Soldier's Game by James Killgour is one of Floris Books' "Kelpies" series aimed at younger readers. Ross is an Edinburgh schoolboy suffering from a lack of confidence after Bruntsfield Primary School's football team suffers another humiliating defeat: a defeat for which he blames himself after tripping at a critical moment and losing a scoring opportunity. Ross's parents and sisters have little interest in football and the only person he can talk to is his gran, Pat, who always makes him hot chocolate after the Saturday games.
Pat lifts Ross's spirits by taking him into her loft to retrieve a wooden chest, which had belonged to her father, Jack Jordan. Inside are a pair of high quality leather football boots and an old fashioned strip for Heart of Midlothian FC, one of Edinburgh's football clubs and the team that Ross supports. Ross had no idea that his great-grandfather had been a footballer, still less that he played for Hearts, and as Ross later goes through the press cuttings also in the chest, Jack Jordan's story begins to emerge.
As the reader progresses through the book, the two stories of Ross and of Jack Jordan begin to intersect with a third. Jack Jordan played for Hearts in 1914, and increasingly the impact of the First World War becomes the dominant theme. Jack Jordan is a fictional character, but the story of Heart of Midlothian's players and fans joining up en masse to become the 16th Royal Scots, or "McCrae's Battalion" after its founder and colonel, Sir George McCrae, is very real. With his Hearts teammates, Jack Jordan undergoes military training in Edinburgh while still attempting to play professional football, and as a result Hearts lost the 1914-15 League Championship to Celtic by four points. And then the 16th Royal Scots went to war, and became involved in the start of the battle of the Somme in July 1916.
This is a very well paced and plotted book, and the different strands are nicely entwined and equally nicely resolved at the end. What starts as an account of a schoolboy's enthusiasm for football builds into much larger themes. The book concludes with a Q&A interview with the author and a section of background information about the World War I, about the Battle of the Somme, and about Heart of Midlothian FC.