COVID-19 has put a stop to the non-League football I’m so passionate about whilst rendering the Premier League almost unwatchable, creating a real problem for someone as obsessive about the game as I am. Thank goodness, then, for Extra Time: 50 Further Delights of Modern Football by Daniel Gray.
The author describes this as the follow-up to Saturday, 3pm which was a previous celebration of things to love about the Beautiful Game. Which is fair enough, but perhaps unduly modest, given that between these two books, he also brought out Black Boots and Football Pinks, which celebrated “lost wonders” of fandom.
While this instalment of Reading the Game is focused on Extra Time, I did also get Black Boots… for Christmas and couldn’t put it down; there might be the odd reference to it in what follows.
Extra Time, like the two books that preceded it, is remarkable because of what it is not. If reading a biography, such as last week’s review subject, while there might be some “jumping about” in time and place, there’s a definite arc to the story; a beginning, middle and end. You won’t find that here.
Instead, what awaits the reader is 50 succinct essays, none running longer than four pages. Each is a celebration of a specific element of football fandom. Some are seemingly mundane; others, such as the chapter called “The roar after a minute’s silence” are more visceral and it is a tribute to Daniel Gray’s skill as a writer that I can hear and feel that noise as I type this.
Because each of the 50 chapters stands on its own merits, this is a book that can be ‘dipped into’ and read however the reader might choose. The love the author feels for both football as a whole and the idiosyncrasies that occur within matchdays (and, indeed, from club to club) comes across in the text. There’s a warmth to the writing here that helped not just to keep me reading, but to feel a kinship with the author.
Having read all three of the books in the Delights series of football books, I now have a sense that Daniel Gray and I have a fair bit in common. I reckon we’re of a similar age, both of us follow Middlesbrough FC but no longer live anywhere near Teesside and both of us get paid to write things. Granted, he’s had multiple books published while I am working in a couple of very niche fields, with Power Tools being one, but the basic point holds.
That sense of having a tenuous connection with Daniel Gray was strongest around a specific chapter about football papers in Black Boots… (growing up in Surrey, I only got to see the Sports Gazette on summer and half-term trips to Nana’s, so it was a must-buy on a Saturday evening).
The feeling of shared experience came up again in Extra Time when he wrote beautifully about attending matches with his daughter; something I’ve done occasionally with my own daughter since she was a baby.
Like me, Gray’s adolescence began when England had one professional League and the Divisions were numbered One to Four but ended sometime after Sky invented football as we know it today, squad numbers and all. This might partially explain the appeal of both Extra Time and Black Boots…. to me, but these are beautifully written works and a genuine joy to read. Football fans of all ages will find enjoyment here.
One other thing about Extra Time and its sister works I love is the design. These are hardbacks, but smaller than A5, so I could read a chapter or two on the bus journey to a Prescot Cables home game, then slip the book into the same pocket of my big coat as I would the programme. The covers are gorgeous, too.
In summary, Extra Time is the perfect pick-me-up if you love football but are left feeling a little jaded by empty stadia and VAR. It is a timely reminder that, even in a spectacularly dire match, there will be something than lifts your spirit and soothes your soul. Even if it is just the ball going over the Main Stand roof to the sound of sarcastic cheering…
You can order Extra Time and Daniel Gray’s other books at his website. And you should.