It is late 2004 and John hears the news that Cloughie has died. Brian Clough. Legend. "I wouldn't say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one." This is closely followed by a phone call. An old friend from his Nottingham days has died. Killed himself. John prepares to head back for the funeral. Back to the place he grew up. The place he escaped from over a decade earlier. But is he just escaping again? He doesn't tell his fiance where he is off to or how long he will be gone. We aren't sure that he will come back at all.
In the 1980s John was a teenager, working as a postman so that he could knock off early on Saturdays and jump on the train to see Nottingham Forest play up and down the country. His was the life of a football fan. A life of ups and downs. A life of ten-hour round trips to witness dull 0-0 draws. A life of being pissed on by opposition supporters in the upper tiers. A life of punch ups and lucky escapes. A life of being herded like cattle into and out of the stadiums.
He loved it. He was with his mates. His girlfriend back then just about put up with it. She knew she came second to Forest. Everything was great.
And then, on April 15th 1989, John Finch travelled to Hillsborough to watch his beloved team play Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final. The FA Cup. The only competition Cloughie had yet to win. The omens were good. This was going to be their year.
94 Liverpool fans died that day. 2 more died later. 766 were physically injured. John Finch was not one of them. He was at the other end, watching it unfold.
Fan by Danny Rhodes is a novel about emotional damage. About the psychological scars witnessing such a thing are bound to leave. Finch is a fucking mess. He cannot handle relationships and he cannot come to terms with what he went through. He thinks that by going back for his mate's funeral he might just be able to move on. Finally. Possibly. I'll be honest. I had forgotten which team was playing Liverpool in that match. Also, to my shame, I hadn't given any thought to how those witnessing events from the other end of the pitch would have been affected by them. So much of the coverage of Hillsborough has been, quite rightly, about the Liverpool fans that it took this fresh perspective to make me step back and consider the wider picture. I am grateful to it for doing that. I am concerned that the subject matter of this book will put people off. Some won't like the idea of reading a football book, but this isn't really a football book. It is much more than that. Others may not be keen on reliving the horrors of Hillsborough, and this I would understand. But these people would be missing out. This is an important book. It is dark and grim and severe but it is a remarkable thing to read. It has immense power and it utterly compelling. I finished it in just a couple of sittings. It is a hard book to read but is also, perversely, a very easy read. Such is the skill of the author. Danny Rhodes, a Nottingham Forest fan, was at Hillsborough on 15th April 1989. A percentage of profits from the book will go to Anfield Sports & Community Centre on behalf and in memory of the Hillsborough 96.
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