Football and fiction have not always made for the happiest of bedfellows. Perhaps there is something about the pure drama of every aspect of the game which results in the budding football fiction writer, perhaps, feeling the need to stretch the limits of their imagination beyond the credible. How, we might well ask, can a fiction writer come up with a story that remains plausible whilst paying lip service to both the sheer ridiculousness and complete mundanity of modern football? The answer, perhaps, is to go back to its roots, which is exactly what Ian Plenderleith has done with The Chairmans Daughter, an ebook which follows a former Premier League football forced to move to non-league football and the strange world of a tiny bank-rolled club and its eccentric owner.
The player himself, Carl Meacock, is a composite, everyman figure, neither so badly behaved that he has been a regular in the gossip pages of the tabloids or so nondescript as to render this story dull. Briefly a wonder-kid, this is a player that has seen a combination of injury problems and not quite having the desire to get to the absolute top end of his game result in him becoming one of this universes nearly men. When he leaves the hubbub and froth of the professional game for the relative peace and quiet of Lincoln, he might well expect a little more peace and quiet, but his arrival at Lincoln Dynamo, a factory team enriched by its owner Derrell Dujon – a nod, we’d like to think, in the direction of the hapless former Chester City and Halesowen Town manager Morrell Maison – sees him thrown into a different sort of spotlight, derided by the clubs fanzine editor and in the local press and eyed with suspicion by the local press while trying to get the best from a team coached by an obnoxious and abrasive whose idea of motivation is merely to shout at his players with greater and greater volume.
So far, then, so conventional, but it is in the character of Derrell Dujon that Plenderleith pulls an ace from his sleeve. Creating an ambitious non-league football club owner within whom genius, likeability and madness seem to live in roughly equal quantities is no mean feat without descending into mere parody, yet The Chairmans Daughter manages this, painting a vivid picture of a man fired by a desire to succeed which is close to all-consuming, but who still remains so fiercely over-protective of his daughter that he has a clause written into all of the players’ contracts preventing them from making amorous advances towards her. Dujon steals every scene that he is in, a grotesque combination of over-enthusiasm, principles and, just occasionally, a blistering temper which might in other circumstances have found him answering to the law.
When The Chairmans Daughter arrives back in Lincoln as its new Community Liaison Officer, Meacock is faced with a tricky decision. Olivia Dujon is frighteningly beautiful, intelligent and ambitious, yet to seek to woo her would not just be a breach of Meacocks contract but would also be to challenge the omnipotent power of her father. She remains enticingly out of reach – the reader finds out little more about what makes her tick than most of the characters in the book do – but this is, considering the layers of cotton wool in which she is smothered by her father, probably appropriate. Similarly, Meacocks interest is stifled by a combination of something that may well be a crush on her father, a probably understandable fear of him and a brace of love interests, both of whom are the only characters in the story capable of cutting through the bluff and bluster of the insular world of football in a provincial town in order to see it all for what it really is.
Where The Chairmans Daughter succeeds most thoroughly may also be the aspect of it which restricts its audience somewhat. By not focusing upon the Premier League, the bling (young, impressionable footballers still do that, right?) and the glory, Plenderleith may be limiting the size of his potential audience. Yet in choosing the lower end of the non-league pyramid as the centre of his universe, he is pulling a clever trick. Anybody that has read extensively on the perils that so many lower league clubs face will be fully aware of the extent to which after a while nothing seems unbelievable any more. With this in mind, Derrell Dujon is an eminently believable character, as is Carl Meacock, the professional footballer nearing the end of his usefulness, looking to expand his horizons but, it would seem, not quite ready to leave the insular world of football for wider society just yet.
It is in this attention to detail that The Chairmans Daughter really hits its stride, a procession of grotesques all drawn towards one club and one man for their own selfish reasons, all of whom find that they are compromising by being there in the first place. At only a little over two hundred pages long, this is a book to be taken away and read in one lengthy sitting rather than picked at over a period time, a story which ribs its subject without ever patronising it. The holiday season may be coming to an end, but this is still a tale that is well worth picking up, uploading to your Kindle and reading at your pleasure.
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