It’s possible to identify a body of written work on the development of football in England and what it means that has both substance and insight. Nick Varley’s Parklife, David Conn’s The Beautiful Game and Richer Than God and David Goldblatt’s The Game of Our Lives are essential reading for anyone wishing to really understand football as a cultural force. Adrian Tempany’s And the Sun Shines Now not only adds to that body of work, it brings a new and challenging perspective. As an examination of the relationship between football and the modern state, it is unrivalled.
Tempany survived the crush in Pen 3 at Hillsborough, and the opening account of his experiences on that fateful day while still a teenager are harrowing, moving and powerful. There’s plenty of personal observation, and no little anger, in this book, but Tempany is skilled enough writer and observer to be able to take a step back and consider perspective. He identifies the three years in which we saw Hillsborough, the Italia '90 World Cup and the advent of the Premier League as providing the basis for all that came after, and his observations are always clear, and often surprising. This is not a writer afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, or to share some of his own dark moments. .
There’s plenty here about the attitudes that led to 96 football fans dying because they went to a football match, and about the subsequent disgraceful evasions and cover-ups. The book opens and closes on Hillsborough, with the account of what the families and the survivors were put through even in the final months leading up to the historic verdict earlier this year almost as hard to read as the account of the hellish scenes in the opening chapter.
Tempany remembers Italia 90 fondly, but challenges the retrofitting of the story. England were, he remembers, “World Cup Wallies” according to tabloid headline as they left for Sardinia, the island where the unrated team and its unloved supporters had been dumped seemingly in the hope that neither would affect the main event. The story of that tournament has been well-told, best in Pete Davies’s All Played out, a book Tempany acknowledges a debt to here. But one of the ‘I never thought of it like that’ observations Tempany makes is that Italia '90 marked the moment when “watching football had become the real event – not going to football”
It’s that change that piqued the interest of the TV companies, and Tempany traces the changes that realisation brought with a keen understanding of how the media, the state and the sport works. The influence of Sky, the travails of successive governments wondering how and even whether to get to grips with the game, the emergence of a well-organised and well-informed fan lobby, the tactical acumen of the Premier League and the failure of governance within the game – all are detailed here with Tempany quoting extensively from interviews with some of the leading players in the drama.
There’s a fascinating chapter on how the relationship between kids and football has changed which is one of many illustrations of what the game has lost. Football used to be a place where kids learned informally to operate in an adult environment, Tempany observes, but now, like so much else in children’s lives, it is regulated and organised by adults to such an extent that the experience is rarely the kids’ at all – “we have lost a means to navigate from boyhood to manhood” he writes. And as so often in this book, the author is not afraid to challenge accepted wisdom – acknowledging the reduction in decent playing fields has an influence but also observing that most of the football he learned as a kid in the 1980s was played in streets, around cars, and against walls. Learning how to pass the ball into the goal, he remembers, was as much the product of not wanting to boot it into a gaol with no nets and lose it as anything else.
Those expecting an excoriating polemic against modern football will be disappointed, as the author identifies elements to like about the way football has developed too. In the chapter ‘The University of Spurs’ he details the educational and community work being carried out by many clubs in favourable light. It’s easy to be cynical about the modern football business claiming to be socially responsible, but even this cynical reviewer was moved to admit that there are some places football clubs can get that other parts of society cannot reach. And I’ll confess to taking some pleasure in reading about the leading role the club I support has taken.
Many of the themes and observations come together in some of the closing chapters in which Tempany visits Germany to examine the game and particularly the fan culture more closely. Again, it’s not the standard ‘the German game is better than the English’ schtick. Tempany has the eye of a true a fan and the inquisitiveness of a journalist, all combined an ability to put a point of view clearly and concisely. What comes through in these chapters, and what left me with my lasting impression of the whole book, was that here, perhaps for the first time, was a clear exposition of what has been lost in the English game – not least because the idea of civil society and civic responsibility still shines strongly in Germany, while in Britain it has been smashed to pieces.
The change from going to football to watching football underpins the culture wars around the game, and this in turn has made a leisure pursuit that was once informal, chaotic, vibrant and mesmerising into one that is often stiff, regulated, self important and fascinating in a way we are not always comfortable with. As Tempany writes: “The difference between seats and terraces is the difference between a form of entertainment and a form of culture”.
Tempany’s book a beautifully written, tenderly observed, brave and powerful portrait of a national obsession, and of how it changed Britain. A must read for anyone with even a passing interest in football.