Will Shingleton’s book about Birmingham State football team is a departure for me as a reader but I am intrigued by the suggestion of corruption in sport and knowing that college football is big business, I was interested to see how he would construct a narrative that tackled this in fictional form.
He has chosen to have the tensions between the established coach, Frank Payton and the progressive assistant, the heir apparent, Dave Medina related through a journalistic investigation being conducted by John Crown, a relatively unseasoned reporter who has been guided to this story by his editor, Howard Carter. Crown interviews people involved with State at the time of Payton and Medina’s time coaching together and presents transcripts of them offering their opinions on the happenings between the two coaches. Interspersed between these interviews are contemporary reports that correspond to crucial games, written by sports’ reporters at the time as well as opinion pieces, again contemporary to the coaches’ time together which present a commentary on the way that the football season is viewed by those watching it unfold; a barometer of the football world’s perception at the time.
I think that Shingleton has been ambitious in the way that he has formulated his book and that he was at risk, with the different excerpts from the past and transcripts from the present, of making a fiction that is fragmented and in danger of being confusing and therefore, difficult to read. Fortunately, this is very much not the case. I think that this comes from the development of the story which is chronologically linear, dealing with the way that events at Birmingham State unfold over a certain time period. It read smoothly and was easy to follow.
Shingleton has a very confident writing style and the different voices of the writers and the main players being interviewed are clearly distinguishable so that it is easy to get a clear sense of character, even from the sports’ reports.
I think that for any person who is a fan of college football, this would be an interesting and engaging read; however, for those is us less aware of the American college football scene, there is a good story here, dealing with the pressures and influences that coaches have to manage over and above their actual coaching roles and showing the chemistry that is essential in balance for a team to succeed.
This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.