I first read Harry Pearson’s The Far Corner during lockdown, when attending football matches was an impossibility. Thankfully, this excellent book was the next best thing. Pearson takes the reader back in time to the northeast of England in the early 1990s when football was a very different proposition to what it is now. He paints a picture of each town he visits, and the football grounds that host the local side, in a way that allows you to vividly picture the scene. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, a cover-to-cover job that goes down as one of football’s classics.
Anyone who regularly attends football matches (and particularly in the non-league game, it has to be said) will know all about the different types of characters these events attract. Pearson is a subject matter expert and describes them in a way that makes the reader smile knowingly. There is ‘the master’, for example, the person who knows all of football’s clichés and isn’t afraid to use them. ‘The commentator’ will happily give a running audiovisual summary of the game in case those around him are not able to decipher events for themselves. A subset of these commentators, the ‘time-delay experts’, will predict an event as it is happening and claim an expert insight once the dust has settled. Every ground has them, and Pearson has a way with words that brings them to life in the pages of The Far Corner.
It’s not just the characters Pearson introduces – the humour that runs throughout the book is what really makes it so enjoyable. At any moment, Pearson could go off on a tangent, but one of an entertaining rather than frustrating kind. It almost keeps the reader on their toes, not knowing when the next punchline is going to come. There were several points where I laughed out loud at what was on the page in front of me. The best type of humour, for me, is the type only a hardened football fan would understand – the cynical pessimism that seems to envelop the majority of people you meet at games. Long-suffering fans, you might call them. Harry Pearson certainly comes across his fair share in the tales he tells for The Far Corner. The only negative review (of over 300 in total) I can find on Amazon describes the book as ‘too funny’. If that is the only thing 300 readers can find to fault The Far Corner, that tells you all you need to know. Match action itself is kept to a minimum, but there’s enough to keep you interested, even to find yourself rooting for one of the sides. I was delighted at Whickham’s innocuous FA Vase victory against Bamber Bridge, for example.
For all the humour, The Far Corner also has plenty for the history buffs. Pearson tells the tales of glorious sides and iconic players that you’re unlikely to have heard of before you start reading. Take the all-conquering Blyth Spartans of the 1977/78 season, for example. They went on an incredible run to the FA Cup 5th round, being denied a quarter-final at home to Arsenal only by a controversial last-minute Wrexham equaliser. If that’s not to your liking, perhaps you’d prefer the story of John Greenwell, who left Crook Town to join Barcelona in 1912 and ended up managing the Catalonian giants for ten straight years.
Pearson followed up The Far Corner with The Farther Corner in 2020. All the endearing qualities of his first book are there again, the style of writing much the same and the book following the same concept. Pearson’s life circumstances are different, unsurprisingly perhaps given the 25-year gap between the two books, and we see a deeper and more emotional side of him. It is refreshing to see the writer be so honest in a style that would have probably been considered highly unconventional back in the mid-1990s. It helps to normalise conversation around mental health, in my opinion, though this isn’t Pearson’s main aim, and the other qualities his writing holds are not compromised.
The Far Corner was described as ‘Britain’s best ever football book’ by the Northern Echo with The Farther Corner being longlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 2020. It’s certainly easy to see why in both cases.