Home And Away: Round Britain in search of non-League football nirvana

359 HomeAway

by Dave Roberts
Bantam Press, £12.99
Reviewed by Tristan Browning
From WSC 359, January 2017
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It is not often that Halifax is portrayed as a shining city on a hill, but as a life-long Bromley fanatic, Home And Away’s author Dave Roberts takes aspiration where he can find it. For Roberts, the fact that his team have earned the right to play at venues such as the Shay is evidence enough of the dizzy heights of the National League at which they found themselves for the 2015-16 season.

The season-in-review format used here can fall into the trap of simply becoming a series of match reports. It is to the author’s credit that he largely avoids these pitfalls to produce a warm look back at Bromley’s first season at this rarefied level. This is thanks in no small part to the fact that the journey is more than just a footballing slog round the backwaters of non-League’s top tier. Having spent 30 years as an expat in the US and New Zealand, the season is as much a chance to explore the land of his childhood as it is to revel in the pies on offer at Kidderminster Harriers.

Some parts of the book can feel a little bogged down in fretful worry over Bromley’s latest injury crisis, and those three decades out of the UK do lead to some explanations that the majority of British readers may find unnecessary or jarring; describing the vagaries of B&B online ratings, the advantages of booking train tickets in advance and the design of coffee shop logos feels like extraneous detail, and no one who has ever been within 20 miles of the River Mersey would describe Liverpool’s famous landmark as the Liver Birds building.

Still, these are minor gripes about what is otherwise a glowing testament to the camaraderie and inclusiveness of supporting a team lower down the pyramid. Roberts’ American wife Liz has to start absorbing British sporting culture from scratch. While not thrilled at the prospect of catching the dawn train to Wrexham or Lincoln, she nonetheless becomes increasingly drawn in by her husband’s emotional investment in following the Ravens.

Likewise, the author’s sons, raised on rugby in New Zealand, are initially uninterested in the round-ball game, but can’t help developing a vested interest in Bromley’s fortunes. Some of the chapters would work wonderfully as stand-alone pieces – Roberts going undercover on matchday inside the Ronin the Raven mascot suit (a version of which appeared in WSC 352) is amusingly written, and a trip to the home game against Woking, staying in the very same house he grew up in, meeting up with old friends and following his 1960s teenage pre-match ritual, feels particularly poignant.

At one point the author questions whether his long exile disqualifies him from being a true fan. Those around him on the terraces leave him in no doubt. At Bromley, everyone is welcome in this uplifting book that celebrates the happiness to be found in reconnecting with your friends, your team and your home.

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