The Bottom Corner: A Season with the Dreamers of Non-League Football
By Nige Tassell
Yellow Jersey Press, 2016
Rarely have I opened a football book with such high expectations. After all, this is not just a Yellow Jersey Press title, but also one that comes recommended by Stuart Maconie, Danny Baker and Barry Davies. The Davies quote on the back cover even compares it to Arthur Hopcraft’s legendary book The Football Man. So is The Bottom Corner really that good?
The answer is yes, although Nige Tassell’s ‘Season with the Dreamers of Non-League Football’ is perhaps more reminiscent of Michael Calvin’s The Nowhere Men and Living on the Volcano. Like Calvin, Tassell takes a case study approach to his subject matter, seeking out the great, lesser-known stories and offering a depth and variety of insight. You may have heard about Salford City and Forest Green, but have you heard of Hackney & Leyton Football League chairman Johnnie Walker, or Philippines captain Rob Gier? Instead of a strong, invasive narrative voice, the characters speak for themselves. ‘Here you’re part of the team,’ an interviewee neatly summarises. ‘In the Premier League, you’re just a number.’
The structure is simple but very effective – a chapter for each month of the season, and three or four stories within each chapter/month. Real thought has gone into it, with September (the international break), for example, dedicated to ‘International men of mystery’, a trilogy of absorbing and exotic tales of far-flung travel. Two particular stories – Bishop Sutton and Tranmere Rovers – recur throughout the book, offering a clever narrative thread. The writing is engaging, descriptive but not too descriptive.
And the tone is perfect. ‘Heartland’ is a word written large in the book’s blurb and it really encapsulates the spirit of the book and the individuals, organisations and communities that it follows. These are heart-warming tales of hopes, dreams and dedication in the face of serious adversity. Instead of the doom and gloom that sometimes dominates the discussion of non-league football, The Bottom Corner offers up optimism and positivity. The harsh reality is not ignored but it is approached with the realism and the wry humour of the amazing stalwarts that keep on carrying on.