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on 2 August 2013
Gray visited towns and cities across England in the 2011-2012 season, examining their relationships with the local football teams. From Burnley to Carlisle, Crewe to Leyton, Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters explores the diversity of England and the relationship between a local team and the town they are part of. More than purely a book about football, this is a history lesson, a social commentary, a declaration of love for the beautiful game. Gray's acute observations will resonate with football fans such as the summing up of the anticipation of visiting a new ground with the phrase 'may nothing stop the feeling a first visit to a new ground gives'. Portrayals of towns and the characters who reside there alongside both footballing and local anecdotes will amuse and inform in equal measure.

It is perhaps obvious to compare Gray to Hornby given the subject matter, yet the comparisons stretch beyond a passion for football. Wry observations of the quirky behaviour of football fanatics and a dry underlying humour appear to be Gray's fortes, making Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters a highly readable and entertaining piece. Beautifully written, nostalgic and reflective, this will also appeal to fans of Simon Armitage, Stuart Maconie and Tim Moore.
9/10
*review originally published on [...]
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on 13 December 2013
Several years ago, after much soul searching, I abandoned top flight football and embarked on a quest to rediscover my love of the game through the medium of the lower leagues. Gary Megson, then manager of my first love Bolton Wanderers, had just thrown away the chance to reach the quarter finals of the UEFA cup by playing a weakened side in Lisbon. You see, finishing fourth bottom of the Premier League, thereby avoiding relegation, was deemed success. The chance to win a major European trophy for the first time in the club's history was an inconvenience.

Five years on and I'm watching Rochdale AFC of the Fourth Division. And I'm loving it. Standing behind the goals, visiting football grounds that I've not been to for years and not having to take out a second mortgage for the pleasure.

In his travels through England's football provinces, Gray draws the same conclusions as I did about Premier League football and its Sky Sports, Russian oligarchs and the baleful Gary Neville. The football I fell in love with - and what I enjoy being part of every weekend - is a world away from the sanitised "product" we see on the television.

In Gray's book there are plenty of history lessons and laughs along the way, together with heartbreak and sombreness in the pages about the Bradford City stadium fire. And you'll cry tears of joy when you read about the fan-owned Chester City FC.

Heartfelt and warm about the towns and football clubs he visits, Gray even manages to make Luton sound attractive.

A perfect gift, Gray's book is a must-read for all football fans and anyone interested in English social history and politics.
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Daniel Gray is very much a proud Englishman but having been exiled in Scotland for over ten years he realises he needs get to know his homeland again. Rather than just simply travel around England he chooses to utilise his love of football and visit the grounds of clubs that had a significant season during the year of his birth, 1981. Ignoring the mega Premier League clubs he goes the homes of twelve teams from the lower echelons of the football pyramid, to places like Carlisle, Burnley, Luton, Middlesbrough and Newquay. As well as attending a match Gray also casts his eye on the town, relating what he finds to the football club and to England in general. For example, in Middlesbrough he looks at the death of industry and in Luton at attitudes towards race and its divisions.

This is a fascinating book and one that is difficult to categorise. It is not a football book as such - this is evidenced by the fact that Gray never names players in his accounts of matches watched - nor is it a travelogue or a social history; it comfortably straddles each of these, coming together to make a really interesting read. I enjoyed Daniel Gray's writing style; he is drily amusing (I like his line about Tesco becoming so big that they may enter their own team in the Olympics) and informative but he is never overly critical, preferring to write about the upside of what he found on his travels rather than dwell on the downside.

A previous reviewer has suggested that this book may appeal to fans of Simon Armitage, Stuart Maconie and Tim Moore; whilst I can see his point, to me this book more closely resembles the work of that brilliant writer, Harry Pearson. I believe that like Daniel Gray, Pearson is a native of Teeside. Is there something in the air around there that helps produce good writers?
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on 30 September 2013
Dan Gray's latest book surpasses his earlier football travelogue/polemic "Stramash" with a wide ranging and geographically diverse wander through various levels of English football. As before in his warm-up based in Scotland, he effortlessly segues between football, local history and politics and in some cases a combination of all three. All of this is deftly delivered with good humour, affection and some astute observations about the state of England (in both senses).

There are a good number of laughs, a couple of tears wiped away and the usual sad feeling at the end when you realise that there's no more left to read.

If Dan had the stamina (and if he didn't live in Leith) this would work as a monthly feature in one of the Sunday supplements. Except they'd be too metropolitan to even think about covering football.
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on 24 August 2013
Not so much a book about football as a book about England and Englishness in general viewed through the prism of the beautiful game. Daniel Gray claims to be a cynical northerner but actually writes a very warm hearted and thoroughly entertaining piece of work. Highly readable and recommended!
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on 26 August 2013
Travel meets local history meets football with plenty of laugh out loud moments along the way. Gray brings a warmth to the proceedings and his sharp eye and attention to detail make this a really great read. Highly recommended for non-football fans and lovers of the great game alike.
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on 23 May 2014
This might be considered an esoteric book at first sight, relating as it does to towns and their football teams, but readers should persevere, as Gray is a witty and perceptive writer and his book rewards you many times as you go through it.
He laces the commentary with knowledge and research on both football and local history but what is most enjoyable throughout is his writing style, which is clearly being honed as book follows book, and often the wit makes you laugh out loud.
I heartily commend this and his other work to all, and I write as a PG Wodehouse aficionado and collector. Can there be higher praise?
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on 30 September 2015
For a long while books about football seemed to have the burden of the reputation of being poorly written, riddled with clichés and not particularly interesting. Since the 2000's this has changed with some insightful books that have tackled the sport from an original angle with fascinating results. Daniel Gray's book adds to the list with the novel approach of writing a book about which only about 30% concerns the game.

This is a bizarre book and the reader who gave up after three chapters can be forgiven. However, there are moments if this efforts which are almost poetic and Gray's endeavours to capture the flavour of visit provincial football grounds from the non-league through to the Championship are excellent essays. Some work better than others, the chapter of Ipswich probably being the pick. That said, the latter 2/3rds of the book represent the best and it is interesting to relate his perceptions of away grounds such as Burnley that I have visited. I would almost award this book four stars but for the fact that there is the constant suggestion that football support somehow remains at it's most pure in the North of England and amongst working class supporters. A former member of Socialist Worker, the author tends to over-egg this significance and if most supporters will concur with his sentiments about the artificiality of supporters following the bigger clubs in Europe and lacking any real connection with the community, he is also a bit wide of the mark on some occasions.

As a supporter of Southampton and non-league Winchester City I can appreciate the perspective he is writing from and it is clear he is most sympathetic with the non-league clubs such as Chester and Newquay, the last clubs confounding his expectations and teeing up the summary where he writes of various "Englands " and the uniqueness of football clubs. However, by this stage, the reader will have read through some chapters which misfire such as the one on "middle England" and the constant references to the destruction of Working Class communities by Margaret Thatcher which, whilst true, the author must have barely remembered having been a child at the time of her demise. The chapters generally follow the form of a description of the community having got off the train, a tour of the sites and some pen-portraits of the inhabitants before the history of the team is elaborated on. This serves as a build up to the match where none of the players are named yet we can guess at their identities. Whilst this may assist with no tying the book down to a date, it isn't really successful as the fortune of the various clubs have changes since this account. Each chapter winds up with the writer's thoughts on the town, usually seen through rose-tined, socialist glasses.

Although I ploughed through the book, it did seem appropriate to deduct a point for the almost sceptical tone adopted towards Southern clubs. Whilst Ipswich may be seen as the archetypal "family club" it would be interesting to read his opinion of Southampton which I would imagine would be unfavourable. He would probably find Portsmouth more to his liking, especially with the club currently owned "by the community" yet I think he would probably find the club to have a far more working class feel that he could have predicted and found his preconceptions smashed by a famous fan base whose passion is probably only surpassed by Newcastle. Gray's opinion of the contrasting fortunes of the modern and professional Southampton and tragi-comic Portsmouth would make interesting reading and it is such a situation which makes me feel he has been too selective in many respects.

Gray's feel for the towns visited is ably captured by his prose although he is not so good when describing the matches. This is an odd book and one which will appeal to Left-leaning readers of magazines like "When Saturday comes." However, the football almost seems incidental in some chapters rendering this more to do with the match day experience than any actual analysis of the game. This book is more like a Championship team occasionally producing dazzling football but just missing the play-offs as opposed to Brian Clough's Forest coming from the provinces and taking the game by surprise.
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on 12 January 2014
The book is a lovely look at both the forgotten corners of English football and at England and Englishness.
The writer weaves a narrative that provides all the details you need about the selected clubs, but then underpins this with a look at the reasons the clubs exist and matter, and what they reveal about England in the 21st Century.
A brilliant book highly recommended for anyone who doesn't buy into the Sky Sports hype of there only being a few clubs that matter.
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on 19 August 2014
Excellent - the Bill Bryson of football books. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Stramash, This book blends several football clubs from across England with Gray's search for what makes England tick. His insights are excellent, his research thorough, his thoughts illuminating and his style highly readable. There is certainly plenty of scope for more of this sort of book and I look forward to reading his next.
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