New Peterdown novel inspired by Cambridge United’s ‘golden era’
Described as “an epic social satire, full of comedy, character and anarchic radicalism,” Peterdown is the acclaimed debut novel from Cambridge-born writer David Annand.
Set in the fictional industrial town of Peterdown, the book addresses a number of topics related to 21st-century Britain but, at its heart, it tells the story of a fan-led insurgency that ignites after the owner of Peterdown United tries to move the football club from their stadium in the heart of the community to a soulless out-of-town development.
The reason for the move is that Peterdown has been chosen as the regional hub for a soon-to-be-built, ultra-high-speed railway line and, in order to create space, something from the landscape of the town’s past will have to be demolished.
On the shortlist are the Larkspur Hill housing estate and the Chapel, home of the town’s football team. Ellie Ferguson, an architect exiled from London, is as determined to save the Larkspur as her partner, Colin, a lifelong United fan, is desperate to save the Chapel.
As they each find themselves leading increasingly passionate and opposing campaigns, their essential differences become hard to ignore. Out of this spins an epic tale – affairs are embarked upon, conspiracies are uncovered and a broad-based popular insurgency ignites.
David grew up on Mill Road and attended Parkside School and Hills Road Sixth Form College. As a hardcore fan of the U’s, who used to regularly attend games during the heady days of Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge, it is pretty obvious that the Chapel is an homage to the Abbey, home of Cambridge United.
“It took a very long time to write,” reveals David, 44, who now lives in Hackney but regularly returns to Cambridge. “I think it was a 9,000-word plot synopsis, which took a couple of years.”
Elaborating on the background to the novel, he says: “I grew up in Cambridge and I was a season ticket holder in the late ’80s, early ’90s, as a teenager and at the time when Cambridge were flying up the divisions.
“I think there is a degree to which I remember the Abbey through rose-tinted glasses. There were moments that actually only happened a couple of times but I have elevated to being the standard Saturday afternoon experience, where the Newmarket Road end would be completely packed and we sang the whole time and it felt slightly unhinged and brilliant and raucous and just full of this amazing energy.
“So Peterdown is my version of what it was like to go and watch football. Then about 10 years ago, my boss at the time couldn’t go to the Emirates [Stadium – home of Arsenal FC] and so he lent me his
“I hadn’t been to the Emirates before – my dad used to take me to Highbury a bit when I was a kid – and a friend and I went. The experience was like going to an out-of-town multiplex cinema, where it felt the whole thing was geared towards selling you this ludicrously priced hot dog.
“It was kind of inert, there was no atmosphere. This was the corporate entertainment experience. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Who would have swapped that, that I had as a teenager, for this? Nobody wants this!’.”
David believes that football is a “mass gathering of the sort that doesn’t really exist in most other aspects of life”. “We don’t have great big employers like a shipyard or a factory where literally thousands of people are employed in the same place,” he notes, suggesting football is “deeply ingrained in the psyche of Brits”.
Inspiration for the book also came, David says, from things like the first protest by Manchester United fans against the club’s owners, the Glazer family, and the relocation of Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes.
“I had this idea about a conspiracy involving a football stadium,” he recalls, “and then out of that, this kind of idea was in my head for a long time – and then I realised that I couldn’t do it about Norwich or Coventry or a team that already existed, because they already come with so much history.
“So I had to invent a town and quickly I got at least as interested – if not more – in the town than everything else, and out of that spun what became Peterdown.”
David has previously worked as an editor at Condé Nast Traveller and GQ, and has also written for the Financial Times, TLS, The Telegraph, Literary Review, the New Statesman, and Time Out.
He says: “One of the key themes in the book is the kind of competing pull between work and play, and football is obviously a great expression of play. A lot of what the book is about is what happens to post-industrial places when there is no real prospect of them being revived as industrial towns. It’s been an amazing thing to do, dreaming up your own town and its full history is just so much fun.”
We could not let David go without asking him how he thinks his beloved U’s will fare in League One next season. “I was there in 1991 for the last game of the season when we stormed the pitch after winning the old Third Division to achieve back-to-back promotions,” he says. “I can’t say I’m expecting a repeat of that... Just staying up would be a great start.”
Peterdown has received rave reviews. Tom Ball, of The Times, said of it: “Few novels quite match David Annand’s debut... so enjoyable to read: the deft and humorous telling of people trying to muddle through modern life”, while Sarah Birch of the Hackney Citizen wrote: “Annand’s narrative speaks volumes about how culture configures our relationship to physical space.”
Peterdown is available now, published by Corsair. David has also released limited edition Peterdown bookplates using old football stickers, which are available in independent bookshops, including Heffers in Cambridge. Visit davidannandwrites.com/limited-edition.