This week I have read The Boy on the Shed by Paul Ferris. This is a heartfelt and heartbreaking memoir of a former footballer.
The book begins with young Ferris growing up as a Catholic in a staunch Protestant area of Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Ferris sets the scene very well, using delightful detail and cultural references. It comes as no surprise to find later on in his story that he becomes a novelist. He is certainly a skilled storyteller – without instilling the sense of disbelief that I struggled with when reading The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.
Ferris has an amazing ability to evoke powerful emotion in the reader. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably on a number of occasions whilst reading this book. The love that Ferris feels for the two important women in his life is undeniable.
This book really brings home the harsh treatment – and mental torment – of young footballers, who are often treated as commodities and not human beings. Ferris was pulled out of school and transported alone to Newcastle, leaving behind his sweetheart and his dying mother.
Three years later, riddled with injury, he was discarded by Newcastle United, with no education to fall back on.
The language barrier in Newcastle was one that was familiar to me. It often takes some time for my ears to adjust to strong accents (my first encounter with the Yorkshire Seasiders was a struggle).
Football is very much a game of highs and lows. Ferris describes how losing himself in his football helps him to acclimatise to life in Newcastle after initial reservations. He also explains how it felt to score a goal.
What always interests me in books by former players is the stories from the inside of the game that were previously untold. Kevin Keegan comes across as an amazingly inspirational character. However, others don’t come out of this book too well. Joey Barton sounds particularly terrifying.
Ferris himself comes across as an exceptional human being, carving out new careers for himself through dedication, focus and hard work. He is an inspiration and proof that if you want something badly enough you can make it happen. He identifies his weaknesses – such as his fear of public speaking – and actively works on them to improve himself.
As with Justin Walley in One Football No Nets, I was surprised with the author’s candidness with regard to his mental health issues. If only such things had been spoken about when I was younger, it would have helped me to understand what was happening to me when I suffered from severe depression. I am so pleased this is no longer taboo and is much better understood.
In The Boy on the Shed, Ferris demonstrates that when he is ‘present’, he is far happier. Often he fantasises about – and actively works towards – a different life, without appreciating what he has at the time. His FA Trophy win with Barrow was given but a fleeting mention, as was his time with Bobby Robson at Newcastle.
The subject of home is an interesting one in The Boy on the Shed – and again one I can empathise with, having lived away myself for half my life. Ferris feels surprisingly safe in his family home – even after it was petrol-bombed – and yet never could return to his homeland to live, fearing for his young family.
This a book quite like no other I have reviewed to date. It is not simply a footballer’s autobiography. It is a heartfelt and fascinating memoir of a troubled but very much loved young man. I cannot recommend it highly enough. But make sure you have some tissues handy…
If you’d like to buy a copy, you can do so at the link below:
NEXT UP: Six Added Minutes by Johnnie Lowery
Please do keep your football book and magazine recommendations coming! Also, if you’ve written a book – or edit a magazine – that you would like me to review, please do get in touch.
Don’t forget you can also read about my awaydays with Blackpool from the 2019/20 season right here.
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