Review: Mr. Cleansheets

Mr. Cleansheets

Author: Adrian Deans

Publisher: Vulgar Press

Published 2010

Reviewed by Adam Muyt

This is a lads book, a ‘Boys Own’ adventure through the footballing landscape that is England.  Seriously, I can see this book doing well in the UK amongst a large slab of the football-loving populace.  Not bad for an aussie author and book.

Simply put, it’s hard to put down, a page-turner.  Which is not to say it’s great, a classic, a must-read, just that the plot has so many twists and turns you find yourself wanting – needing – to discover what happens next to the main characters.

And one of those main characters is the Bentham United Football Club, a north-west London semi-pro outfit made up of sundry piss-heads, up-and-comers, wanna-bes and once-was-sers.  They’re on a journey through the FA Cup, helped along by the arrival at the club of an aussie, one Eric Judd, aka Mr. Cleansheets, a nickname bestowed on him by his mates back in Sydney as goalie for his local district side.   (1-0: goal to Mr. Cleansheets).

The book is Eltonesque (that’s Ben, not Reggie Dwight) in tone, style and character.  That translates as a wild fantasy ride  underpinned by a swag of evil plots.  These are being carried out by a big cast of bastards locked in battle with those out to stop them (and maybe save something of themselves along the way).  The plots extend to managers and club owners ripping off players, skinheads out to seriously maim players and punters, incitements to race war and sundry murderous intents.  Plenty of biff and blood throughout the 500 plus pages.

The goodies in the cast have their faults though, not least, hero Eric.  The one exception is Doreen Bender, Eric’s love interest.  The Female Lead, strong, feminine and magnificent.  (2-0: goal to Mr. Cleansheets).  Which stands in contrast to what I think is a generally poor connection with women readers.  Is it Eric or the author who believes “…I may not know much about women (who does)…”?  And what to make of this: “..she may have been embarrassed, or frustrated, or any combination of a thousand shades of emotion which are denied to male kind.”  Blokes don’t emote?  Really?  Think many women will struggle to read the book to the end.  Lad culture can be tiresome after all.   (2-1 Own Goal).

The writing is occasionally clunky, some of the characters are way too cartoonish and a few plot twists have one step too many.  Mostly this doesn’t matter:  it’s all part of the book’s simple, absurdist charm.  But the simplicity can get annoying in places, especially the racial stereotyping (Germans in particular). (2-2 another Own Goal)

That aside, Deans knows his football, knows it exceptionally well.  And this is where the book plays a blinder, displaying technical and tactical nous and brilliance.  I found myself getting tense as certain games and situations unravelled, especially the away game to Ispwich.  Exhausting stuff.  And the culture of semi-pro and pro football, UK style: Dean delights in giving us its beautiful breadth and depth.  Exceptional play Mr. Dean.  (4-2, two goals to Mr. Cleansheets).

Dean also displays a thorough understanding of the contemporary music and media worlds, and the intertwining of both with football – all part of the entertainment ‘show’ that plays across Europe and much of the world these days.

The book features numerous cameo appearances from real life UK footballers, ex or current.  And one minor character shares a name with a local writer, publisher and Sunderland tragic who pops up every now and then on the Almanac website, usually writing about soccer.  Appears he now may be doubling as a referee in England!

Worth the read, particularly if you’re heading off to Blighty and need to immerse yourself in some core English sporting culture before you arrive.  But my advice is don’t wear a Man U strip while doing so – you never know what that might lead to.  (4-2 Mr Cleansheets wins).

Adam Muyt’s Maroon and Blue was published by Vulgar Books

About Adam Muyt

Born into rugby league, found aussie rules, fell for soccer, flirts a little with union. Author of 'Maroon & Blue - recollections and tales of the Fitzroy Football Club' (Vulgar Press, 2006). Presently working on a history of postwar Dutch migrants and soccer in Australia.

Comments

  1. Might make a ripper telemovie? I bought a copy if anyone wants to borrow it. Interested to hear any other responses.

  2. Adam Muyt says:

    Agree Crio, think it could make a great movie. Something along the lines of ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Lock, Stock & Two-smoking Barrels’ or ‘RocknRolla’ could emerge.

  3. Ian Syson says:

    The (ahem) publisher felt that the blurb should have been ‘Bazza McKenzie meets Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on the football field’ but was overruled by the distributor.

    Crio, what’s with the offer to lend the book out when the (ahem) publisher will offer the book to Almanackers for $30 (incl p + h)? or $25 (cih) at the cricket match.

  4. Adam

    Thanks for the review, loved it. No book is perfect (at least, no book written by me so far) so I won’t take issue with any of your criticisms. But by way of small explanation, there is a tradition of totally over the top football stories in Britain (eg, Roy of the Rovers; Billy the Fish) – generally for kids – and that’s where Mr C is coming from. Mr C is a darkly comic Roy of the Rovers for adults – it is just barely plausible.

    I think you are wrong on one point though – women love it. In fact, all the best feedback so far has been from women, which is a major surprise. I certainly didn’t set out to write chick lit so that’s a mystery. I met a female lawyer who’d read it (said she hated football and didn’t really know why she’d even picked it up) and told me it was the best book she’d read in years. I asked her why women might like the book (because this had become a bit of a constant theme) and her response was priceless. “All the female characters are really strong and genuinely have an impact on the plot…they’re not the decorative sperm receptacles you usually find in books written by men.”

    When the book is reprinted, that’s going on the back cover.

  5. Mr. Cleansheets, thanks for the comments. Yep, you’re spot on, no book is perfect – can speak from experience. And once it ends up in the hands of the reader, it’s theirs, to do as they like with, loving, hating or treating it indifferently.
    Interesting to read of your experience with female readers. I’ll be testing it out with my main hug asap.
    Will we get a return run of the BUFC and Eric playing off in Europe one day? And a movie of Cleansheets?

  6. I’m well into the sequel – Senor Cleansheets. You might remember that BUFC had qualified for the Europa League and there were a couple of unresolved threads as far as the baddies were concerned.

    As for the film, I’m talking to a producer next Friday, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Mind you, everyone says how much they’d love to see the film so…maybe one day. Have you checked out the little film on the website?

  7. Query the refs credentials in that final!!

  8. Senor Cleansheets – what an excellent idea to take Eric and the BUFC to Europe. The BUFC playing St. Pauli in the final of the Europa Cup? How romantic that would be – football the winner! And hopefully you’ll be celebrating the beauty of Barca!

  9. Aah well…can’t really say too much about it. But as Eric goes to some of my favourite places in England in Mr Cleansheets, he also goes to many of my favourite places in Europe in Senor Cleansheets. One of my favourite places is certainly Barcelona, but the problem is – while it might be one thing to put a mythical League 2 side in the Europa League, it is stretching credibility beyond impossible limits to include Barcelona. They’d be in the Champions League surely!

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