Tuesday 27 August 2019

More Than A Game by Ralph Robb

More Than A Game by Ralph Robb
First published under the author name Sylvester Young in April 2013. Republished by Ralph Robb in August 2019.

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Sabina Park Rangers is the first team of black players to reach the final of the Watney’s Challenge Cup. But coach Horace McIntosh has more selection problems than most. The First Division champions want to sign one of his best players – and right up until the day of the match he is uncertain that he will have a team for the biggest game in the club’s history because of arrests, a scam and an atmosphere of impending violence.

The first thing I want to say about More Than A Game is that it's not just a book about football! Yes the characters are linked by their connections to the same amateur football team, but Robb's novel encompasses far more than tackles and passes. Instead I was fascinated by this authentic portrayal of members of a West Indian-British community living in early 1980s Wolverhampton. I was only about six or seven years old at the time More Than A Game is set so I don't personally remember much about the problems of Tory Britain at that time, but as we seem to be returning to that kind of divided nation, I could easily imagine this story being as much of a preview as a warning from the past.

I loved the Jamaican patois which is liberally sprinkled across every page and, similarly to Sarong Paty Girls' Singlish, allowed me to imagine myself within the community through understanding their language. Horace was the character with whom I could most easily empathise. His hard work over decades has resulted in his reasonably successful barber shop business. He feels kindly towards Britain and tries his utmost to both impart positivity to his friends and to help in practical terms - Sabina Park Rangers being a part of this. However the limited opportunities available to black people in Wolverhampton and across Britain at that time resulted in the second generation seeing their hopes swiftly curtailed. Police brutality and racism were every day hazards and I can't help but be conscious that the proposed increases in Stop And Search powers proposed by today's out of touch politicians will result in similar powderkeg situations as those of almost forty years ago. 

Despite the seriousness of my review so far though, I don't want potential readers to be discouraged. More Than A Game is an entertaining read! Robb has a great sense of pace and his characters are always very real. I fact I often felt as though I was reading an engaging history rather than a historical fiction novel. The nuanced relationships between neighbours, families and friends portray a tight community looking out for each other over many years. Many of them walk a line just on the illegal side of legal, but when the law is so stacked against you, that is easily understandable. More Than A Game is a good fusion of historical fiction, sport, crime caper and friendship. It's a strong portrayal of Thatcher's Britain and I think should appeal to a wide readership, whether they can remember the 1980s or not.

Meet the author

Ralph Robb was born and raised in the industrial town of Wolverhampton, England, and now lives in Ontario, Canada with his wife, two cats and a dog. A proud father of four, Robb works as an engineering technician and loves rugby, martial arts and of course a good book. His world is balanced by his obsession with comic books, quality TV, global events and the great outdoors.

Author links: 
Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Website

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  1. I can remember Thatcher's Britain and football hooliganism in the country during the early 80's and racist chants on the terracing. I feel that football is headed back the same way now which is disturbing. Attacking players racially on social media for missing a penalty, missiles being thrown, sectarian and racist abuse, pitch invasions to attack players and officials...it's all insane. I love my team, I hurt when we lose but it's just a game of football when it comes down to it and life goes on, and I don't understand these idiots and their continued hate. Nice review!

    1. It was depressing to realise that, although More Than A Game is set almost forty years ago, there are significant aspects of the story which haven't really changed. I don't like how the game is warped to become an excuse for intolerance either.

  2. What a brilliant read - will.make the perfect gift for my brother

  3. I love when books are written in patois as well. It just makes everything feel more authentic and more closer to the characters as well. It sounds like this one goes above and beyond the football and manages to delve even deeper than that too. I am going to go look this one up on Goodreads! Great review x

    A lot of these I don't know, but some of these I have seen around book twitter! I am so excited to see Jenn Bennett try her hand at fantasy :) And I love both Mackenzi Lee AND Loki, so the combination might make me explode :P

    Olivia-S @ Olivia's Catastrophe

    1. I was concerned I wouldn't know enough football terminology to keep up, but that turned out to not be the case at all. More Than A Game is a novel of 1980s society,

  4. I'd like to thank all of the above for taking the time to review my book 'More Than A Game'.
    I'd like to turn your attention to a Podcast I've recently release that details the contents of the book.
    Thanks again, I look forward to your feedback.