This week I have read Barcelona to Buckie Thistle: Exploring Football’s Roads Less Travelled by Mat Guy. The author tells the stories of clubs in Scotland’s Highland League, as well as the minnows of international football.
I have been to the Highlands on a pre-season tour with Blackpool, visiting Keith, Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. I thoroughly enjoyed my time up there. In recent months, with attending matches in person not an option, I have been enjoying my literary football travels. I chose this book as I enjoyed my previous literary trip to Scotland with Heartfelt and fancied a jaunt to the Highlands.
Barcelona to Buckie Thistle flits from club to club in the Highland League, telling stories of the background of the clubs, their remote locations and some of the characters at the clubs. Additionally, every other chapter switches focus to the minnows of international football, such as San Marino and the Faroe Islands. The objective of the book is to tell the stories of lesser-known clubs and nations. Whilst they may only be important to a small number of people, that doesn’t mean they are any less important than the likes of Barcelona.
Guy sets the scenes very well in often bleak and remote locations, bringing in inclement weather and stark landscapes.
There are many fascinating facts in this book. For example, I learned that the Faroese have 34 different words for fog. I also learned that certain countries (e.g. Armenia and Azerbaijan) are kept apart in qualifying competitions for political reasons, something I had never considered.
This book brought back many memories for me of my time in non league with Chasetown. Are you reading Jack Langston…?
I found the structure of this book quite confusing. Not only does it flit from club to country in alternate chapters, but it also flits from club to club (and country to country and subject to subject) within those chapters. I often found myself confused as to which club/country was being written about, especially when a chapter was entitled with one club and opened with the story of another. For example, Chapter 7 is entitled ‘Highland No More – Cove Rangers’, but the opening paragraphs are about Cowdenbeath. For me, this caused confusion and consequently I didn’t find this book an easy read.
I know full well I am equally guilty of this type of ADHDing in my writing, so it was interesting to read another example of such writing from a more objective point of view. One of the reasons I’m reviewing these football books is to help me learn what works and what doesn’t ahead of writing my own football story. I’ve studied the techniques and I know to link the content back to the title and keep focus – but this is easier said than done, especially when your writing mind wanders off to find other interesting stories to tell.
The title of the book is also not particularly representative of the subject matter, as it isn’t really about Barcelona (although the city does feature) – and the title doesn’t include international football, which comprises half of the content.
I liked the stories of the international teams and this book does a great job of humanising their players and supporters. It is all too easy to mock the likes of Liechtenstein and Andorra, when in fact their stories are possibly the most interesting in international football.
Guy’s stories about smaller and younger nations – as was also evidenced in One Football No Nets by Justin Walley – set me thinking about how much we take for granted for which we really ought to be thankful.
What I particularly enjoyed about Barcelona to Buckie Thistle was the introduction of characters and dialogue.
I would have liked to get to know more characters that Guy met on his travels to add more depth to the stories and find out what their clubs and countries meant to them. I also got little sense of the author’s own personality from this book, which perhaps also partly explains why I found it hard to engage with this book in the way that I did with, say, Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters. That said, I did get a little glimpse into his writing world in the closing credits, where he thanks his cat for her part in the creative process:
There was also the odd thing in the book that I wanted to know more about, for example this, which provided a brilliant contrast to the desolate surroundings:
In summary, I am glad I read Barcelona to Buckie Thistle and I learned a lot from it. I will certainly view the Faroe Islands in a different light going forward. But I don’t think this book has done quite enough to tempt me to a Highland League game – especially now I’m disturbingly getting more used to watching games from the warmth and comfort of my living room (lockdown what have you done…?!).
If you’d like to buy a copy of Barcelona to Buckie Thistle, you can do so via this link.
NEXT UP: View, a Football/Culture/Music magazine edited by Darren Norton
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