It’s a long time since I’ve reviewed a football book; going back to University changed my reading habits and meant that the writing time available to me was spent working on assignments. But, with the World Cup on the horizon and a summer break from my studies, I’ve brought back Reading the Game as a one-off so I can celebrate a remarkable book.
The Homecoming by Jane Purdon is, ostensibly, the author’s account of the Lionesses’ run to glory at last year’s European Championship. However, it is so much more than that. It’s certainly true that Purdon takes the reader with her as she watches England take on Europe’s best teams and writes about what she sees with a neat combination of passion and clarity. But, at the same time, we also learn about Purdon’s relationship with football and how the sport shaped her life and career. The reader learns about how the author stood on the terraces of Roker Park alongside her Dad and how being a Sunderland fan helped Purdon anchor herself after her father passed away.
By the time the Women’s Euros kicked off at Old Trafford in July 2022, Jane Purdon was more than a fan; the author had held senior roles at her club, then the Premier League before becoming the CEO of Women in Football. Stories from Purdon’s long career within sport are skilfully woven into the narrative and help both to establish the author’s authority and to build pace into the book, preventing it from simply becoming a tournament diary.
The Homecoming does, naturally enough, talk about the matches Purdon watched as England fought for glory, but if you’re looking for match reports, this isn’t the right book for you. Purdon’s tale is more visceral than that; it touches on the delirium felt in the stands when England won 8-0 against 1995 World Cup winners, Norway. It describes in vivid detail the anxiety felt by the author in the build-up to the Final against Germany and the difference between the atmosphere at this match and that at the Men’s Euros Final between England and Italy at the same stadium a year earlier.
Purdon also writes about the subsequent match between England and the USA, which was played soon after the United States Soccer Federation had published a report highlight abuse and misconduct against female players. When discussing this and similar issues which had occurred in other nations, Purdon writes with a palpable, carefully controlled rage. The final chapter is a manifesto for women’s football and how it might develop now that England has won a major trophy, just as Jane Purdon had predicted in When Saturday Comes thirty years before it happened.
I loved The Homecoming. The second book in the Football Shorts collaboration between Floodlit Dreams and Pitch Publishing, this story is a heady mixture of memoir, place writing and personal essay and I was impressed by the way in which these three genres were brought together. The tight, well-paced storytelling was impressive and – given that the author has an MA in Creative Writing and I’m halfway through a similar course – gave me hope for my own work. I also came away from The Homecoming with hope and excitement for what the future might have in store for women’s football; the powers-that-be could do much worse than to cherry pick from the forthright end to the book when drawing up their development plans.
As you might have guessed, the Football Shorts label doesn’t do long books; The Homecoming is 160 pages long and, to be honest, better because of its brevity. While I’ll approach virtually any football book with an open mind, I have read a lot of large, scholarly tomes over the last couple of years. By contrast, The Homecoming was the perfect book for the commute home from work; it was an engaging but not difficult read and there were so many little moments that resonated with me as a fellow football fan.
The Homecoming is a terrific book and the second of three Football Shorts slated for 2023 (I was bought a subscription last Christmas). You can find it in most places where books are sold including the independent football bookshop, Stanchion.