O’Brien conjures an old Irish soccer pitch as the setting to settle an old, sentimental feud.
Although Charlie Stubbs’ family is about as tight as they come, there is friction between Charlie’s dad and his granddad. The Stubbses come from Dublin originally and now live in England, but circumstances conspire for them to return to Dublin to work in the family shop. The shop harbors some surprises, including a secret room containing a bag full of Granddad’s trophies and a prize antique ball signed by a great Irish footballer. The ball is a significant player in the story, and so are the birth and nurturing of friendships as well as the strange twists and turns of family. But what O’Brien captures so well is the aura of the game. He handles with aplomb the sheer fun of playing a game with grace, yet when he describes the now-decrepit field on which his granddad played—“the mossy and weedy Lair, with its rusted goal posts at each end,” the “patches of worn paint that once lined the legendary pitch”—he gets at the very roots of the game. O’Brien doesn’t avoid the bumps in the road but invests the story with a lightness that suggests not pursuing daunting projects is more burdensome than marching straight into them.
A joyful approach to sports—“Yiz are playing a stormer out there”—and a salute to the importance of understanding history. (Fiction. 10-14)