Source: Review copy
Publication: 21st January 2021 from Orenda Books
Danny Garvey was a sixteen-year old footballing prodigy. Professional clubs clamoured to sign him, and a glittering future beckoned.
And yet, his early promise remained unfulfilled, and Danny is back home in the tiny village of Barshaw to manage the struggling junior team he once played for. What’s more, he’s hiding a secret about a tragic night, thirteen years earlier that changed the course of several lives. There’s only one Danny Garvey, they once chanted … and that’s the problem.
A story of irrational hopes and fevered dreams – of unstoppable passion and unflinching commitment in the face of defeat – There’s Only One Danny Garvey is, above all, an unforgettable tale about finding hope and redemption in the most unexpected of places.
It’s hard to know where to begin with #OneDannyGarvey. There are many levels to this book; and it offers a great deal to those who venture beyond its grass roots football theme. I’m not a football fan, but the love for the game in its purest form shines through this book. Interlaced throughout this story is the shared joy that the poorest of communities can show when they come together through their love of ‘the beautiful game.’
And Barshaw is a poor community. It’s the end of the Thatcher era and unemployment is high. Traditional industries are dying and the service sector economy hasn’t yet reached Barshaw. The village is buzzing because Danny Garvey has come home and it looks like he’s going to take on the junior team that he once was the star of – leaving to join professional football – and though as a result of injury, he didn’t make the heady heights, he’s still a famous son of the village and they are looking to Danny to show them that the team can be great again. They have forgiven him for walking away on the eve of their cup final chances and now they need him to lift the chances of Barshaw Bridge once again.
Danny’s fortunes have been falling significantly of late and that’s why he is back at Barshaw Bridge; but he is ready to put everything he has into his old club. Coming back to Barshaw though, is more than just confronting his old football hopes and dreams. His brother Raymond is in prison; his mother is dying and his ‘uncle’ Higgy has convinced him to come home and rescue the team while making his peace with his mother.
Barshaw Juniors are at the bottom of their league – so much so that they’re lucky to be playing. And when Danny meets the players it is clear that they don’t really have any further to fall. So he sets about introducing a training schedule and trying to instil some discipline into the players; getting them to work as a team.
As he does so he settles into Higgy’s flat and slowly begins to make contact again with those he knew in Barshaw including Raymond’s wife Nancy and her son, his nephew, Damo. Damo takes to his uncle Danny and it’s clear that he loves the game of football and is something of a statistical whiz when it comes to the game. The team are impressed and Damo becomes a lucky touchstone; the team’s belief in his luck-inspiring presence is important to them all.
But even as Danny tries to settle back into Barshaw, there’s a cloud that hangs over his head every day. We know that something happened to Danny thirteen years ago and that something has caused him pain and regret ever since. Is that the cause of the black dog that hangs over him? Being back in Barshaw is causing Danny to revisit old memories.
David Ross draws a superb portrait of Barshaw and the characters that populate the village. He does so with warmth, vitality and humour and perhaps because of that we realise that Danny is the outsider; still not fitting in, not quite one of them. As David Ross uses music to introduce us to the soundtrack of these different lives, it is harder to work out quite where Danny is coming from.
This is a community that knows and looks after its own; a village where the success of the local football team is life and death and something tangible to hope for amidst a welter of broken promises and impossible dreams. This team gives the village hope and heart and something to be proud of. As Danny builds up the team and has some small successes, so we can see the pride and the hope return, reflecting the political change that is in the air; reflecting the intangible belief that ‘things can only get better’.
There’s love and laughter in this village alongside rivalry and passion and pride and in the middle of it all is a slightly off-centre Danny Garvey. David Ross writes beautifully and with real heart. His passion for this village and its people is writ large and his cast of beautifully observed characters carry their humour and their scathing wit with them to great effect.
As the team grows in confidence and makes its way up the league towards the final, we realise that Danny Garvey may not be the most reliable narrator of his own life. As the village comes together to cheer on the team, so we become more concerned for Danny and his understanding of what has gone before.
Verdict: I don’t really want to say much more but urge you to read this book for yourselves. It is raw and emotional; it packs a huge punch and it is authentic, poignant and devastating. It is as if everything David Ross has written before was leading up to this book, such is its power, strength and characterisation. There’s Only One Danny Garvey is fantastic.
David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a hilarious social media commentator, author and enabler by night. His debut novelThe Last Days of Discowas shortlisted for the Authors Club Best First Novel Award, and received exceptional critical acclaim, as did the other two books in the Disco Days Trilogy:The Rise & Fall of the Miraculous VespasandThe Man Who Loved Islands. David lives in Ayrshire.