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Clive & Ralph Nicholson and Mark Metcalfe
Flying Over an Olive Grove
(Red Axe, October 2016)
  Reviewed by Chris Goodwin 
7 December 2016

Local lad does good. Scores with every team he plays for. An amazing international debut that included two hat-tricks in his first two appearances. Surely the makings of a good news story. A modern day fairytale that one in a thousand professional footballers can possibly lay claim too.

But warnings too. An addiction to gambling and extra-curricular activity that can only serve to tear families apart. A liking for the thrill... a seeking for the adulation.  A living-up to a fame that only the body can fail.

What one cannot fail to appreciate here, is not so much the wonderful times of Fred Spiksley that were always entwined with the troughs of living, is the admiration of the writing. The passion of Spiksley's football is only here matched by Metcalfe's writing and Nicholson's research.

The flow of each account of his life is like sailing down a river of knowledge, clinging on to the turbulance of emotions into an already full sea, as well feeling the joy and view as the ride slows, looking overboard into the still water, gazing upon the reflection in our own lives. Then as you dry off, its time to walk towards the next river, then sail a completely different river, heading towards the same sea. Such is the story of Spiksley's life.

Having researched the lives of some of his peers, his opponents and teammates. I well understand the intricate lives that these Victorian players found themselves embroiled in. But when one looks at the constancy of player retainment, the maximum wage, the disloyalty of the board. It is always interesting to see how each player deals with each and every issue. How they cope when their body fails for them. Do they walk and-in-hand with the sport that took up their life at an early age, or do they run? Or indeed, do they turn their back?

What Spiksley is, and rightly so, is a warning to our modern day players. A restoration of honour. A restoration of passion. But if restoration is too tightly wound, the pressure it realease when it does, will always hurt.  But more than anything, he must be a restoration of history.

Flying Over An Olive Grove is the first great working-class football story. Born at a unique moment in the history of the beautiful game, Fred Spiksley was amongst a new wave of teenagers who from 1885 onwards could aspire to be a professional footballer and dodge the inevitability of industrial labour. He became the first player to score a hat-trick against Scotland and in 1896 he guided Sheffield Wednesday to FA Cup glory with 4 goals and 8 assists during the cup run. His first goal in the final is considered by some to be the fastest ever goal in FA Cup final history.

At his peak he was the fastest winger in England and possessed total ball control. He was a player with such ability that he was able to take his club and country to the pinnacle of football during an era where his slender frame did not suit the rough treatment that was often meted out to him. With Fred Spiksley on the field no match was ever lost. Even with two broken ribs, he had the pluck and tenacity to remain on the field and score the winning goal in an epic FA Cup tie at Olive Grove, the ground where he made his name; 'the Olive Grove Flyer'. He scored over 300 career goals and won every major honour in the game, and holds the record for the highest goals-to-game ratio of any winger in the history of English football. His fame extended around the World as he became the first professional footballer to coach across three continents. In Europe he managed the Swedish national team and guided 1FC Nuremberg to the German Championship in 1927. - Amazon Synopsis

To buy - Amazon (Kindle edition)
To buy straight from Spiksley.com