On the Bookshelf...

The Silence of The Stands

Daniel Gray

'The Durham City midfielder wore the resigned look of a man trying to find a jar of harissa in Farmfoods. Up front for Jarrow, a centre-forward darted around frenetically, as if chasing a kite during a hurricane...' When football disappeared in March 2020, writer and broadcaster Daniel Gray used its absence to reflect on everything the game meant to him. That bred a pledge: whenever and wherever fans were allowed to return, he would be there. The Silence of the Stands is the result of that pledge: a joyous travelogue documenting a precarious season, in which behind-closed-doors matches and travel restrictions combined to make trips to Kendal and Workington seem impossibly exotic. Offering a poignant peek at a surreal age and a slab of social history from the two-metre-distanced tea bar queue, this is the moving, heartfelt and surprisingly uplifting story of a unique season that no one wishes to repeat.

I love independent book shops. They're usually full of gems, with a deeply knowledgeable owner who stocks and promotes stuff that gets lost in a bigger shop. My favourite is JE Books in Hull. As with all bookshops, I tend to find more books than I can afford, but it was at JE Books that I found this gem of a book. It had been in the TBR pile for a while, quietly waiting for its moment in the spotlight, rather like football was during the pandemic.

Daniel Gray has produced a very readable account to how football survived during the pandemic. With social distancing, crowds were severely limited at times, leading to vast stadiums being devoid of life. Matches shown on TV had as much atmosphere as a kickabout in the park. It showed how football is nothing without its fervent fans. Daniel went to many grounds during lockdown. He saw and experienced what few of us did in the flesh.

There are loads of gems of experiences, from the hot water and toilet paper in the men's toilets, to the men with ladders watching the game from over the walls of the ground. All of it is told by the author in a good narrative. Like a travel book at times, it chronicles Daniel as he travelled across the country finding solace in watching football.

As an after note, I find large crowds awkward with my anxiety. I think I'd have quite loved the solitude that the grounds gave. Luckily, non-league and smaller crowds allows me to watch football occasionally. Yet the after effects of playing in front of small crowds still haunts lower leagues and non-league clubs. Financial problems plague clubs, and it won't be long before a few clubs go under. Hopefully the richer clubs will help, although on past record I can't see them being generous.

Covid is a time when normality disappeared, when new normals were created. Books like this help us chronicle the moment in our history. Like Stu Hennigan's brilliant Ghost Signs, it shows how the nation was coping with the deadly disease. These social documentaries will be needed when in the future we analysis the outcomes. A good solid read. Highly recommended.

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July 25, 2023

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