Unknown to me before reading this book, this was actually Ian Ridley’s second book looking at the soul of football in the modern era. The journalist undertook a similar task, looking at the state of English football from the top end to grass roots, on the advent of the launch of the Premier League. With the likes of Sky eulogising about 20 years of Premiership, Premier League, whatever you or the sponsors wish to call it, Ridley sought to retrace his steps from the book Season in the Cold, to examine how the game has changed in undoubtedly the richest period in its history. A clever title, those might see the inclusion of the influential Sky as significant, however those with favour on the red side of Merseyside will recognise the lyric There’s a Golden Sky from the anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Shortlisted for the British Sports Book award, Ridley’s journey is similar to that of fellow journalist David Conn’s in The Beautiful Game, taking an in depth look at football, not just at the over hyped top table of the Premier League, but how things have changed at a variety of clubs and associations across the country. From the fairytale of unfashionable Blackpool’s elevation to the top flight, to the continuing calamities at Portsmouth. Looking at clubs who have benefitted from cash injections, such as the early example of Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers, to the more recent Russian millions at Chelsea. The underdogs who continue to survive under the radar such as Crewe Alexander, to those who have struggled such as Luton Town. A look at Bradford City who were a club to suffer in the miserable 80’s era for football, but who gained and then squandered from the Premiership. Ridley also looks at the changes for referees, the women’s game with the advent of the summer Super League, and how the Olympics has affected grass roots football on Hackney Marshes.
It is certainly an enjoyable read, and paints a more realistic picture of football in England than that displayed in the media generally, and allows the reader to have a considered view on whether the Premier League and Sky’s millions has benefitted the game or just a chosen few. Ian Ridley is a well respected journalist, and also has the extra credit of getting his hands dirty by running non-league Weymouth for a period (although viewers of the BBC’s Football League Show may question his choice of Steve Claridge as manager…). It’s not as polished as David Conn’s publication, has some silly factual errors which suggest sluggish research, knowledge or proof reading – describing the 1985 all Merseyside Cup Final (it was in 1986), and Watford’s achievement of finishing third in Division 1 in 1983 (they finished runners-up) are two such examples. However for genuine fans and those passionate about the game, it’s well worth the outlay. Meanwhile at Each Game As It Comes, we’re now trying to track down a copy of his original book, and will review here once done!