Shots in the Dark by David Kynaston review – Trump haunts a troubled sporting diary

The historian and Aldershot Town fan’s record of the 2016/17 non-league football season is a bit of an own goal

The non-league football club Aldershot Town and the ominous ascension of Donald Trump don’t appear to have much in common, yet they happen to be the twin obsessions driving David Kynaston when he decided to keep a diary of the 2016/17 season. This country’s most accomplished contemporary historian, Kynaston, born in 1951, is also a lifelong fan of “the Shots” with a memory for games, names and anniversaries that has surely earned him his badges as a fully licensed football anorak.

Why a diary? For one thing, Kynaston uses them a lot for his research, and thinks that – like David Cameron’s answer to why he should be PM – he’d be “rather good at it”. Being a diary-keeper for 20 years myself, I was keen to know if he could justify that little boast. One essential requirement, in my experience, is stamina, and as someone who has slogged around the country as a supporter for 60 years Kynaston doesn’t look short of puff. He’s also got the diarist’s gifts of curiosity and enthusiasm, albeit for a throwback vision of football – that prelapsarian era of muddy pitches and wooden rattles before money tore the game away from its traditional roots. Indeed, much of the book is a cri de coeur for a lost England, not just in football but in civic architecture, community spirit and public integrity, and for all that he deplores nationalism, he recognises in himself a “Little Englisher” with a patriotic love of “green Sussex fields”.

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