Don’t Miss This Book – 16/4/16

Some books are hard to get into but are eventually worth the struggle, others make my eyes glaze over almost from the opening pages and bring about an irresistible urge to fall asleep, but just sometimes you hit the jackpot and pick up a book which engages and delights you from the opening paragraph and you find yourself totally captivated and nodding in agreement with the author’s comments as well as totally identifying with everything that he says.

Apologies for the radio silence over the past couple of days but I have just been indulging myself and was totally engrossed in a wonderful new book mysteriously and enigmatically titled Gus Honeybun, Your Boys Took One Hell Of A Beating by Simon Carter.

So what on earth is this all about and who or what is Gus Honeybun? Quite simply, Simon Carter is a journalist who has enjoyed a love affair with Exeter City for the past thirty-seven years and the book is almost four hundred pages worth of an intoxicating mixture of ecstasy, joy, pride, shock, horror, resignation and shattered expectations as he recounts his memories of following a mediocre lower league football club in their fight for survival against almost insurmountable odds.

As for Gus, he was a Janner, a nickname for all those unlucky enough to be born and (in)bred in Plymouth. He was a popular rabbit puppet who appeared on local television for almost thirty years and helped celebrate children’s birthdays by doing a series of on-air bunny hops and winks. That all sounds pretty harmless and uncontentious to me but unfortunately Gus was also a rabid Plymouth Argyle supporter and would appear on-screen proudly wearing a green and white Argyle scarf whenever they had a whiff of success – pure provocation and something that used to infuriate young Simon as a died in the wool Exeter fan who took particular delight in his club’s rare victories over their local rivals.

Fans of every other Football League team will identify with the exploits and adventures recounted in this book. Taking a total of ten supporters to midweek games up North in the depths of Winter, travelling away with no hint of expectation when actually scoring a goal, or at least winning a corner, was the most one could hope for. Losing miserably and spinelessly to the like of Warrington in the FA Cup with the further embarrassment of seeing your team’s myriad shortcomings transmitted to the entire nation through the live television coverage on BBC. The sense of utter frustration when you just know that your team will let you down whenever it really matters, but, never mind, you will still be there for the next game or the following season with the slate wiped clean knowing full well that further embarrassments and disappointments await you.

Carter writes well and concisely with short, sharp, staccato, tight sentences and he has a keen eye for a headline and an article that grabs your attention in the opening paragraph, draws you in and then never lets go. He is a fanatic without being an anorak or statto and non-Exeter City fans will be able to stay with the book without too much trouble as it deals with a multitude of themes and subjects that will resonate with every football fan without going into mind numbing detail of obscure games, players and events from long ago which would have far more limited appeal.

Carter does celebrate local heroes such as Tony Kellow, a squat goalhanger who, back in the day, often put Brentford to the sword, the late and much lamented Adam Stansfield, goal machine Darran Rowbotham and Peter Hatch, still living in Exeter thirty-five years after spearheading a massive four goal giant killing of Newcastle United, who Carter interviews and then writes about with much poignancy and pride. Sometimes it is good to actually meet your heroes when they turn out to be even better men in the flesh than in the imagination of a young boy.

Supporting a no-hoper is all about patience and tolerance and being able to take pleasure in small mercies and then relishing and celebrating the rare triumphs and achievements when they do come along and there is much here about the glory of winning the Fourth Division Championship in 1990 and gaining promotion back to the Football League in 2008 through the dreaded playoffs. Who can begrudge him the opportunity to play the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool in the FA Cup and achieve meritorious draws against both Premier League giants as well as earning enough money from the ties to help keep the club afloat?

Brentford fans will enjoy his account of the quite ridiculous 1982/83 season which saw Exeter barely escape relegation despite scoring eighty-one goals – generally enough to ensure a promotion bid, but Exeter also inconceivably found a way to concede a staggering one hundred and four times and their forty-six matches saw an incredible one hundred and eighty-five goals scored, or four goals in every match.

Eight of those goals came in that unforgettable game which Brentford won by seven goals to one. Carter witnessed this humiliation yet he was back, undaunted, bright eyed and bushy tailed for the next game which saw a massive improvement as his heroes only lost by five goals to one to Orient!

Football is also about friends and companionship and there are many amusing tales of derring-do as Simon and his mates travel the country more in hope than expectation and somehow manage to get back unscathed to their South Western outpost. Bizarrely he also comes across the likes of Brad Pitt, Freddie Starr and Uri Geller in the course of his adventures.

There is gallows humour in abundance and the book is an easy, fulfilling and amusing read but Simon’s account of his unrequited passion and love affair also has the power to stir the emotions and move you at the same time.

This is a book that should not be missed and it is highly recommended for supporters of any football club from Aldershot to Yeovil – apart of course from Plymouth Argyle.