Q. What is The Victory Boys about?
A. Simple, really: Islam and football. Right?
On the face of it, yes. They’d be the two main categories I’d go with (as is probably clear from the tags I’ve been using!) Indeed, after I had told a (grown-up) friend of mine that I had written the book, and he’d read the preview at Kube, he wrote in a message,
“I have already placed an order for it. The book seems to have all the stuff I like, Islam and Football.“
But I hope that the reader will find there is quite a bit more packed into the pages, and I’ve tried to be quite subtle with a lot of the points I wanted to make. After all, if a book becomes too overtly preachy, it risks becoming something of a drag, and may neither reach nor strike a chord with its intended audience.
So, if you need subtlety… who ya gonna call?
Well… not the Ghostbusters; mosque neighbour and superhero of sociability Mr Bateman!
Mr Bateman (surname borrowed from someone I worked with in a department store during university holidays) simply needed to exist for a variety of reasons, even though one may rightly presume that he is neither Muslim, nor a member of the Victory Boys’ football team. By design, he serves a number of functions in the book which I should not like to have made more explicit by other means.
(1) Intercultural/religious ‘mover and shaker’
Mr Bateman is not a Muslim, yet the scenes in which he appears (talking to the Imam, supporting the team, attending an event at the mosque) clearly depict him as an interactive, open-minded and well-liked member of the community. He appears to be quite without prejudice. This would be of little benefit to anyone if his actions were not reciprocated; thus his friendship with Imam Munieb highlights the importance of Muslims having an involvement in their local community regardless of religion, culture, etc.
(2) Positive outlook
It is clear that Mr Bateman thinks the best of people. In his first appearance, one might expect him to chastise the boys (read the book to find out why!) – instead, we find him talking in a most supportive, empathetic and forward-looking manner. Later, it is Mr Bateman who offers an inspiring cameo contribution to a critical team talk. His words also offer an emphatic endorsement of ‘black sheep’ Saleem at a time when it would undoubtedly be difficult for (certain) others to see the good in him.
(3) A little bit outspoken…
Whilst incredibly personable, Mr Bateman is not afraid to voice his opinions. Look out for a short-but-spirited analysis of the state of education, in sharp contrast to Imam Munieb’s views on this topic! Does it matter what either man thinks, in terms of the story? Not really. But this simple scene allows us to witness two people with opposing viewpoints, retaining respect for one another and not transforming a conversation about a topic into something heated and personal.
(4) (Not) the ‘straight’ man
Comedy double acts often feature a ‘straight’ man: someone who is not meant to be funny (but often is, intentionally or otherwise). I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Imam Munieb and Mr Bateman would be likely (or willing) to appear at your local comedy club any time soon, but certainly I like to think they complement each other well in terms of humour. As you might guess, Imam Munieb is the ‘straighter’ of the two, i.e. the one less likely to realise when others – or himself! – are being funny (at least to the English sense of humour). Mr Bateman has a droll and jovial way about him and, whilst he doesn’t say anything side-splittingly hilarious in the book, one senses a sharpness to his observations.
At least two of these objectives were in my mind before I wrote a single word of the book, so… could I have achieved any of them without Mr Bateman? Possibly, but looking back, I’m very glad he came along. Every community should have at least one Mr Bateman (and ideally many more!)
Funnily enough, the friend who sent me that message has a lot in common with Mr Bateman, especially in terms of his positivity and warmth with others (Masha Allah).
Hopefully, one might become aware of other characters carrying important messages throughout the story. By normalising positive behaviour across the book’s characters, but without seeming trite, I hope Mr Bateman & co. can have a subtle but worthwhile effect on readers… of any age!Follow @imammunieb