Your Show review by Ashley Hickson-Lovence – from the side of the referee who broke all the rules | fiction
JSure, Urgen Klopp’s Liverpool may still have their say, but Manchester City look set to win a sixth Premier League title since the club was bought by the Abu Dhabi royals in 2008. ‘imagine all of this making sense at the turn of the century, when City were out of the top flight and led by Kevin Keegan, who could be found blaming another cup exit on a red card from the referee at the 27th minute. “People should write about Uriah Rennie,” he fumed to reporters after the game, “because that’s what he wants.”
One can imagine the joy with which Ashley Hickson-Lovence seized on these words for the epigraph to Your show, a moving and stylistically unorthodox novel that aims to do just that in fictionalized the life of Rennie, the Premier League’s first black referee. Told as a second-person montage of urgent scenes, it’s a nervous psychodrama fueled by ambition, envy, doubt and ego, cutting from his Jamaican childhood and 1970s youth in a realm difficult from Sheffield to the highs and lows of a pioneering career forged in a new era of professionalism for officials amid the sudden, Sky-fueled glamor of the 1990s.
Hickson-Lovence recreates all the talking points that started a thousand phone calls, from when Rennie broke FA protocol to take Roy Keane away from an opponent he was about to hit to the red card which he gave to Alan Shearer, on the striker. 100th appearance for Newcastle: the first in a series of clashes that left the England captain (as fond of an elbow as Rennie loved a card) mischievously wondering aloud if the referee was pursuing a vendetta.
These and other moments are told in insistent, fragmentary beats that fuse You are the Ref (“Should you caution [Neil] Roudock? Should we warn [Ian] Wright? Should you book both? ”) with freestyle poetry and a blow-by-blow match description that talks about endlessly rewound YouTube footage, not to mention quality time with David Peace red or deada model for biblically iterative Hickson-Lovence prose.
As in Peace’s novel, the method of composition seems so basic that it really shouldn’t work, and yet it does, not least because Hickson-Lovence understands the value of ambiguity to its fundamentally festive enterprise. Although it is part of the book’s purpose to dissect the caricature of Rennie as a blissful attention-seeker (the title picks up on an infamous incident in which a stadium announcer sarcastically greeted fans after half-time saying, ” Enjoy the second half of the Uriah Rennie show”), he clearly takes a delightful delight in playing devil’s advocate for more Keeganesque views too: “Auf Wiedersehen, fart,” Rennie thinks, when Shearer finally takes his retirement.
Those scuffles with Shearer, along with Rennie’s dream of overseeing an FA Cup final, add a page-turning dynamism as well as emotion once the injury-plagued Rennie also hung up his boots in 2008, just when petro-dollars started pouring into the Game. “men…in overpriced PSG tops yelping about Mbappé,” but the bittersweet air above this bold and powerful narrative experience probably has more to do with things that haven’t changed, given that the first black referee in the Premier League is always the last.