By Nicholas Dean.
Coventry. 1973. The first day of the school summer holidays. Phillip Knott is 14, a superb natural swimmer and a die-hard Leeds United fan. Phillip has entered a competition in his favourite comic which, incredibly, leads to him receiving a short letter from his all-time favourite footballer and Leeds legend, Billy Bremner.
After he is dumped by his girlfriend in favour of an older boy, Phillip writes back to Billy for advice, and gradually an unlikely pen pal friendship develops between the pair, which helps Phillip navigate his difficult home life on a neglected council estate on the outskirts of the city.
Phillip's dad is a lorry driver, involved in some shady deals and frequently unable to control his temper at home, while his mum is losing her battles with him and with her depression. Philip does his best to protect his younger brother from the arguments and violence and to keep his older sister from shopping his dad and walking out.
The only things that keep Phillip going are his swimming and his letters from Billy, and as Leeds United stretch their unbeaten run from the start of the season to twenty nine games, and Phillip gets to try out for the best swimming team in the city, the pressure on both boy and footballer mounts. But in their unlikely friendship they both find unexpected support and wisdom.
If you loved Spangles but hated your paper round then this is the novel for you. A funny, kind and moving novel which evokes its setting and era with detail and warmth.