Hardback

Published: Lightning (January 2025)

ISBN: 9781785634147

Season

George Harrison

£14.99

‘A beautifully crafted and accomplished debut’

Michael Donkor

For ten months of the year, two men are drawn to adjacent seats in a stadium, carrying the burdens of life and pouring all their hopes into their beloved but ailing team.

Fatherless and fretful, the Young Man is trying to nurture a precarious new relationship and to find his place in the world. The Old Man, an increasingly isolated carer for his fading wife, knows he has little left to look forward to. Neither fan is a comfortable talker. However, in a slow-motion play of nods, silences and guarded chats, they strike up a tentative friendship across the generational gap.

Told through thirty-eight chapters – one for each game of the Premier League campaign – Season is a lyrical, hypnotic and gently uplifting study of loneliness and modern masculinity. About much more than football, it celebrates the healing, unifying and maddening role of ritualised sport in the lives of ordinary people.

OUT JANUARY 2025. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER NOW

Extracts

It was a new season, the first game since the last game, and the ground was busy well before kick-off. The Old Man arrived first, and he looked about for familiar faces as he shuffled crablike down the narrow aisle, double-checking the numbers daubed on seatbacks against the number on his printed ticket. Pop music came overloud from the speakers, pushing against the low hum of male chatter. The terrace was already filling up, and one or two men offered the Old Man a nod or some other greeting as a concession to the time they had already spent in one another’s vicinity, years gone past. These were men for whom the rhythms of the year revolved not around meteorological or astrological systems; their days belonged instead to the football calendar, a capricious season all its own.

read more...

Extracts

IT was a new season, the first game since the last game, and the ground was busy well before kick-off. The Old Man arrived first, and he looked about for familiar faces as he shuffled crablike down the narrow aisle, double-checking the numbers daubed on seatbacks against the number on his printed ticket. Pop music came overloud from the speakers, pushing against the low hum of male chatter. The terrace was already filling up, and one or two men offered the Old Man a nod or some other greeting as a concession to the time they had already spent in one another’s vicinity, years gone past. These were men for whom the rhythms of the year revolved not around meteorological or astrological systems; their days belonged instead to the football calendar, a capricious season all its own.

The Old Man had the same seat as last year, the same seat as always. This was the seat in which he had commiserated when they last went down and celebrated when they went back up, just a few seasons ago. The adjacent seat had been his wife’s. Here, before the summer, they had watched their captain – the Finn, freshly recovered from his latest injury – tap in the goal that would keep them in the league. The Old Man had kissed his wife drily on the cheek as the Finn sprinted across to the dugout, where he was embraced by the manager and his coaching staff and the rest of the players, an unused substitute in a neon bib jumping upon his back. The younger men in the front few rows had surged towards the pitch, and after the game they had broken through the ranks of stewards in a tide of bright colour: garish jerseys flaring in the sun, scarves swinging like knitted flails. The Old Man smiled at the memory, looked to the seat beside his. The seat was folded back, yellow plastic stark against the dull concrete underfoot.

Throughout the previous season, the Old Man’s wife had found it increasingly difficult to get to the ground and climb the steps and fight against the crowds. The stadium was too noisy, the tickets too expensive, and so this season she had resolved to follow the team from home. She had suggested, earlier in the summer, that he might do the same.

And how would I meet people then, he had said, as if he was always meeting people at the ground. What would I do with myself?

At the time, the Old Man had felt a measure of guilt, but it did not last. The football was important to him, now more than ever. So here he was, and there she was, and now the seat beside his was no longer hers.

Nearby, not far from that seat, the Young Man emerged from the concourse. That familiar climb up the steps and then the pitch – the grass impossibly green, the markings crisp and white and beautiful in the sunlight – opening like a huge flower beneath him. It took his breath away, every time. The hum of ambient talk welling all around, the loudness of the music, the stolid permanence of the goal in front of the terrace. Even the glare of the great digital scoreboard seemed like a blessing as it cycled through static adverts for cars and bookmakers and a local construction firm, the stills interspersed with highlights from the previous season. A clip of the Finn dropping into a knee-slide before the corner flag, teammates mobbing him after another late winner.

The Young Man arrived just as the players, the Finn among them, were coming out for their warm-ups. A shout went up from the back of the terrace, and many of the home fans stood. They clapped and cheered, their applause cascading down the steps and drowning out the music. These were the same fans who had viciously, almost gleefully, denigrated their own players for most of the previous season (right until the revival at the end, when the Finn came back – reborn, you might say – to save them). Nobody thought their enthusiastic support for the team, now, was inconsistent. Such was football, and such was the way of football fans.

Today it was the Englishman, their young full-back, who was first out, and he raised a palm to the terrace in acknowledgment of the men gathered there. Then the Finn, looking lean in one of the new training tops, and the Norwegian midfielder who had arrived on loan weeks before, heralded with almost hysterical excitement in the local newspaper. The Norwegian would never live up to his billing, the Old Man knew, but regardless, it was something to see him in the flesh. The Young Man, being less cynical, had fallen for the hype, and he cheered as the Norwegian jogged languidly towards the centre circle. He already believed that the Norwegian would make all the difference this time round. He needed to believe, was what it was.

Soon the players began their warm-ups, and the fans settled once more into their seats, their conversations. The terrace was almost half-full, and more fans emerged from the concourse with every minute. The Young Man, looking for his new seat, moved down the aisle towards the Old Man, who stood and apologised for being in the way. The Young Man squeezed past and stopped at the seat which had been occupied in years before by the Old Man’s wife. The Young Man nodded at the Old Man. It was his seat now.

The two men sat in their narrow seats, legs almost touching, and let the sounds of the stadium fill what little space there was between them. Down below, the goalkeeping coach was shouting instructions to his charges as he lined up a row of balls on the edge of the box. Both men let their gaze fall on the scene: the back-up keeper diving, pushing the coach’s deliberately tame shot around the post. The first-choice keeper, the Dutchman, watched on, clapping his gloved hands in encouragement. The Old Man looked to the sky, which was pure and clean. Just a few clouds, strung in brilliant white threads against the blue.

Nice day for football, the Old Man said. There was a slight rasp to his voice.

The Young Man nodded. Football weather, he said. They’ll be well up for it, a day like today. He looked over to the section of the adjacent stand which was reserved for away fans. They bring good numbers, this lot, he added.

The Old Man made a vague noise of agreement and looked across to where the away fans had started to gather. His eye was drawn to the flag moving in an unfelt breeze above the stand. He watched the flag whip and fall, the club crest contorting against a bold yellow background. It was impossible not to think, in that moment, of games gone by, of aborted cup runs and play-off finals and relegation six-pointers – decades of football and just the one real trophy to show for it. He had seen a lot in his time, the Old Man, and his wife had seen much of it with him. He had not given her much thought when he chose to renew his season ticket and go through it all once more, starting from nothing all over again. But now, for the first time, he realised what it would mean to do it on his own.

Down below, the goalkeeping coach had called in his players for a huddle. One of the fitness coaches was setting out a row of cones along the touchline. Unsupervised for the moment, a group of attacking players had gathered just outside the box, and now the players started taking shots into the empty net. A gull wheeled above the pitch, its shadow like a puppet on the turf.

When the home players were done with their warm-ups, they traipsed in twos and threes to the dugouts and disappeared down the tunnel. By now, the away fans were all in their corral. They were busy at work: some unfurling banners, others singing or taking photographs. When their players made for the tunnel, a fresh chorus started up in the away section. The Young Man looked over at them. The Old Man noticed him looking, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Then the Young Man asked if he could get past, since there was still time for a pint before kick-off.

The Young Man left the Old Man thinking once more of his wife. She would be turning on the TV around now, the Old Man knew. He could picture her in one of the two reclining chairs in the main room of their apartment, waiting for the games to start. He had sold their house and bought that apartment because he thought it would be freeing. They were nearer the train station now, so it would be easier to go on day trips to the coast. That requirement had seemed so important when they were looking, but they had not left the city once in all the months since they had moved. There were days now when they could not even bring themselves to descend in the lift and walk into town, and on those days they barely left that one room. But today was not one of those days – at least, not for the Old Man. It was something to be grateful for, he supposed.

The Young Man, as he made his way back down the aisle and towards the steps, heading for the concourse, thought also of his home, but only because he could not remember if he had locked the front door. He rented a ground-floor flat near the river, a street with willows draped verdantly across the water. Young people, like him, were to be seen paddle-boarding there on nice days. He lived alone.

The Young Man had to walk all the way through the city to get to the ground, and today two noteworthy occurrences had disturbed him on the walk. The first came as he was crossing the bridge at the end of his street, where a beggar asked him for money. The Young Man said he had no change, and the beggar, noting his jersey and scarf, told him to stop at the bridge on his way back and tell him the score. The second provocation came soon after, on the other side of the city, as the tide of men in yellow jerseys – all walking the same route – was thickening into a throng. That was when the Young Man had noticed a bird dead on the pavement, all opened up like a dropped sandwich. Now, in the concourse, the Young Man thought back to those images – the beggar and the dead bird – as he tasted his pint, and then he thought of the Finn. He hoped the Finn’s ankle would hold throughout the season.

quotes

‘A beautifully crafted and accomplished debut – an emotionally rich and formally fresh examination of masculinity and alienation that deserves a wide readership’

Michael Donkor

‘A highly accomplished novel written with gut-wrenching, net-busting depth. It is a book that effortlessly captures the touching intergenerational bond of two loyal football supporters. Every word counts; everything means something. This is so much more than a novel for fans of the so-called ‘beautiful game;’ this is a winner of a story in every way that all kinds of readers will inhale and remember long after the final whistle’

Ashley Hickson-Lovence

‘The world of professional football is usually a graveyard of literary aspiration, but George Harrison has found a way of using the match-day experience as a prism through which to examine the lives of the people watching on from the stands. Well observed, neatly handled, and full of good things’

D.J. Taylor

‘George Harrison skilfully evokes the unique and valuable role football plays in so many people’s lives. He captures how moments of sporting euphoria and heartbreak can briefly but beautifully blot out relationship, family and work fears and the depths of anxiety, gratitude and delight that exist beyond male inarticulacy. A brilliant, original and necessary novel’

Nicolas Padamsee

reviews

extras

ABOUT

George Harrison

George Harrison is a writer based in Norwich.

He has worked as a freelance editor and ghostwriter on an eclectic shelfful of non-fiction books. His editorial back catalogue ranges from the memoirs of a professional golfer to true-crime stories and a book about the life of a South African spy.

Despite having grown up in the West Country, George is a lifelong Norwich City fan and is fortunate now to live just a short walk away from Carrow Road. George wrote Season, his debut novel, while attached to the Escalator Talent Development Programme at the National Centre for Writing.

www.georgeharrisonwriter.com

selected works

more titles coming soon...