Soldiers Game

Soldiers Game; James Killgore; Floris Books; July 2011

Book summary(taken from Amazon UK): Ross is fed up with being on the losing side, as Bruntsfield Primary football team suffer another humiliating defeat. But after football practice each week he goes to visit his grandmother, and this week she has a special present for him. Pat digs out a pair of old football boots and strip which belonged to her father, who once played for Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Ross is amazed that his great-grandfather, Jack, had played for the famous Hearts. As he finds out more about Jack, an incredible story unfolds — a tale of Edinburgh’s young heroes and a battalion of footballers and fans who fought in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme. Based on the true story of the 16th Royal Scots, otherwise known as the ‘Heart of Midlothian Battalion’, this moving book brings a fascinating moment of Scottish history to life. Jim Killgore interweaves the present day life of an ordinary football-mad boy with a story of young men who were sent to war. He focuses on the friendships that develop as the lads play football and learn to become soldiers together, making this remarkable story enjoyable and accessible for young people.

Literature for Lads review: 
Soldiers Game is a great little book which cleverly combines football and World War One, and in particular the story of the famous (in Edinburgh at least) ‘Hearts Battalion’ which fought at the Battle of the Somme. Killgore cleverly brings together the present day life of Primary 7 pupil Ross with the story of his Great Grandfather, Jack who not only played for Hearts but who also served his country.

This book had me the hooked from the end of the 1st chapter when a mysterious box is rescued from the attic.  The box once belonged to Ross’ Great Grandfather, Jack Jordan.  Among the items in the box are newspaper cuttings and a Hearts football top, belonging to Jack.  Football and Hearts mad Ross is amazed to discover his Great Grandfather played for Hearts and he endeavours to find out his story.

Jack’s story unfolds at Ross’regular Saturday morning visits to his Grandmothers.  However it’s soon Jack’s voice that we hear and not that of his Grandmothers. His story is absorbing, telling how a team of footballers who at the start of war were favourites to win the Scottish Football League, instead ended up in the trenches together along with players from many other Scottish teams. It’s fascinating to watch the story unfold as Jack and his friends go from team mates to comrades in The Great War.

The descriptions of both the football and the battlefield in the book are excellent. Killgore writes in a way which allows us to create our own pictures, whether that be of a goal being scored or of a British Trench on the Somme.  He also touches on a number of interesting points in the story but it is never in a heavy ‘text book’ style and this is one of the many reasons why this book will appeal to young people.  In particular the issue of cowardice is one that he handles sensitively and in a completely nonjudgmental way. Many people at the time felt that young, fit and healthy footballers should have been out in the trenches much sooner than they were but this was a contentious issue and Killgore acknowledges this.

No matter what team you support you will be sure to enjoy this book.  It’s engaging, moves along at good pace, and tells a thoroughly interesting story.  It’s a must read for any football fan – however be warned there are no mega-rich Prima Donna’s in this novel.

Marks out of 10: 7

For more information on James Killgore visit here

Information on the ‘Hearts Battalion’ from the official Hearts fc website here

This short video gives some more background information to the book…