by Matt Carrell

In April 1981, ex-Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was interviewed by Shelley Rodhe on Granada TV. Alongside him in the studio was former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Shankly told the audience,Somebody said: ‘Football’s a matter of life and death to you.’ I said, ‘Listen it’s more important than that.’”

If you’ve already celebrated your fiftieth birthday you’ll have vivid recollections of when football was a simpler game. Match of the Day featured three fixtures at most, the pictures were in black & white and in the winter months, the players battled with the muddy pitch as much as with their opponents. The average first team squad was around fifteen players and most fans could name the eleven that would take the field for their team on the Saturday and probably for the rest of the season. There was no transfer window but, when someone did move, it was big news. Players stayed with one club for years, often for an entire career. We all thought the world had gone mad when Brian Clough paid a million pounds for Trevor Francis and the future of the England team was questioned when two Dutchmen signed for Ipswich Town. Surely there were homegrown players who’d be good enough.

Then came the Premier League, Sky TV and a marketing push that ensured that English football found its way onto television sets in virtually every country in the world. Football was still about glory, but more than that… it was about money.

Chairmen who’d never seen a match before they decided to plough millions into a club they’d barely heard of. Players who earned more in a week than many fans would earn in ten years. Journalists who’d recycle any old garbage if a catchy headline might make you buy their paper or click the link to their web-site. No story? No problem, they could make something up. A whole generation of fans who’d seen their first match for less than a quid wearing a scarf their mum or girlfriend had knitted for them, were paying fifty quid for a matchday ticket and at least the same for a shirt with their favourite players name on the back. Instead of waiting in hope that your team might make it onto MoTD, fans could stream the match live from the channel showing it in Beijing or Mexico City, or download the highlights straight to their smartphone. Oddly enough the only thing that hadn’t changed was the burgers on offer outside the ground. They still didn’t taste like meat.

A Matter Of Life and Death is the latest novel from acclaimed author Matt Carrell: 

Players were  Coldharbour Town has climbed from the lower divisions of English football, finally reaching the Premier League under the careful stewardship of local businessman and lifetime fan, Jack Enright. After just one season, it’s clear that even survival will require more cash than Enright is willing, or able to commit. Russian billionaire, Dimitri Koloschenko sees ownership of a football club as a means of establishing himself in the London social scene. Within weeks of buying out the reluctant Enright, his commitment is tested by the realities of owning a struggling football club.

As Coldharbour Town fights to retain its place in the top flight, a clinical killer starts to terrorise the community. Maggie Davenport leads a police investigation that appears to flounder at every turn, the local paper; under editor Toby Thomas, revels in the story of Britain’s latest serial killer and Adam Buckley is dubbed Coldharbour Town’s saviour and the “new Gareth Bale.”

In a town that appears to be in terminal decline, the priority should be to catch a murderer. It is after all, a matter of life and death. But some things are more important than that.

Football has gone completely crazy but we still can’t shake the fascination. Is it still sport played by ordinary men trying to do extraordinary things for the glory of their team? Or has it become a rich man’s toy geared only to channelling more and more cash into the pockets of overpaid players and businessmen who care nothing for the game. All at the expense of the fans.

A Matter of Life and Death is an entertaining and all too credible account of what can happen to sport when money is all that counts.

Buy it in paperbook or kindle here

Look out in the Cutter soon for a chance to win one of four copies of Matt’s brilliant book.