Book Review: “The Hooligan’s Game”
By Wes Clark
The Hooligan’s Game by Guy C. Enderle, 2006, 331 pages, published privately, copies available via http://thehooligansgame.com
Described by Enderle as “a rugby novel,” it is perhaps more than that. It may be the very first American rugby novel, that is, a novel specifically about American rugby and not, say, a murder mystery dealing with men who play rugby (as was the case with 1998’s Caveman Politics by Jay Atkinson). There was also a collection of short stories dealing with rugby published in 2000, Sevenacide by Robert Shuster, but I think The Hooligan’s Game is the first American rugby novel. So congratulations to Enderle for being the first to market!
The story begins with an alumni match, and then proceeds to an extended flashback narrative of what the alumni players were like as college students. The main protagonist is a fellow named Little John, who becomes a prop for the American University First XV after being recruited by a prop nicknamed, appropriately enough, “Prop.” Slowly but surely college rugby insinuates itself into his life, and he is befriended by the delightfully eccentric characters who make up most rugby clubs. By the conclusion of the tale a tragedy knits them together as friends. The story reminded me somewhat of the excellent 1978 surfing movie “Big Wednesday” in that both works deal with enthusiastic sportsmen, the passage of time and long-lived friendship.
The characters and situations are amusingly written, and are instantly recognizable by anybody who has ever played rugby. The AU ruggers say things you’ve heard countless times – each chapter begins with a common rugby saying - and they find themselves in situations that American ruggers commonly find themselves. (Mostly dealing with beer drinking, illegal and/or immoral stuff.) The Hooligan’s Game is nothing if not raunchy, and while I cannot speak authoritatively since I discovered rugby well into middle age, it seems to portray the college rugby scene authentically. Since most Americans learn the game while in college, this work should therefore have a wide appeal for American ruggers. It should also serve to give an insightful look into the American rugby scene for readers in the major rugby nations, many of whom probably cannot envision the game without established clubhouses, sponsorship and wide recognition. The Hooligan’s Game depicts what is, for the vast majority of American players, very much of an amateur sport in an age of global professionalization.
It’s a great read and one that I will not soon forget. As I finished it I thought, “Finally, we have our own novel!” The assault on the soccer player’s dorm is a memorably funny chapter, as is the alumni match that forms the wraparound story and provides the work with much of its heart. My only complaint is a need for a second round of proof reading and editing. (At one point Enderle has a wildly creative phonetic spelling for the word “apocalyptic.”) For those who judge a book by its cover - we all do it - the cover art, frankly, makes the work look appear more amateurish than the text actually is. For a second edition, I suggest a title using a collegiate block font, with a good close up image of some muddy rugby action.
It’s a tribute to Enderle’s familiarity with the rugby culture he portrays, and how ruggers share things amongst themselves, that he includes an admonition to “Buy your own copy!” on the back cover. You should.
Postscipt: Guy Enderle plays for the Washington (D.C.) Irish Old Boys side, the Wild Geese, whom I have played a number of times. I probably scrummed down with the author. His descriptions of scrums are very accurate.