Having read so many football books over the last few years, I wanted to take the opportunity to write about some of the titles that have really stuck in my mind. The bookshelf in my East London flat is almost entirely stacked with stories from the beautiful game, just a handful of murder mysteries reflecting my flatmates’ interests hanging on in the corner. I’ve been reading at a remarkable pace since my teenage years and there are countless books I could spotlight, but there’s really only one place I could start. That is The Bromley Boys, by Dave Roberts.
The Bromley Boys is the first football book I can distinctly remember reading, as it felt as though I was reading about myself, had I been born in the 1950s instead of 1998. I could relate to Roberts’ awkward teenage years right from the very first sentences. Just like the author, I was guilty of turning up at pre-season friendlies to watch my local team playing against a Premier League side’s kids and treating it like the World Cup Final, for example.
Whilst Roberts found his first love in Bromley FC, mine was in local rivals Sutton United. Like him, I vowed to support my team no matter what, but I suppose that’s relatively easy when the side you pledge that vow to are playing well. Roberts certainly had no such luck with Bromley. His side’s incompetence creates plenty of humour throughout, leaving the reader to wonder if anything will change and Bromley’s fortunes will improve. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t, and they don’t.
Just as important as the stories of Roberts’ love for Bromley are the tales of his school days and attempts to fit in socially. It perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager, which is particularly impressive given Roberts wrote the book approximately 40 years after events in it took place. From my own experience, I can assure you very little has changed about the social concerns of the teenage non-league fan up until today. I felt like the odd one out and that I had to make an effort to fit in so that I wasn’t seen as weird by everyone around me. Roberts captures this feeling perfectly:
I was beginning to see a theme emerging. The big clubs like Arsenal attracted the masses, those with normal social skills who had no problem being accepted by society at large. People at ease in large groups. The small amateur clubs like Bromley were for the rest of us.
The Bromley Boys, along with Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, was a huge influence on my own work in Six Added Minutes. There is an innocent joy in recounting your own coming-of-age story, particularly when it is so fresh in the mind, as it was for me – I was only 19 when I wrote Six Added Minutes. I suppose the main difference is that for much of my story, Sutton United were significantly overachieving. As such, the book’s humour comes from tales of my social life, whereas the story on the pitch is a lot more upbeat. The last couple of chapters encapsulate real, overpowering joy as Sutton go on an incredible FA Cup run. A teenager’s story of following a non-league football club is not what you would typically consider to be mainstream media, but The Bromley Boys taught me that there was value in my hobby and that I could turn it into something people would be interested in.
Sadly, Dave Roberts passed away in November 2021. I regret never meeting him and swapping stories of teenage devotion about our respective football clubs.
The biggest compliment I can give to Dave Roberts is that despite being a Sutton United fan, it was reading about local rivals Bromley that got me into writing.
About Johnnie Lowery
Johnnie is a football writer. His first book, Six Added Minutes, was written while he was at university and published in November 2019. With strong reviews from the likes of Jeremy Vine and Jacqui Oatley, it is selling well online. His second book, Match Fit, explores mental health in football. It looks to raise mental health awareness and is inspired by Lowery’s own struggles as a teenager, when he did not understand why he was feeling down.