I'm going to start this review with a bottom line; if you consider yourself to be a football fan, you should buy this book and read it. You will enjoy it. A lot.
Now I'm going to explain why. As can be deduced from the title, Whatever Happened To Billy Parks tells the story of a fictional footballer called Billy Parks, a player from the 1970s who was one of the most gifted of his generation. He was left on the bench for the England v Poland match in 1973. A match which England needed to win, but could only draw. The book opens in the present day, with Billy struggling to make a living, battling alcoholism, his family having long since deserted him. Yet at this late stage he may finally get the one thing that he truly craves; a second chance to undo the pain he's caused to his family, win the game for England, and become a legend.
I will freely admit that despite reading a lot of books generally, I have read very few books about football, a sport which otherwise takes up a great deal of my time. And none of the football books that I have read have been fictional. So as I started to read this book I was somewhat skeptical about how a book about a fictional player could really interest me, and make me care enough both to be overjoyed at the highs and sad at the lows of this talented yet tragic figure.
But it did. In the hours that I spent reading this book I found myself wanting to punch the air at some of the match descriptions, only to be sad at the real personal tragedy that followed, and all the while regularly laughing at some of the truly fantastic anecdotes and humour about real players both past and present.
It's difficult to say exactly why this book had such an effect of me. There is no doubt that it is extremely well written, and contains the sort of football references that would draw a smile and a laugh out of even the most casual fan. But equally the real life tragedy in the book is dealt with in a delicate, sensitive, yet hard hitting manner that really draws you in to the personal story of Billy Parks. The fact that the issues that he faces are common ones, from an era when players would drink and smoke as a matter of course, just makes the book hit all the harder.
In short, this book is written with the sort of skill, intelligence, emotion and passion that will immerse every football fan into its story, right up until the outstanding ending. I would compare to it a similar book but I'm genuinely not aware of any other book that is even remotely like this. So if you're a reading this and consider yourself to be a football fan you're just going to have to take my word for how good this book is and how much you will enjoy it, so take my recommendation and give it a go. You won't regret it.
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