The Quiet Fan. It sounds like something that a renowned British home appliance engineer might be trying to sell. It is, in fact, the name of the new book by Ian Plenderleith, author of Rock n roll Soccer and past contributor to IBWM.
Part memoir, part philosophical musing, The Quiet Fan looks at the relationship between football fans and the sport itself. For many, football is the one constant in their life: relationships, friendships, careers—they can all come and go, but football is always there as a background or almost a soundtrack to a person’s life.
Ian kindly agreed to speak to IBWM to discuss the project and his crowdfunding efforts to get the book published.
IBWM: Rock n Roll Soccer was a fantastic journey through the glitz, glamour and—at times, the grime of the NASL. You unearthed and retold many stories from a larger than life period of football—much of which could be seen, in hindsight, as almost a foretelling of what the modern game has become.
The topic of your new book, however, is much more introspective. The Quiet Fan is an intriguing title - who is "the quiet fan" and why should we hear his story amidst the din?
IP: I feel that fans have been misrepresented for decades. The media focus and the resultant literature have always been on the violent fan and then, after Gazza’s tears and Fever Pitch, on the supposed obsessive. Both of these groups are an almost mythical minority, but they garner attention because their behaviour lies at the extreme end of fandom. I get pissed off at being patronised by a media who thinks that to be a football fan you have to be unremittingly “passionate”, and that you have no other loves or concerns in your life outside of football.
There’s a vast swathe of us who experience football in a more mundane and less headline-grabbing manner, but that doesn’t make us less devoted, in our own way. My contention is that, yes, football is important, but just not in the way we think. Its importance is grounded in its continuity in our lives – it’s a stable, ever-present that grounds us. As long as football’s happening, the world keeps spinning. My first book of stats I got as a six-year-old shocked me – why did no one win the FA Cup between 1940 and 1946? What could possibly have happened that football had to stop?
IBWM: In the extract from Chapter Two of the book there is a great comparison of your Dad and your Uncle and the way that they each followed or consumed football. Your Dad cast as the pessimist, doing his duty but fully prepared to be underwhelmed. Your Uncle, ever the optimist, always in search of the beauty to be found in the game. Is the Quiet Fan somewhere in between?
IP: The Quiet Fan for me represents those of us who acknowledge that we are watching the main show from the sidelines. It’s the same with other aspects of life – the glamorous celebrities, the main actors, the big players are at the centre making things happen, the rest of just have a vote, we’re peering in and experiencing the major events second hand, as spectators, as bit-part onlookers. I break down the book into 12 chapters – 12 random games from throughout my life, reflecting various states of mind or stages in my life, the kind of stages we all go through. The games are mere memory triggers for things happening in real life.
Football is a magnificent entity just off centre in our mundane lives, and our reactions to it reflect the way most of us muddle through – stoically, mainly disappointed, sometimes in despair, yet the whole thing wouldn’t survive without hope and the odd moment of triumph. Those short, thrilling moments are the ones we actually live for.
IBWM: It calls to mind the hipster's favourite football scribe Eduardo Galeano and his quote about being a "beggar for good football, hand outstretched..." —is it just the possibilities, the hope, that football offers us which keeps us coming back? Or do we need the grounding which it can also provide even though it is, ultimately, of little consequence?
IP: I think that Galeano quote is an over-poetic exaggeration. I go to watch a lot of football, especially at lower levels, and I really don’t expect or beg for good football. We know it only comes in small bursts. I do agree, as I said earlier, that without hope the whole sport would collapse—you can apply that to everything we do, starting with getting out of bed in the morning. Yet if you take the whole experience of football, hope is just one part of it. It’s not necessarily important who wins, who’s richest, who goes up and down.
A lot of fans are used to not winning, but still go. The ritual of a shite game to moan about can be just as rewarding—the great thing about football is that it’s apparently timeless. It simply is.
IBWM: Does the quiet fan still have a place in the modern game? (I'm thinking about "hot-takes", snap judgements, phone-ins, haircuts and emojis, tactical over-analysis here)
IP: The quiet fans are the quiet majority – take them away and your stadiums would be three quarters empty, and the TV viewing figures would be down 90%. The problem is that, being generally quiet, we get less attention than the angry ranter phoning on to talk radio or putting up FanTV videos on YouTube.
That’s great for the entertainment of voyeurs who want to feel superior to people who’ve lost control about something that’s essentially a hobby with no real meaning (in the purely philosophical sense – football as a communal activity does have great significance). But it’s all attention-grabbing click-bait, often with a commercial incentive.
I would like my book to try and claim back the game and ask for it to be covered and consumed from a saner perspective.
We know that ultimately rivalries are fabricated, and ‘love’ for the game and our team are exaggerations. When it really matters, people unite—look at Liverpool and Everton fans after Hillsborough, fans of lower league teams helping each other through financial crises, fans of rival teams in Istanbul uniting to protest against the authoritarian government a couple of years ago.
The perceived extremes of love and hate are way beside the point of football. Those gaps in my stats book? They were of course because of war. Football gives rise to some extreme emotions, both good and negative, but ultimately it’s a barometer of peace—as long as the game’s on, World War 3 hasn’t started yet.
IBWM: Tell us about your "unbound" project for the book. What is it about and why is it necessary?
IP: Unbound is a crowd-funding publisher that selects good books, then challenges the author to find a market before it publishes them. My first two books were published under the traditional model—get an advance, write the book, then sit back and watch it bomb because the publisher has either no apparent will or clue about how to market it.
Asking people to pledge support up front is a huge challenge, and I’d be lying if I said it was fun—in fact, it’s guaranteed to keep you awake at all hours. At the same time, though, just as it prompts you to become a salesman, it also prompts you to examine your own motives for writing and to really focus on what the point of the book is.
And if you can’t explain why you’ve written a book, then you probably shouldn’t have bothered to write it at all.
The Quiet Fan will be published by Unbound once it reaches its crowdfunding target. You can read an excerpt and a synopsis of the book here, and pledge to buy a limited edition hardback copy to ensure that this fast, funny, emotive book makes it into print.