The second story in Cold Iron is by Ian Harris, a new name to me. It's a good story that focuses on a key aspect of British life - the way most men (and quite a few women) feel it necessary to support football teams that aren't much cop. In Harris's story the protagonist travels a lot, and frequently attends lower league games in manky stadiums. He finds himself in one such venue on a damp November day where the only other fans nearby are a foul-mouthed ranter in the seat directly behind
him and a small boy on his own.
The atmosphere is well evoked, with its account of a game between 'two groups of low-division cloggers'. I find soccer's appeal elusive, and Harris only confirms my view that following a team - even a good one - through a never ending cycle of triumph and tragedy would be like opting into one of the lesser circle of hell. The mentality of the football fan is under scrutiny here, with the unnamed narrator contrasting the sad, lonely boy with the cursing idiot.
The author leaves it up to the reader to guess where the ghostly element might be, here. I guessed wrong, perhaps inevitably. The ending is more ambiguous, and far sadder, than I assumed. An apparently slight tale, this, but one that lingers in the mind as it sums up the bleak, self-torturing futility of compulsive fandom.
Perhaps I'll lighten up a bit for the next one!