Too much Manchester United, too little Brendon McGuire

Hans Bolling
Ph.D., Independent scholar

Brendon McGuire
Growing Up With the Trinity: An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman Walked Onto a Football Pitch…
256 pages, hardcover, ill.
Worthing, SX: Pitch Publishing 2019
ISBN 978-1-78531-502-2

How should one relate to the world? A critical approach is something of a virtue in academia. Likewise, people with a pessimistic view of the world like to present themselves as more realistic than optimists. In any case, they seem to find great joy in pointing out to the optimists when they are wrong. However, a positive attitude does not have to be bad. It may even be preferable to the cynical pessimism that often characterizes such large parts of the age in which we live. An optimism full of implicit faith can be helpful, but it must not degenerate into innocent worship. Man can be cruel and it is far from certain that God cares, even a philosopher sometimes has to change his opinions.

Brendon McGuire has written a book about Manchester in the 1960s, Growing up With the Trinity: An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman Walked Onto a Football Pitch. It is a book that is not entirely easy to categorize. It is partly an autobiographical story about growing up in Manchester in that decade, and partly a story about Manchester United with clear hagiographic elements, especially when it comes to the manager Matt Busby, his assistant Jimmy Murphy, and the club’s youth activities during the 1950s and 60s. And hagiographic also when it comes to the Trinity, despite the fact that the threesome in this case lacks a divine connection and instead consists of the football players Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best.

Unfortunately, because of McGuire’s devout approach the proportions of his presentation is completely wrong; it is burdened by long, bland and repetitive quotes, particularly from former players about how well-managed and impressive everything about the football club was. About the decent and reliable men who were part of the crowd around the club (with the odd exception of a woman that shows up in the form of a landlady). This is done at the expense of young Brendon’s experiences and memories of growing up in Manchester in the 1960s. It’s a shame, because that’s when it becomes interesting, but it’s a subject matter that McGuire unfortunately doesn’t do much with. Instead of making Brendon the hub of the story, he becomes a by-product that emerges and then hides behind stories that have already been told countless times. A search for Manchester United on Amazon yields 352 hits under the category “biographies & memoirs”.

The result is that McGuire’s narrative loses an exciting dimension, and it all becomes just another book about Manchester United.

It is also in the story of Brendon that the only strong woman in the narrative shows up, Sheila, his mother, who holds together a home that is suffering from having an addict as breadwinner. There is thus a seed that, if it had been nurtured, could have been the backbone of a resilient story about growing up in Manchester in the 1960s, to support a successful football team and to have that as a refuge but also inspiration in a largely unsafe world. Now it is instead the story told so many times before about the Busby Babes and Manchester United’s journey from the plane crash in Munich in 1958 to the victory in the European Cup in 1968 that dominates the story. The result is that McGuire’s narrative loses an exciting dimension, and it all becomes just another book about Manchester United. It also becomes just another book where childhood is portrayed in a certain nostalgic light, as a simpler time in comparison with how society has developed since then. This has of course been a recurring theme at least since the ancient Greeks. Too bad for a story that has all the prerequisites for strongly touching the reader.

The chosen approach also means that Growing Up With the Trinity loses the sense of presence that books about following a football team may offer. Anyone looking for that particular feeling probably benefits from reading the ultimate classic of the genre, Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, or why not Hasse Karlsson’s Vi är svarta, vi är gula alla andra dom är fula. Ett slags roman om AIK, fotboll och annan sport [We are black, we are yellow all the others are ugly. A novel of sorts about AIK, football and other sports].

When it comes to writing about Manchester United, Brendon McGuire reminds me of Candide’s teacher Pangloss; Matt Busby created the best of all imaginable worlds. It would have been better if the author had learned from the refined protagonist at the end of Voltaire’s classic and, above all, focused on cultivating his garden.

Copyright © Hans Bolling 2021

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