Review: Over the Line – Tom Palmer

It’s 1914 and Jack is making his debut as a professional footballer. But the match is marred by a demonstration demanding that the players sign up to do their duty in France. It is not long before Jack is bound for the trenches with the Footballers’ Battalion

2014 is the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War. This period of History is a rich vein for storytelling with so many personal stories hiding amongst the bloody battles. One of these stories is told in Tom Palmer’s new book ‘Over the Line’ which is based upon the true life of soldier and footballer Jack Cock.  Jack Cock scored England’s first international goal after the end of the First World War yet his story remains almost unknown in the world of football.

As the First World War breaks out Jack makes his debut as a professional footballer yet this joy is short lived as talk of sportsmen’s cowardice leads to the the formation of the Footballers Battalion and Jack swaps the football pitch for the trenches. Tom Palmer is to be commended for telling Jack’s story and transporting us back to a time when that great British pastime, football, was overshadowed by the horror of War.

The book follows Jack from his professional debut with Huddersfield Town in 1914 to his England debut in late 1919. The book contains equal amounts of action on the pitch and the battlefield. As a member of the Footballers Battalion Jack and his team mates participate in the Flanders cup, a welcome distraction for soldiers, ensuring that football remains at the heart of the novel even when Jack is on the battlefield.

Whilst writing the story Palmer visited the Somme, the scene of one of the Wars bloodiest battles, and stood beside one of his characters graves. There is no doubt that this has helped Palmer’s writing as his novel is told in a authentic and sensitive voice. With Jack we live life in the trenches, go over the top and duck for cover as yet more German shells fall around us.  And when the action moves from the battlefield to the football pitch the authenticity remains. We can hear and feel the thud of boot on leather followed by the sound of the ball nestling in the back of the net.

There is no doubt that the perceived issue of sportsmen’s cowardice was a big issue during the War. However many footballers felt pressurised by their clubs not to sign up for the War and footballers were often left to deal with difficult situations both on and off the park.  Protests and insults were common place and Palmer makes reference to these in the book. How would modern day footballers deal with this kind of decision?

This is an important book by Tom Palmer because Jack Cock’s story deserves to be heard by many people. Palmer tells the story in a clear and real voice with a strong narrative running throughout. ‘Over the Line’ is engaging, thought provoking and makes us think once again about the sacrifice made by so many in the First World War.  We will never know how many promising footballers gave up their chance of glory on the pitch to serve their country.  We must always remember Jack Cock and all the others.

For more information on Tom Palmer visit www.tompalmer.co.uk

For more information on Jack Cock click here