Shots In The Dark

David Kynaston                                                                             Bloomsbury £16.99

Rating:

Here’s something I learned from this book: at an Aldershot Town home game during the 2016-17 football season, the match ball sponsor was the Oriental Belly Dance Performers. 

What a delicious thought that is, a bunch of Hampshire strippers putting their name to a non-league football hackabout. But the oddness of that revelation is appropriate because this diary of a season in the Vanarama National League written by one of Britain’s leading intellectuals is very odd indeed.

David Kynaston, visiting professor at Kingston University, is a renowned social historian. He has written magisterial tomes about the working class, the iniquities of private education, the Bank of England. 

David Kynaston has turned his sizeable brain towards Aldershot Town, a football operation for whom the term nondescript is barely adequate

David Kynaston has turned his sizeable brain towards Aldershot Town, a football operation for whom the term nondescript is barely adequate

David Kynaston has turned his sizeable brain towards Aldershot Town, a football operation for whom the term nondescript is barely adequate

Now he has turned his sizeable brain towards Aldershot Town, a football operation for whom the term nondescript is barely adequate, but a club with which he has had a life-long obsession.

For Kynaston, football is always on his mind. So he decided to write a diary about a season, to demonstrate the significance it has in his life. None of the entries was edited, abridged or updated. 

Which rather bravely demonstrates a complete deficit of footballing prescience. The entry for August 24, 2016, for instance, reads: ‘West Ham manager Sam Allardyce – whom on the whole I respect, even admire – is now the England manager, with I think a good chance of things working out.’ 

Allardyce was obliged to resign a month later.

What is so unusual about this book is the allusions. Kynaston does not apply standard football-speak. As he writes about his experiences following Aldershot, he name-checks T. S. Eliot, George Orwell and Hannah Arendt; the more obscure the reference, seemingly the better. 

This is a man anxious for inclusion in Pseud’s Corner at every turn: ‘Though sadly, like A. J. P. Taylor on the 1848 revolutions, a football season is full of turning-points that fail to turn.’

He is also a self-described member of the metropolitan, liberal elite. And the book is full of his fears about the state of the world. Everything he sees – Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit, Donald Trump – fills him with terror of an approaching authoritarian apocalypse.

His is a world-view in which politics, society and elite football elide in one depressing future. But what makes this such a surprisingly engaging read is that despite his pomposity, despite the grandiose loftiness, Kynaston is not without self-deprecation: ‘“Bleatings of a liberal wimp” is shaping up to be the subtitle of this diary, but I can’t do anything about it.’

He’s right there. 

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