Written by Paul Gadsby — London. 1966. The capital was preparing itself for the greatest sporting event in England since the Games of the XIVth Olympiad – the Austerity Games of 1948. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association had awarded the World Cup competition to England in 1960, despite rival bids from West Germany and Spain. The London of 1966 was a very different place from the near bomb-site of 1948, and just as the Swinging City was gearing up to embrace the summer festival of football, the unthinkable happened. The gold Jules Rimet trophy – the World Cup itself – was stolen, only to be found weeks later by a man walking his dog. This is much is fact. This year the World Cup competition returns, this time to Brazil and, very appropriately, Chasing The Game gives us a fictional version of events 48 years ago which have never been fully explained.
In the seamier fringes of the London borough of Hammersmith, the feel-good factor of Cup Fever has yet to permeate. Tommy Glover, hard man and gang boss has business to conclude. Accompanied by his lieutenant Dale Blake, Glover waits in a down-at-heel boozer. He is expecting one of his young soldiers to deliver a hold-all full of cash. Young Malcolm eventually turns up with the loot in one hand, but a gun in the other. Suffice to say that Blake suddenly, and bloodily, finds himself in charge of ‘the outfit’.
The irony is that Blake’s father, Joe, was in charge until he was sent down for a long stay in Her Majesty’s Hotel, Brixton. Now, Blake – a natural Number Two – must see if he is up to handling the top job. He has problems of his own. His wife is restless and feels ignored. Their only son has left home in disgust at his dad’s lifestyle. Worse still, one of the firm’s senior men – Jimmy Parkes – has his eyes on the top job, and holds Dale in contempt. When Parkes suggests an outrageous scheme to make a fortune, Blake feels he has no option but to go along with it. The plan is nothing less than to steal the World Cup from its public display case in Westminster Central Hall.
What follows is a mixture of criminal incompetence, jealousy and black comedy, which presents itself as a plausible account of one of Britain’s greatest unsolved mysteries. There are passing guest appearances from one or two legendary football players and a thinly disguised chairman of the Football Association, Joe Mears. Dog lovers will be pleased to know that Pickles, the Border Collie who found the trophy, appears as himself. Gadsby pretty much gets his period detail spot-on, although I am not sure that a middle-aged suburban housewife in 1966 would be thinking to herself that ‘divorce was a tough gig’, and someone out of work would have had to wait until the mid-70s before he could walk into a Jobcentre. These minor points aside, this is a London where the smart boys smoke Dunhills because the slimline pack doesn’t spoil the cut of their suit jackets, a Mark II Ford Cortina could just about take a man’s breath away, and Michael Caine was doing something similar to young women with his screen portrayal of the amoral Alfie.
Despite the aforementioned anachronisms, and a couple of intriguing back stories which might well have been expanded to good effect, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The prose is unpretentious, brisk, and will move the reader through the 200-odd pages with minimal effort. Gadsby has taken a real-life event that remains a mystery to this day, and provided a perfectly plausible, well-timed and entertaining fictional account.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars