3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)
Reginald Hill (1936-2012), best known for his crime and mystery novels, wrote two science fiction works under the name Dick Morland. Albion! Albion! (1974) charts the rise of fascism in the UK. The twist to the standard formula? The four main football clubs (Athletic, Wanderers, United and City) depose the government. The football games are long disbanded. Instead, each team’s supporter groups, managers, insignia, and chants become vehicles of fascist ideology.
As England devolves into tribalism and turns away from its European neighbors, the hooliganism–once played out in the stadiums and in pubs–pours out into the trash-filled streets. Now life is the game–and everyone wants to be a striker (“n. an active member of the main security force of one of the Four Clubs”). Even in moments of triumph and glory, relegation (“often euphem. For beat unconscious, murder”) looms over the horizon!
In a routine trip to cover the Sudanese war, Whitey Singleton, a British expatriate journalist based in America, returns to his home country after a “highly efficient hi-jack” (10). The last time he barely escaped with his life. And now, as a vehement critic of the regime in the foreign press, he’s even more an enemy of the Four Clubs.
Whitey finds himself in a holding cell with the Assistant Manager of the Wanderers, Mr. Chaucer, and the abused female plane hi-jacker whom he calls Hydrangea. Chaotic adventure sequences–dramatic escapes, riots, and rendezvous with one-time revolutionary pals—build to a meeting with the sinister cabal of Four Club managers, who seem to all be in on a transformative scheme that might bring England out of its violent malaise… or plunge the survivors even deeper into the mire and muck.
Each chapter begins with extracts and source materials from the “Fifth Series of Richard M. Nixon lectures in Modern History” at Yale University. These sections range from lists of New English terminology to interview transcripts that chart important news stories that lead to the takeover by the Four Clubs. The documents form a source trail, the fragments a diligent journalist or historian might weave together into a narrative.
When I tired of the plot twists and intrigue, I found myself looking forward to the excerpts as they create a vibrant backdrop to the events that transpire.
Here are a few highlights from Hall’s dictionary of terms (14-15).
“Nonleague, a. Below standard; finished; knackered.
Relegate, v. t. Demote (often euphem. For beat unconscious, murder).
Striker, n. active member of the main security force of one of the Four Clubs, usually known as the First Team. But also used for any member of the disciplinary cadre of a Supporters’ Club. (Fr. Obs. Slang, one whose purpose in the game of football was to score goals).
Supporter, n. Member of the myriad clubs formed to pledge support to the Management of one of the Four Clubs (N. B. These Supporters’ Clubs range from mere social centres to hotbeds of fanatical extremism, especially in the universities).”
Albion! Albion! also contains a geopolitical backdrop that in a post-Brexit and Trump west has frightening parallels (reviews written earlier in the decade dismiss the premise as outlandish). Both England and the United States inhabit an increasingly isolated world. After the “Hyperion series of nuclear tests in outer space,” the United States finds the only European power that acknowledges them is “new fragmented” Britain (39). And England, in its state of violent disintegration, finds itself ignored by the European Parliament.
The violent state of disintegration influences the landscape itself. The cities, scarred with signs of ancient riots (34), manifest “the steady encroachment of shabbiness” (123). Slum clearance, common in the 80s, turns into slum-creation (123). Universities, hotbeds of supporter clubs, are but empty husks where infrequent lights illuminate classes on club history and the finer points of mob tactics (95).
The best scenes in the novel involve confrontations between supporter clubs. Whitey finds himself caught up in the mob mentality: “the physical contact, the rhythmic movement, the insistent chants, all combined to give a sense of belonging to an irresistibly powerful group” (76). In the most powerful and memorable sequence in the novel, local Strikers harangue Hydrangea on an elevated platform surrounded by partisan hooligans in an attempt to get her to make a “public confession” of her “crimes against the Club” (97). Whitey’s companion describes their interrogation techniques: “They take her out. Show her the fire […]. Then she’s shoved back inside with just the Committee. No one else. complete quiet. Gentle questions. That’s when they break” (103).
Nonleague plot moments aside, Albion! Albion! contains an inventive premise, hilarious repurposed football lingo, and insightful observations on the nature of tribalism and isolation.
Recommended for fans of 60s/70s British dystopian fiction.
For cover art posts consult the INDEX
For book reviews consult the INDEX
For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX