Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge

Back when I was learning the rules of football watching Match of the Day with my Dad, referee’s assistants were called linesmen, time added on at the end of the game was called injury time and there wasn’t a female in sight. Not on the pitch, nor pitch-side, nor in the studio. Football was something boys did.

Later, when I started work, a colleague twisted my arm to play in a friendly against another office. It was a one-off team building event at Oldham Athletic FC’s ground. I’d never played before but I loved the game, knew the rules, was reasonably fit and now here was a chance to play at a professional ground, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll do it.

On the night, it was clear the hierarchy viewed the women’s match as the comic interlude between the ‘real’ matches the men would play. (I don’t recall the senior partner standing behind any of the male players and holding their arms to ‘help’ them take a throw-in, for example.)  Hubby, who’d played in an earlier match, had decided to move from the side of the pitch to the stands and was unsighted on a stairwell when I put the ball into the back of a net. Yes, I scored at Oldham Athletic! It was the best rush ever.

Although I would have like Hubby to witness my moment of glory, his unfortunate timing at least means I can retain a memory of pouncing on a sloppy clearance and thumping the ball past a flailing keeper, without him being able to tell me it was more prosaic in real-life.

If that leaves you thinking Bainbridge’s novel Injury Time is football-related then, no, it isn’t, and it’s unclear how the title reflects the events of the book. It could possibly be an oblique reference to compensating for lost time because the main character, Edward, has been goaded into agreeing to a dinner party at the home of Binny, his mistress, in recognition that “all he had to offer were those pitifully few hours of an evening, if and when Helen (his wife) chose to go to one of her meetings”.

Apparently Binny is based on Bainbridge herself and Edward on a tax lawyer with whom she had an affair in the late 1970s. The plot, though, is entirely fictional, which is just as well, really, as the dinner party is gate-crashed by armed bank robbers on the run. The police surround Binny’s home and a siege begins…

Bainbridge does black comedy really well and Injury Time is sharply observed and very funny – think Abigail’s Party meets Reservoir Dogs. Perhaps its age shows in parts but overall it’s easy to see why the novel won the Whitbread Novel Award in 1977.

Rating: *** Highly recommended

PS You might want to check out my reviews of two more Bainbridge novels, Master Georgie and Every Man for Himself. Master Georgie was awarded a special, posthumous Man Booker “Best of Beryl” tribute prize. Every Man for Himself won the 1996 Whitbread Novel Award

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