A Man’s Game

In Scotland, we write books with big moral purposes: Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Jekyll and Hyde, The House with the Green Shutters.  Edinburgh-based writer, Alan Ness, has pulled off an unusual literary coup.

His first novel, A Man’s Game, succeeds in addressing huge ethical issues but its core story looks at our national passion, football.

It’s a book about honesty and dishonesty, hope and desperation, guilt and atonement, but football is a law unto itself.  The painfully brief prologue offers the reader an expensive room, empty but for two prone bodies, one male and bloodstained, one female and holding a knife, both possibly dead.  As it happens the male is (Or was?) a highly successful, professional footballer.

Ten years after the events portrayed in the prologue, the footballer’s team-mates have progressed to great things – or been relegated to the lower divisions.  Ness simultaneously exposes Scottish football’s moral under-belly and grasps its energy and camaraderie as he explores the impact on those who had been in that room before the bodies fell prone and seeks to identify who in the room had done what to whom.

The second theme is journalism.  Cynical hack, Jim Donnelly, gets his teeth into the events in the expensive, body-strewn room.  His professional instinct tells him there’s a bigger story behind these events than has been revealed to date.  He follows his instincts across Scotland, from Glasgow to Edinburgh, from Cowdenbeath to Stenhousemuir, and finds more than a seedy story.

Ness grapples with the macho culture in Scottish football, Scottish journalism – and in wider Scottish society.  As the title suggests, with due irony, football is a man’s game, and so is journalism.  He manages this without sounding po-faced.  Indeed the book races along at a fair pace, sharp, insightful, humorous and well-informed.  It even concludes with a degree of ambiguity: whose confession to the killing in the room was truthful?  A Man’s Game is well worth the read for anyone interested in contemporary Scotland.

A Man’s Game, Alan Ness.

Published by Ringwood (£9.99)



Published by

Alex Wood

Alex Wood has had a varied career in education. He started as an English teacher at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School in 1973 and completed his school-based work as Head Teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in 2011. In between he worked in community education, was a Learning Support teacher, headed a behaviour support unit, was Head of a special school and worked in Edinburgh’s Education headquarters. He is a member of the Education Committee of St George’s School. Alex is now an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration (SCSSA) at Moray House and is Secretary of the Scottish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (SELMAS) as well as being a free-lance writer. His experience however ranges well beyond the worlds of schools and education. For seven years in the 1980s he was an elected member of Edinburgh District Council and he retains a keen interest in the political world. He has a long involvement in genealogy and family history, as a researcher, teacher and writer. He is a member of Edinburgh Common Purpose’s Advisory Group and of the committee of Linlithgow Book Festival. Although he has lived in Linlithgow for over 20 years, and in Edinburgh for the previous 18 years, he remains a loyal fan of his home town football club, Brechin City.

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