Football fiction is a genre that most authors avoid like the plague. This is partly due to the chequered history of poorly-written or uninspiring soccer novels and also because the beautiful game so often provides realities that most storytellers would struggle to make up; Manchester United's 1999 Champions League final triumph and Arsenal's 'Invincibles' season are just a couple of examples of football's non-fiction fairytales.
However it is always refreshing to see a writer give football fiction a go, especially in a market saturated by autobiographies of over-paid and over-hyped players, increasingly released before their careers have even finished.
I'll admit that I was a touch pessimistic when I first picked up David Alejandro Fearnhead's Bailey of the Saints, mainly because my own experience of football fiction involves many happy memories of flicking through the substantial back-catalogue of acclaimed children's author Michael Hardcastle. Long gone are those halcyon days of reading classics such as Mascot, Own Goal and The Away Team but nonetheless I decided to try to open my mind to Fearnhead's offering.
Bailey of the Saints is the story of unfulfilled Premier League benchwarmer Jack Bailey, who moves to New Zealand on loan in a bid to resurrect his career in the A-League. Fearnhead draws on his experiences of covering professional football as a journalist all over the world and of those people involved in the sport that he has met along the way.
What he has created is a character-driven narrative that paints what feels like a very realistic picture of life as a professional footballer - from WAG girlfriends and sexual conquests, to fall-outs with managers and fears about injuries and loss of form.
It is an engaging plot that also gives an interesting insight into what life is like living in a country where football is not the No. 1 sport, and while the romantic undertones aren't to this reviewer's taste, it does give depth to a book that would not be as entertaining if it only focused on the on-pitch action.
Bailey is a likeable central protagonist who undergoes a transformation from a selfish, egotistical player that most of us would recognise as the quintessential modern footballer, to someone who recognises how lucky he is to be making a living from the game, via a series of 'Road to Damascus' moments.
After finishing the book, one is left with a sense of hope that if Bailey can experience an epiphany, maybe some of the aforementioned over-paid and over-hyped players could have one of their own, though I would suggest it is exactly that part of the storyline that makes this a true work of football fiction.
Bailey of the Saints is available to buy from Great Northern Books.