugged-up sisters and scheming whores for the most part. But I guess that's the point - this was the 70s. Feminism took its sweet time reaching the working-class cities. It was a time when women defined themselves by the men they were with. But then, nothing is quite as it seems in this story. As cross and double-cross emerges - including a young Asian man kidnapped as a slave who later dresses as a woman to pursuade his Jamiacan captor to release him, Robb manages to give his homophobic, sexist characters soem humanity, whcich makes them highly relatable.
I think it would make a great film. From the period setting and the universality of a story about sport to the interest and emergence of stories about Britain's immigrant communities and especially the Jamaican diaspora. That's the great thing about living in the era that we do. We can now hear stories that enhance and redefine the history we think we know.
More Than a Game by Ralph Robb