A love affair in the lower leagues
by Simon Carter
Pitch Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Gary Andrews
From WSC 355 September 2016
Towards the end of Simon Carter’s memoir of his 37 years as an Exeter City supporter, the local sports journalist takes great pains to play down his credentials as a superfan. His enthusiasm for football may wane a little in the later chapters, but with tales of skipping school to travel to watch Halifax and his loathing for Gus Honeybun, a Plymouth Argyle-supporting rabbit that performs birthday bunny hops for children on the regional ITV news, there’s little doubt that Carter is one of those rare breed who is as much a part of the club as the players themselves.
Just like the fan who lives for their club, this book contains a number of entertaining anecdotes, such as the time his fanaticism for the team leads to a chance encounter with a pre-fame Brad Pitt and sleeping in a hire car with three friends so they can take in a pre-season friendly in Cornwall. However, these are combined with a number of stories of nondescript games that mean a lot to the raconteur but can be a little wearing for the reader.
Starting with Exeter’s 4-0 demolition of Newcastle United in the FA Cup in 1981 and finishing with the Grecians’ recent FA Cup draw against Liverpool, Carter’s book is less a history of Exeter and more a story of one man’s lifelong love affair with an unfashionable lower-league club. At its best, Gus Honeybun perfectly captures the joy and frustration that comes with supporting a team who lose more games than they win and that stand little hope of ever making it to the riches of the Premier League.
Yet Carter can also be a frustrating storyteller and would benefit from a more ruthless editor. The author is one of those who storms the directors’ box after title-winning manager Terry Cooper is dispensed with in 1991 and joins a small number of fans who meet with Freddie Starr when the comedian proposes to buy the club. Both incidents, however, are only given the same few paragraphs as yet another loss to Northampton Town when they could have been expanded on.
Grecians fans who grew up with the team of the 1980s will find a lot to get nostalgic about and the short chat with legendary left-back Peter Hatch is a real highlight. The more recent successes under Paul Tisdale, though, are brushed over relatively swiftly due to the author’s life priorities changing from football to family. While Carter is a very likeable companion, by the end of the book the point that supporting Exeter is often a miserable experience that is a world away from the Premier League becomes a little laboured. As the author himself admits, this is really a book written with himself as the primary audience and this is both Gus Honeybun’s main strength and weakness.