Footballer Tom (left) and reporter Cosmo are the unlikely lovers in Matt Cain's short story "Game On" | Headline Books

“The romance of the Cup” has become a hackneyed phrase in British soccer yet it still stirs memories of David v Goliath battles between small-town clubs and the mega-rich big boys.

Such tales spark daydreams for fans every season, but an actual romance? At a time when world affairs seem ever more overwhelming, a simple love story in sports is the sort of diversion many of us welcome.

Released in time for World Book Night on Apr. 23 — a spin-off of World Book Day that encourages adults to read more — comes a soccer tale that’s a cut above “chick lit” but doesn’t pretend to be grounded in reality either.

“Game On” is a short story by Matt Cain that swiftly introduces us to Tom Horrocks, a ruggedly handsome and athletic defender at Toddington FC, northern upstarts in the Premier League.

Cain’s own hometown club is Bolton Wanderers, a top-flight team not too long ago, and there’s more than a trace of the Trotters about the Toddies.

If his life had taken a different turn, Tom might have ended up in a “Red Hot” calendar but instead he’s been thoroughly conditioned within a dressing-room culture that has kept his own closet door closed — until now.

Tom has mentioned to one teammate, his best friend at the club, that he’s gay and the reaction was reassuring. However, wanting to be protective of both his tough-guy reputation and his daughter from a previous relationship, he’s anxious to push the door ajar any further.

We know from the few real-life stories we’ve been given of gay and bi players that the cocoon of professional men’s sports hampers them from coming out.

However, getting a glimpse of ‘the other side’ — pursuing an outside interest, an opportunity like a Pride parade, and yes, maybe reading an Outsports article — can encourage you to spread your wings.

For Tom, it’s meeting Cosmo, a reporter working for an LGBTQ website (reading this book felt a little meta for me) who’s reluctantly sent to Toddington for a media day linked to Rainbow Laces.

With his purple-dye hair tips and activist’s view, he’s not convinced by the team’s campaigning — but he is rather taken with Tom.

If you watched the final season of “Ted Lasso,” you’ll already be thinking here of the storyline involving Colin (cute Welsh midfielder at AFC Richmond) and Trent (watchful, enigmatic journalist).

Their relationship dynamic in the TV show is platonic but we’re still in similar fantasy football territory in “Game On,” with an underdog tale of league title ambitions running in parallel.

It might be a little too much like soap opera for some tastes but Cain neatly side-steps a lot of cliches and the contrasting challenges faced by Tom and Cosmo ensure the narrative maintains a high tempo throughout, just right for 100 pages or so.

LGBTQ fans will smile knowingly at much of the detail — Cosmo sitting near “two dickheads on the train” broadcasting their misogyny to the other passengers, and Tom asked to present an award at a gala where an outrageously-named drag queen is also on the guest list.

But more than anything, it’s an indulgent slice of “what if” in football that wears its gay colors proudly.

“He’s a bit of me and I really like him,” says Cosmo of Tom as their tryst reaches a thrilling end-of-season finale — and which of us doesn’t enjoy seeing ourselves more reflected in the sports we love?

Up the Toddies, and let’s hope for a book that makes our hearts soar that can sit on the non-fiction shelves some day soon.

“Game On” by Matt Cain is out now in paperback, ebook or audiobook format.