There is much that enlivens and engrosses here. Kynaston does prove a “good” diarist, but he is fundamentally too fair-minded to be a great one. His decency as a person keeps getting in the way of his duty as a writer. His diary is severely short on gossip, even for someone living in New Malden. It may also be because he’s writing with one eye on publication that he never really lets himself off the leash to be ruthless, or just mildly indiscreet. When considering the former England manager Graham Taylor – not Graham Turner, as printed here – he calls him “the better sort of footballing person”. Doesn’t he mean a small-minded and overpromoted club manager who led the national team into a football cul-de-sac? He almost allows Trump and his wrongdoing to hijack the project, and at times he knows it: “I hate the way that this diary is getting dominated by this thin-skinned egotist.” Rage can be a wonderful tonic, but it needs tempering if the prose isn’t to be dried out by it. I prefer Kynaston when he is, in his own favourite word, “inspiriting”.
There is a third book trying to get out from beneath the soccer reportage and the liberal anguish. This is Kynaston’s own story, gestured at in occasional oblique comments about, for example, the morning in 1961 when he discovered from a butcher’s bill that “the person living with my father was now ‘Mrs Kynaston’”, or the train journey in 1973, when, luxuriating in his newly acquired Oxford first, he inspected the other young people in the compartment and “realised that they were utterly normal, utterly relaxed in each other’s company – & that I was never going to be like them”. An autobiography surely beckons.
Of course, Shots in the Dark – a fabulous title – will now be published during the year of a pandemic even as the international political theatre lurches towards the darkly absurd. And already, the year that Kynaston chronicles is beginning to look like the land of lost content, when going to a football match was a simple and automatic pleasure.
This fascinating book of opinion and reflection offers a wistful snapshot of the rewards of staying the course with the team.
This thrilling, intimate, sometimes poignant, often wonderfully funny book shows the workings in real time of a deeply civilised, humane and tolerant mind in an age when those virtues are in short supply.
Here is a man with whom you would want to go to a match, and even share a beer afterwards.
David Kynaston is one of the good guys, and this is one of the very good books.
A couple of times Kynaston asks himself why he is publishing this diary at all. But the answer is obvious to anyone who has read his three most celebrated books, Austerity Britain, Family Britain and Modernity Britain. These social histories take 1,700 pages (not counting indices) to transport the reader from 1945 to 1959. They are a wonderful read, not least because Kynaston litters the pages with aptly chosen newspaper items, advertisements and diary entries from the time. Whatever he thinks he was doing in Shots in the Dark, I am pretty sure he is laying down material for some 2070s Kynaston to use in an account of what he rightly calls “strange times”. Mind you, if he’d only hung on four more years he would have written through lockdown.
Yet, where Kynaston’s views on politics and sport intersect are the forgotten virtues of agreeing to disagree. He’s the sort of fan I want to sit next to: partisan yet civil, eyes on the match but aware there are bigger things to worry about. Why be a football fan, then? Because, in the case of Kynaston and thousands of others, a valuable sense of identity is still derived from the teams they support. So who cares what the football is like anyway?