Welcome to the second episode in my new series of football book reviews. This week I continue my focus on the fan’s perspective. She Stood There Laughing documents Stephen Foster’s travels watching Stoke City during the 2001/02 season.
This is an honest and glum account of life as a full-time fan of an unsuccessful club playing dire football. I can empathise with much that is written in this book – especially as an exiled supporter for many years.
“One vital way that I kept in touch with my roots was through my team…being with my own people for a few hours…”
Foster is spot on with his example of the scant culinary offerings at football grounds. Some 20 years on and things have hardly changed…
“…chip butties in Hillsborough’s West Stand were already off the carte half an hour before kick off, leaving a flat choice between a chicken balti pie or a Yorkie…”
I only recently discovered what a Staffordshire oatcake was. Being from Blackpool, I had only ever experienced the Scottish variety.
However, when I was at Chasetown (a Staffordshire club), there was an influx of Stoke-based players and staff, and I was introduced to the Staffordshire oatcake for the first time. Boy these are delicious and a wonderful substitute for bread. My favourite oatcake contains bacon or ham and egg and is eaten as a wrap.
I was, however, disturbed to read here that Staffordshire oatcakes are served ‘cold on cocktail sticks at parties.’ Now I’m really getting into eating things on sticks at the moment (mini sausages, pickled onions, cubed cheese, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, etc.). It’s a blast from the past (and, let’s face it, buffets are going to be off the agenda for a while, aren’t they?). But oatcakes? On a cocktail stick? Well obviously I’m going to have to try it (not that I’m confident of finding Staffordshire oatcakes in Blackpool).
I chuckled at the image of all the Stokies reaching for their phones when they heard the ‘Delilah’ ringtone. As well as confirming the origin (and the lyrics) to Stoke City fans’ unique version of Delilah (which I won’t repeat here), we learn what Gillingham chairman Paul Scally thought of Tony Pulis. What is the story here?
“…the most evil, vindictive and malicious person I have ever met…”
Foster’s reference to football being a ‘highly aural, experience with fans providing the sound effects spookily references the Germans, who of course are hosting matches in empty stadiums in the Bundesliga at the moment:
“The Germans have a word, unheimlich, which literally translated means un-homely, but which implies more than that – eeriness, hauntedness.”
This could have been me writing about Blackpool’s 2019/20 campaign:
“I will be happy when the season ends and I do not have to do this any more.”
Any long-suffering football fan (of the non-prawn-sandwich-brigade) will know that the treatment of supporters is often less than desirable. Blackpool fans like me know only too well how club owners can treat paying customers with unbelievable disdain.
“…supporters can be seated in comfort. In some sort of physical comfort anyway. So far as mental wellbeing is concerned, that’s a different matter.”
Sadly, excellent customer service from clubs is still not as commonplace as it ought to be. It remains a rare and remarkable occurrence. Why can’t all clubs Be More Doncaster?
Foster sadly took his own life in 2011 and the book refers to his suicidal thoughts, both directly in the acknowledgements and indirectly in an early chapter:
“We often commemorate a notable death prior to a football match with a minute’s silence. The silence represents a respect, but in a sense, it also represents a freedom, freedom from the mortal coil.”
From a technical perspective, I was a little unsettled by Foster’s overuse of footnotes (some half a page long). If I’d wanted my eyes to continuously dart around the page, I’d have opted for a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Book’ (remember them?). The book even ends on a footnote, which I found most odd. After a few days’ reflection, the reason for this dawned on me. It wouldn’t have fitted right for this book to have a happy ending, so Stoke’s ‘success’ was instead glossed over in a footnote. It was an uncomfortable ending to an often uncomfortable read.
But any football fan knows that football is (most?) often not a comfortable watch. There is a lot to identify with in She Stood There Laughing as a long-suffering fan of a lower league football club. It is an important read. There is a sequel, too, …And She Laughed No More.
Please do keep your football book recommendations coming! I propose to read and review one a week. You will see above I have already picked my book for next week. Why not read along too so you can comment on my review next week. We can be a virtual football book club!
Don’t forget you can also read about my awaydays with Blackpool from the 2019/20 season right here.
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