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Steaming In
Colin Ward (Simon & Schuster 1989, 5.99)
"Colin Ward writes outstandingly well" proclaims the Daily Mail from the back cover of Steaming In. Well, perhaps the standards weren't so high eight years ago, perhaps football fans (and the parenthesised "for a football fan" is implicit in the Mail's attitude, I think) hadn't managed to articulate their ideas and experiences to the degree they have now. Because Colin Ward doesn't write outstandingly well. We writes adequately, nothing more. And Steaming In is not, despite what the Times would have you believe, "a remarkable book".

If this all sounds as if I'm warming up in preparation for giving the book a right kicking, then that'd be wrong. But the simple fact is that there's already a book about football hooliganism that is funny, savage, intelligent and beautifully written (it's by Bill Buford, by the way) and I find the obsession with the 'real' football supporter deeply frustrating. If the Eighties were the decade of greed, the Nineties have become the decade of authenticity - faced with the limitless possibilities of new technologies, First World culture has retreated into its shell and started an obsession with 'realness'. In this case, the choice is between paying money for Buford (artificial - he's a journalist with no interest in football - and brilliant) or Ward and the Brimsons (real - they've been there on the terraces - and largely uninspiring).

So, anyway, back to the point. Steaming In, regardless of the typically garish cover, is a surprisingly likeable book. It recounts Ward's life on the terraces from his formative years at Leatherhead, Chelsea and Arsenal to adventures with the national team abroad and attempts to bring in theories or observations about soccer violence in the process. In fact, it succeeds largely because of its modest ambitions.

The obvious comparison is with the Brimsons' two books and Ward comes out of it well. For a start, the fact that he's writing the accounts himself rather than relying on other people gives the whole thing a more consistent voice. If he doesn't come to any earth-shattering conclusions then at least he doesn't spend page after page after page engaging in tedious, rambling arguments - the story comes first, thank heavens.

The book is at its best in the latter stages, after Ward has seperated himself from terrace violence and is acting in a more observational capacity. Speaking as someone who hasn't the slightest intention of ever attending an England match, home or away, the opportunity to find out what really goes on from a reasonably intelligent source is the book's greatest strength. It's largely depressing stuff too - for every good-natured drinking session in a foreign bar, there's a group of nutters fans waiting to kick-start some trouble and ruin things.

Ultimately, what Ward lacks in style, he makes up for in enthusiasm (the Tommy Mooney of football writing, anyone?) and Steaming In works well as an entertaining insight into football culture. If it's largely unchallenging to this particular reader's views then that's hardly the author's fault...

Ian Grant