Flying over an Olive Grove, by Clive Nicolson, Ralph Nicholson and Mark Metcalf

First published by Morning Star on Monday 12th December 2016

Soaring above the beautiful game

Flying over an Olive Grove is the true story of a working class boy who went on to win every award available to him as a player before coaching all around the world. What makes this story different from all the other football biographies is that Fred Spiksley was born in 1870, fifteen years before the FA introduced professionalism into football. His life in football tracks across the development of the game, the class struggle of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, two world wars and the rise of Fascism. The authors, Metcalf and the Nicholsons manage to keep the reader grounded by constantly situating Spiksley’s story in the world that he inhabited and contrasting it with the football of today.

As a football fan Flying over an Olive Grove reminds me of the timeless nature of football. I walk down the same road to watch the same club that my great grandfather watched over a hundred years ago. I imagine we share similar feelings in that tense anticipation before a must win game as we turn the corner and see the grounds. The life of the players, the clubs and the stadium themselves have undoubtedly changed, but this book clearly demonstrates that the life of the fan appears far more constant. The voice of a supporter narrates this book with the love of the beautiful game infusing every paragraph.

Flying over an Olive Grove gives an excellent insight into the experiences of a Victorian working class boy who went on to become one of the greatest footballers of his time. The struggle to finish an apprenticeship and hold down a job so he would have something to fall back on, the precarious nature of professional contracts in a time when clubs and leagues were being set-up and failing, and the moments of brilliance on the pitch overshadowed by personal weaknesses off the pitch are all here. Fred Spiksely was without a doubt a football hero ahead of his time.

It is worth remembering that a good book can be let down by editors, typesetters and proofreaders, while a bad book can be made to look better by design, marketing and PR. Unfortunately we live in a time when mass media propagates style over substance, and too often books like Flying over an Olive Grove are overlooked. I only became aware of this book when one of it’s authors reviewed my book and told me about it. For that I am grateful. I am sorry that this book does contain editorial, typesetting and proof reading errors. But for me that doesn’t stop it from being a well written and excellently researched book about a truly remarkable life. For those who believe presentation trumps substance this book isn’t for you. For those who can look beyond that, Flying over an Olive Grove is a timely reminder of why it is called the beautiful game and a fitting epitaph for an extraordinary man.

Flying over an Olive Grove by Clive Nicholson, Ralph Nicholson and Mark Metcalf is published by Red Axe Books, price £19.99.