Every so often, a book just connects with me on multiple levels. A Love Letter to Football by Mark Davies was a Christmas gift which was just such a title and could turn out to be one of the best things I read in 2024. Yes, I know it’s only January. A Love Letter to Football is that good.
The author is a Middlesbrough fan who left Teesside to study in Liverpool (our family lives just outside the city), before making a life for himself ‘down South’ (specifically in London). He never loses his love for the Boro or the fatalistic outlook so common among regular matchgoers. In 2016, Mark Davies learns he has a rare form of blood cancer which cannot be cured. Football and Middlesbrough Football Club in particular, help him through everything that follows.
There were… similarities between Davies’s life and my family’s story, which was part of the reason I found this book so impactful. For example, my Dad moved from Stockton to London as a teenager. Having lived and worked in Teesside myself, I’d been to places he mentioned in the book, such as the Pot and Glass pub in Egglescliffe (plus of course, both Boro’s grounds). The club went above and beyond to support Davies when he became ill which didn’t surprise me given the way MFC pulled out all the stops for my Uncle Norman, inviting him to watch a match from a hospitality box to celebrate his 100th birthday. My cousin, Jamie Pollock, warrants a couple of mentions in the book too, not least for his role in helping Boro earn promotion to the Premier League at Wolves in 1992. And I’m completely football daft and a long-distance follower of the club, much like Mark Davies. So I’m less ‘fearless impartial reviewer’ and more ‘right in the middle of the target audience’.
Having said that, Reading the Game has always been about brilliant books about football and if the Chief Sports Writer of a national newspaper is prepared to call A Love Letter to Football “a Fever Pitch for our times”, then you can be confident that this is a decent read.
A Love Letter to Football is as relevant and readable for fans of other clubs as it is for foot soldiers in Steve Gibson’s Red and White Army. Ever asked yourself out loud why you bother watching this shower every week? Or had to dash back from an away game to make a social commitment? Does your support for your club form a cornerstone of who you are? This book is for you. Not a football fan at all? You’ll probably still enjoy it, because it’s not really a football book at all. It’s about life, about being a middle-aged bloke and being a dad.
What makes A Love Letter to Football such a rewarding book is that is a beautifully written memoir of fandom and how, throughout all the highs and lows of life, football is a touchstone. It also taught me a great deal about myeloma, which I knew almost nothing about until I read this book.
This is an engaging, poignant and funny book which was incredibly affecting and ultimately uplifting. I have a limited amount of space for books, so the bookshelf gets ‘refreshed’ from time to time; some of the things I’ve read will be gifted to friends, or rehomed in other ways. A Love Letter to Football will have a permanent place in my personal library, so it can be re-read. That’s possibly the most significant endorsement I can give it.
A Love Letter to Football is published by Pitch Publishing, who make a free sample available on their website. It is available from most of the major retailers.