Book Review: “There’s A Golden Sky”

Ian Ridley’s “There’s A Golden Sky” is about as wide ranging and comprehensive a look at the state of football today as it is possible to cram into 260 odd pages. Ridley writes extensively on football with a style that is fluent, lucid and very easy to read and this, his latest book, is both fascinating and informative.

Ridley’s first book, “Seasons In The Cold” written all of twenty years ago, examined the state of a game then considered to be both a reviled pariah and the unacceptable face of sporting culture.

“There’s A Golden Sky” more or less revisits this arena: it re-examines football by looking at the Premier League and the effect of its (quite phenomenal) growth on the rest of football: from the top of the Premiership down to Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning.

The book initially looks at the state of the game in the 80’s as it explains the emergence of the Premier League. How the sport then had become vilified, the unacceptably ugly face of English culture, primarily as a result of the violence that went hand in hand with English football. (Strangely, despite well documented instances of hooliganism in other countries, it suited many people to refer to football violence as “the English disease”.)

At the time it seemed that everyone, including the British media, took up this concept as an extra weapon to batter football with – such a contrast to today, isn’t it, when football is the darling of the media – but in all honesty it was difficult to argue against it.

Put glibly, the 80’s was the Decade of the Disaster as far as soccer was concerned: not only was there organised violence on a not insignificant scale, but we had Heysel, Hillsborough, and Bradford – names that will stay always in the memory because of the harrowing and traumatic situations that, with hindsight, could perhaps have been avoided.

From my own experience, if you loved football during the 80’s most people considered that you were likely to be a football hooligan. They believed some fans were decent, law-abiding citizens, of course; but these were a minority. As a rule, it was generally advisable to avoid football fans.

Out of this the Premiership was born. And “There’s A Golden Sky” traces Ridley’s journey up and down the country as he investigates the situations at many Premiership clubs.

Interweaved with this, we look at the situation at a number of non Premiership clubs and the effect the EPL had (and has) on them: amongst them, the debacle of ownership at Portsmouth, the longevity of the amazing ex-Chelsea man Dario Gradi at Crewe, Ipswich after the Cobbold legacy, plastic-pitched Luton Town, the rise and fall of Wimbledon… the list goes on.

Ridley’s book does not forget the players either. It opens and closes with Gazza, perhaps the archetypal – but certainly not the only – victim of the sport.

The pressures on players are sometimes quite extraordinary. In many cases these are ordinary young men suddenly thrust into the role of cult heroes, in many cases millionaire stars with a huge amount of free time on their hands and little or no guidance in how to cope with either the pressure or the money.

The toll is taken in alcohol and gambling and the tales told here are often distressing and moving.

There is a chapter dedicated to the grassroots of Hackney Marshes, to me the legendary bastion of Sunday morning soccer, including the unwelcome and perhaps unforeseen impact of the forthcoming Olympics.

Ridley looks at the rise of the women’s game, too, as well as giving us an insight into the referee’s point of view.

Of special interest to Blues fans will be the “What Roman Did For Us”, a chapter dedicated to Chelsea. Focussed mainly as it is on Bruce Buck’s interpretation of events, it concentrates mainly on the background to Roman’s takeover and the parade of managers thereafter.

It is certainly crammed full of information, but to be honest if you are an obsessive reader of all things Chelsea, there are probably a few snippets here you would not have already read, but not that many. I found that slightly disappointing, but I am perhaps demanding too much of a book that is so impressively comprehensive and wide-ranging.

Nevertheless, a good read and I found it highly enjoyable reading someone else’s perspective on the club since Roman’s arrival.

To me “There’s A Golden Sky” offers a real feel for the day-to-day workings and the behind-the-scenes activities of the modern game, and is a glorious insight into the game we, as fans, are part of.

Ridley asks the right questions of the right people and gets beneath the skin of his subjects in an entertaining and knowledgeable way. It is full of facts, anecdotes and interviews – and above all, evokes the atmosphere of the sport we all love.

If there is a better book about modern day football I have yet to read it. Highly recommended, then, both for content and readability.

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