Offside Stories: An anthology of poetry and short-stories reflecting on the beautiful game

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Offside Stories

An anthology of poetry and short-stories reflecting on the beautiful game

This anthology was published as part of the exhibitions: The Pride and the Passion at QUAD, 26 May - 7 September 2014

Edited by Sarah Kennedy, Peter Bonnell & Michael Sargeant © 2014 QUAD, Market Place, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3AS All written works © the authors All images © and courtesy of The Derby County Collection, except for image on page 4 © and courtesy of Ian McMillan and Adrian Mealing. All opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily of the publisher. The written works in this anthology were selected from a world-wide ‘open-call’ competition titled ‘Offside Stories’. The judges for the competition were celebrated poet Ian McMillan and Derbyshire-based writer, editor and publisher Alex Davis.


Introduction by Ian 4 Offside Stories: The 5

First-Half: Brockville by Morgan 6 Scatter My Ashes At Claggan Park by Thomas 7 Injury Time by Craig 10 In The Top Tiers by Thomas 11 Dandy by Stephen 13 They’re Going to Beat You by Katie 14 The Loving Feeling by Phil 15 Football by Sheila A. 17

Second-Half: Debut by Raymond 18 Maine Road by Lee 20 Rams v Owls by Adam 21 One Summer by Lee 24 John Barnes by Ben 27 Neutral Ground by Carol 28 The Tribe by Sian 31 This Magic Moment by David 32 Bell’s o’ the Baw by Char 35 Boghead by Stephen 36

A football match is like a poem; it has a narrative arc, it gives you images you’ll never forget, it makes you want to see the world in a different journey, it moves inexorably from the start to the finish and interesting and amazing things happen along the way. I’d like to read more football poems like the ones in this collection; poems that try to get to the heart of what football is and how poetry can reflect and celebrate it, and I’d love to see a narrowing of the gap between sport and art because, in the end, they’re both aspects of human endeavour and they can both make you sweat and gasp.

Ian McMillan


Offside Stories The Winners

The results are in - our thanks to all who entered Offside Stories. Reading each submission was a pleasure and we are delighted with the final selection. Thank you to our judges, Ian McMillan and Alex Davis. They had tough decisions to make.

Poetry Third Place: Boghead by Stephen Watt. “A lot of football poems aim for a kind of celebratory nostalgia but go wide of the post. This poem nails it, straight down the middle, the rhythm and yearning of the language are completely spot on.” Second Place: Bell’s o’ the Baw by Char March: “I like the boldness of this, the uncompromising use of language, the way that football and sound are conjoined to make something majestic and moving.” First Place: John Barnes by Ben Wilkinson: “a truly accomplished piece; packed with craft and hard work and revealing the way that football can be a prism of history and, yes, a conduit of passion and pride.”

Short Stories Third Place: This Magic Moment by David Leicester: “I really thought this story was something different from the remainder, first of all exploring women’s football and secondly being a piece at heart about relationships. The match itself is a sort of metaphor for the couple, and the understanding or lack thereof that exists between them. Another powerful piece from what was a very strong shortlist.” Second Place: Scatter My Ashes at Claggan Park by Thomas Clark: “This piece captured so much in a short space of time – there was a great sense of characters coming through, and the sense of the dilapidated and abandoned football ground really pervaded the whole story. The mood was one of longing and hanging on, and that sense was put across really subtly. An excellent story from start to finish.” First Place: Neutral Ground by Carol Farrelly: “This story really brought to life the tragic events of Hillsborough, and the use of the time stamps and short paragraphs was very effective in showing just how quickly things turned tragic that afternoon. The writing was sharp and spare, using a careful choice of language to great effect, and more importantly it did something short stories are so good at – providing a real emotional clout. Brilliant stuff.” 5


Morgan Downie

Unbowed by their banishment to the away end, that uncovered crucible of decayed foundry brick, the opposition support, gobshite presences fresh from their corroded Fiestas, unfurl their banners and, cans in hand, perform an ironic lower division mexican wave, catcall our soft southern drizzle, our slow hand clap. We huddle together, parka’d like yaks in the dreich afternoon that is December. I will not leave this brief warmth to brave the toilets, the awful chasm of cracked cement, frozen rivers of urine cake, nor will I join the queue of iron-stomached hardies who dare a pie, better men than me, who only stands and shivers. Goalie, you’re nothing but a yellow ball of fluff, one of the terrace stalwarts erupts, a remnant from days when creativity rather than crudity ruled the chant. The goalie leans disconsolate against the nearside post, the canary of his jersey, a maillot jaune of victory in any other sport, sags under a slurry of rain. The ball idles in midfield, that bone on bone zone of the late tackle, rolls slovenly across the centre circle mud, before an agricultural punt forward, the baited breath hail mary of the long pass, connecting with the our striker’s head like a butcher slapping a side of meat. The ball is an arc and the goalie an instant between stillness and movement, a blur that could be Boccioni, gloved hand palming over the bar then, looking upward to his terrace tormentor, grins to desultory applause. Aye, good save son. And we too clap our mittened hands, playing our part, the game rather than the man.


Scatter My Ashes At Claggan Park Thomas Clark

There had been bonfires down at Claggan Park before, plenty of them. Every year when the inspector was due, the entire committee of Fort William F.C. would be there the day before, hauling out from the clubroom cellar great armfuls of rubbish – programmes of games that never happened, musty rolls of scale plans, application forms half filled in. The huge sheets of plastic from the wholesale cans became makeshift dollies for towering heaps of rubble, which were dragged by one corner to the edge of the ground and set alight. The chairman, Alan, used to sit there half the night watching them burn down. Health and safety, he called it, but even when the night winds picked up and blew the bonfire straight like a cape, there was nothing of value within its fiery lick – only the deserted ticket booth, itself stuffed with foul-smelling carpet, and the little chairman on his little chair, his arms hanging limply by his side. Long into the night Alan sat there in the cold shadow of Ben Nevis, the mountain with its head in the clouds, listening to the noxious sizzle of the plastic and the planks of wood popping their red-hot nails. When the caretaker, Dougie, arrived first thing the following morning, Alan was still there, asleep by a pile of embers. His blazer was spread on his chest like a quilt, and his face was writhing in its dreams. As their cars pulled in to Claggan Park that day, none of the committee members were looking forward to the ceremony with much enthusiasm. They had all gone to the funeral, and the reading of the will, just in case, but they had always found Alan’s earnestness deeply depressing, especially now he was dead. It was just like him to have come up with something as chronically daft as this. As they stood around the car park in their various approximations of formal dress, the silence crinkled with the cellophane from fag packets and the snapping of their lighters. When Dougie arrived with the urn buckled in to his passenger seat, they stubbed out their butts on the wooden fence and chucked them into the grass. Right, let’s get this show on the road. They had briefly thought about just emptying it in the car park, but that was right out. He had been quite specific about it, the nurses said – on the pitch at Claggan Park, right in the centre circle. Auld Ronnie the groundsman had been furious. It’d damage the soil, he said. Encourage moles. As they plodded out onto the pitch, there was little reason to think the moles needed further encouragement. Great eruptions of dirt piled up everywhere in frothy, cow pat pyramids, leaving giant divots loosely filled with handfuls of sand and soil. The grass had withered badly, and the wind whistled around them as they walked, shivering the distant scaffolds of the goals. The stand, as usual, was empty. Well, let’s get this over with. 7

When they reached the centre of the pitch, Ronnie, who had insisted on scattering duties, looked around for a suitable patch of grass. The committee members stood with their hands in their pockets, their blue faces chittering with cold. Finally Ronnie found an acceptable spot, a bald patch where little further damage could be done, and started to unscrew the urn’s lid. Anybody want to say a wee word? he asked. Aye - hurry up, Ronnie, it’s freezing. There were a few half-hearted laughs. Right yin’s in the urn, anyway. If he was here the noo we’d be twenty minutes listening to him. He meant well, Dougie said. Finally, the lid was off. Ronnie peered into the open urn like a biscuit tin. It’s there right enough, he said. Will I just… He tilted the urn slowly towards the earth, and shook it. From the black hole, a solid clump of sludge oozed slowly forth and landed on the grass. They stared at it in dismay. Ronnie, you’re meant to chuck it up in the air! That’ll be shining bright! Ronnie snapped. There’s something no right there! I’m no touching it! It was true. Something, somewhere had gone badly amiss. The fist-sized lump on the ground looked more like a molten heart than ashes. It trembled slightly as it clung to the fallow grass. Somebody gonnae get a broom, then? A few of them murmured uncertainly. We cannae just sweep him up, someone said. He was a boring wee fart right enough, but he deserves better than that. Murmurs again. A mobile phone buzzed in someone’s pocket. Well, noo whit? 8

Well, noo whit? They looked down at it again. It was as solid as ever, though here and there the odd flake unpeeled from it and blew off in the wind. Look, it’s starting to break up a bit. If we leave it overnight, the wind’ll sort it oot. Aye, long as it disnae rain. They looked up doubtfully at the sky. Well, there’s nae telling. But us standing here’s no gonnae change things. Silently, they began to drift off from the field. With distance creeping in their spirits rose, and they talked about the football news at other clubs. It was the weekend of the cup final and most of them had tickets. Whit aboot it, Dougie? We’ve got a spare, if you’re interested. Dougie shook his head. Too much to do here, pal. Enjoy it, though. One by one the cars all pulled away, reversing from the grass into the car park mud. When the last of them had gone, Dougie swung closed the rusty gate behind them. It hung loose on its only hinge, one of the many long-term projects they’d just never got around to, like the disabled toilets, or the kitchen sink, or the fire safety plan. Aye, it was true enough, Dougie thought. There was a lot still to be done. He picked up a folding chair and walked to the centre circle.


Injury Time Craig Lambert

Dad tugs a hand towards the turnstiles my eyes, still fixed to the pitch hope to salvage a point. His point was always about the opposition crowds, noise. Said leaving before time saves time. And it’s only one match he’d say as he lit another and another; another drag, another draw. No car park here, but the hand tug has resumed forty years later - still our silent semaphore makes its point into a crossbar. Now he’s a corner flag and these bedsheets his bright white light stretched above the pitch of the machine; until the beep, beep....bleep of the final whistle. Yes dad, I know. We were robbed.


In The Top Tiers Thomas Mead

The inside of Dad’s car is a blast furnace, and the maudlin strains of an Oasis song humming stodgily from the radio don’t really compensate. The traffic and the car horns, too, are overwhelming; but it is the eagerness in dad’s voice that bothers me most as he drums the steering wheel. He is explaining animatedly why football is and always will be the Great British Pastime, his musings replete with wild gesticulations and theatrical eyebrow-raising. To anyone else his enthusiasm would be infectious, but not to me. All I can think about is the flutter of trepidation in my guts as we edge closer to the stadium, which looms over us a few streets away. The rattle of the turnstiles, the hum of excited chatter, ardent fans’ footfalls on concrete; all these sounds echo around us, and swallow us whole. The gorgeous smell of fried food from the kiosks somehow reaches me across the churning sea of people. I yawn, hiding it behind my hand as we trudge through the hordes. Out into the sunlight again, Dad leading the way. Chanting and singing all around, so loud the floor shakes. My dad and I are on the end of a row. Good, I rationalise, for a hasty retreat if things turn ugly. Suddenly I wish we had stopped to get some chips from the kiosk, because with nothing else to occupy my attention, I will have no choice but to actually watch the game. Within seconds I decide that I hate the man sitting behind me. Straight away he starts bellowing half-remembered words to some old hymn, the melody drowned in a pool of phlegm deep down in his gullet. When the wailing reaches apocalyptic magnitude and I tell myself it can’t possibly get any louder, I half-turn my head to get a look at him. Old. Tousled white hair poking out under a woolly bobble hat. With his wispy little beard, he looks like a blustering garden gnome, snugly wrapped in a grey duffel coat despite the heat. His face is a brilliant red, and on the high notes he reminds me of a cartoon I once saw of a fat man blowing a whistle. I look over at my dad, but he hasn’t noticed, or is pretending he hasn’t. The players dashing about on the grass are little more than grey specks to us in the top tiers, but that doesn’t stop Dad leaning towards me and critiquing their every move, dissecting each gesture, no matter how inconsequential it appears. To me they are little more than a slew of drunken ballerinas sliding around in the grass, not entirely without art or skill, but close enough that my young eyes can’t tell the difference. I do giggle a bit at the histrionics of it all, and finally convince myself that we are getting our money’s worth. By the second half, though, something seems to have worn off. I look over at my dad, who is staring up at the sky. “It’s clouding over,” he murmurs. Even the old man behind seems to have mellowed. Within twenty minutes we find ourselves doused by a smattering of delicate rain and I stop hiding my yawns behind my hand. We go before the end, and when we do I steal a final fleeting glance at the old 11

man. He is leaning forward now, resting his pudgy chin on his hands. Then we traipse down the steps to the sound of muted applause. Outside the stadium, Dad is his usual self again. He smiles at me as we climb into the car, guns the engine, then starts humming along to the Oasis number on the radio as we pull away from the kerb.



Stephen Watt Seas of buses formed into a laager. Spooked police horses staggered at the sheer volume of supporters pouring through the turnstiles from miles north and south of the border. A stadium of ladybird colours were sprinkled three-quarters of a circle; a crimson horseshoe for good luck. Memories now fade to BBC camera angles but the stomach butterflies and chewed fingernails prior to when Rooney struck are as vivid and colourful as any smartphone. Traffic cone jester hats – the Flood warning signs – Anderson spitting confetti, and the candy cane spaghetti of the trophy’s ribbons. Fathers’ hands on sons’ shoulders, kisses – without permission – because this was our time; this was our competition. Beneath a blood moon and twinkling ruby stars, the stained glass sky of the north was where we belonged. and a lack of guitars in a certain Human League song played long into the night in the bars, the clubs, and the cars driving home.


They’re Going to Beat You Katie Jukes

‘They’re going to beat you.’ The Liverpool Echo, Friday 3 May 1974 With his curls, soft voice and grace, Kevin Keegan stopped my heart. Glory hung from his shoulders like wings. On the day of the big match, Shanks showed them the headline. We felt like school kids, he said, all my goals came from that. I copied his every move, wore little red shorts, a liver bird on my red shirt. There was gold in my goal scoring boots. Today, trophies mean nothing. Gerrard’s the man. Let the stars line up against us, he says, when we walk out to the sea of scarves the big boys can win, as long as I get my cash. You can keep your silver saints. Sell out I may be, but stupid I ain’t.


The Loving Feeling Phil Juggins

Like Wednesday, like Everton, and more often than not like Spurs, I love us because we’re proper. So what if our DNA has seemed for years to be hewn from a giant block of Wensleydale? It’s part of the essentia of the club - something in our marrow - another thing to learn and love. “They’ll beat Arsenal one week,” my gran once told me, “and lose to Salmon Tin Rovers the next. Always have done. But they’re a grand old side.” We’re Nottingham Forest, the club that can alchemise any glimpse of promise into a sprawling, thousand-toothed crisis. I love it because, for all the high-piled embarrassments, we’re Proper. It’s like wealth, or that joke about the American cities in which you can legitimately feel ‘The Blues’; Chicago, yes, and New Orleans, but not Minneapolis. Something that’s at once indistinct and entirely obvious. I love that we can answer the weird question of ‘properness’ so decisively. Chelsea fans couldn’t. I love the man who gave us things to remember; he is eternally, definitively ours, no matter what the Derby supporters might tell you. Brian Howard Clough - a SillitoeChurchill hybrid, equal parts Arthur Seaton, Horatio Alger, and Han Solo - who delivered unto us a pair of miracles. I love that just for once in this world - whilst he was managing us - a gobshite prevailed, conquering those artless, attritional types: the ones who always seem to get by on nothing more than an iron-clad force of will. Dour, and grinding. In our own lives, They always seem to win, but Clough beat Them. A very human victory. We happened to be his means of doing that. My dad had a scarf that he took all over Europe with him; when I was young, I was fascinated with it. It lived in the wardrobe in our spare room, coiled neat and cat-like atop his pair of cherry-red Docs. It smelt of rain and the cold and cheap meat, sour and funky to me, but he always maintained it was what adventures smelt like. When Brian died, that scarf was lasooed wordlessly by my dad around the gates of the Main Stand the only way he was ever letting go of it. That’s love. My own adventures have been more local. I saw the fumes of Clough’s last great side, and that was it; since then, it’s been almost two decades of unremitting rubbish. People joke about that; they say that I’m cursed. I love it though. Football can so often explain the larger business of life, of minding the widening gaps between hope, expectation, and outcome. It’s formalised something altogether more significant, bringing a kind of sense to things. Football and Forest have taught me more lessons than any one person, and the upshot is that I rarely find myself disappointed with anything. I’ve learned to treat life as I do Forest, with a judicious mix of hope and down-mouthed fatalism, and that does me just fine. It’s a lesson that I’ve loved learning, and still do today. I love the ground. Every time I drive over Trent Bridge, I can’t not look at it. It’s the 15

last thing I see when I leave the city, and the first thing I see when I come back. It’s a Proper ground - crouched on the brim of a slate-grey river, each side anchored in its own peculiar age. It sits beyond terraced houses and chippies and huge, dead factories, pigeons crowded in their guts. Walking towards it on a winter’s evening, you can see the hot, rising bruise of electric light, smearing the night sky, a halo above the rooftops of the Meadows. Sitting high in the Trent End on a sunny day, I can see out across the panelled wheat fields, past Bridgford and Radcliffe, a carpet of yellows and greens; all the way out, to a thatch of trees that cling to the bald hills of Wilford. It’s a sense of calmness and permanence that - in the midst of a game, when everything’s frantic, and everything’s in flux - might as well be another galaxy. One day, football grounds will just orbit England’s towns and cities, along with the retail outlets and the Park & Rides; they’ll all look largely the same, shouldered between a B&Q and a Frankie & Benny’s, and it’ll be a little harder to love that. These configurations of a single model, the Brit and the Stadium of Light and Pride Park and the Riverside; can they really, properly be loved? I love the other people - the ones who might share a job or a city or a life with me - who just don’t get it. Let them roll their eyes: there’s nothing in their lives that could deliver as hysterical as a last minute winner, nor an experience that could bloom as fully and as hotly in their hearts as climbing those bare concrete steps on a match day. There’s nothing in this hard and heavy life that can so entirely reset them, and allow them to believe - every week, in the face of all evidence, for a glimpse of a moment - that anything is possible.



Sheila A. Woodward Football is a fickle game, It changes with the weather. One minute your head hangs in shame, The next you cheer together. So when it’s football season And he calls you on the phone, Accusing referee of treason, Let him go and have his moan. His team wins: he’s ecstatic, Watches highlights on TV. If they lose, then they were tragic, Football’s a fickle game, you see!



Raymond Long He was ready. This was the day he had been waiting for all his life: his first professional football match. The players formed two lines, some standing still, others flexing muscles or hopping from toe to toe. There was a heavy smell of liniment in the narrow corridor. He stared straight ahead at the square opening and beyond he could see a section of the crowd in the opposite stand. He wondered why a small group of men were wearing fezzes. Feeling nervous, he folded a stick of chewing gum into his mouth, chewing rapidly to relish the fresh minty taste that washed over his tongue. The steady hum of conversation was suddenly interrupted by an excited mechanical voice from the loudspeakers. “Please welcome your teams on to the pitch!” A blaring fanfare followed, greeted by a huge roar from the assembled throng. Shouts of “Let’s go!” and “Come on, lads!” came from the players as they began to move forward. He emerged into bright August sunshine on to the lush, green pitch which was soft and springy beneath his booted feet. The clean, sweet smell of recently mown grass mingled with the bitter aroma of fried onions coming from the stands; the heady mix added to the euphoria of the moment. They were flanked by two rows of children dressed in the colours of the home team, waving flags vigorously. Another line of mascots took the players’ hands and they made their way directly towards the centre circle, before fanning out to either side forming one long line. All around was a barrage of noise. The fanfare continued unabated from the public address system. A rally of chanting took place between a bouncing section of home fans and visiting supporters housed in the adjacent covered terrace. He smiled as he caught snatches of the songs, recognising some of the names and taunts. As kick-off approached his excitement increased. He had spent many matches on the side-lines but this time it would be different: this time he would be right in the middle of the action. As a child he loved football, playing at every opportunity: he was on the school team, joined his local club as soon as he could, and eventually found himself playing in one league on Saturday morning and another on Sunday afternoon. Every aspect of the game fascinated him; its strategies, its skills, its rules. If he could, he would make football his career. He attended training courses during school holidays, becoming more specialised. He worked his way up through the leagues, from local to county level, until finally breaking into the professional game. At times his commitments stopped had stopped him being with his friends. He had to maintain fitness levels that required 18

a strict diet. He had even suffered threats and abuse during matches which may have broken a lesser man. These sacrifices were worth it to fulfil his dream and today was the culmination of it all. The mascots left the pitch to generous applause, waving and squinting as they ran back towards the tunnel. The formalities of the coin toss were carried out and the two teams swapped ends. Catching snippets of banter traded between opposing friends as they passed each other, he smiled as he took up his position. There was a noticeable lull in the level of noise from the stands. Everyone was ready. He was ready. He put the black, plastic whistle between his lips and blew sharply. The game began.


Maine Road Lee Garratt

On winter nights you’d take me to the football. Through dark, terraced streets huddled in their ruins beneath the floodlights, wrought iron hammered by men and bent to the sky. Inside, piss and beer puddled the concrete, Chanting voices ebbed and roared. I watch a far off fight, the crowd parting then surging, like seaweed in the surf. Then home, the metronome of windscreen wipers, rain battering the glass. To grow old is to slowly become a stranger. An old women drifts past unseen, still hearing the piano, voices raised in song. The tide went out a long time ago and never came back. She walks through what wreckage is left, sifting the flotsam for anything old, anything old. I still go to the football sometimes. Buy my ticket online, then sit, thousands strangely muted, watching rich young foreign men kick a ball. Above the skies darken and it rains, and, as I walk away, oil slicks the pavement rainbows in the gutter, till finally, in the cracks of the city, the Millstone, the Unicorn, I wash up, battered and gasping. Then, the floor still heaving beneath us, we sit round the fire and share our stories, clinging to the past, clutching to our pints.


Rams v Owls Adam Page

Saturday 5th February 2000 Derby County Vs Sheffield Wednesday On a dim winter’s afternoon thirty-thousand supporters descend on Pride Park Stadium warmed by the excitement of the coming match. I’d be sitting in my season ticket seat with my Wednesday born-and-bred Granddad. Wednesday like Derby were in a relegation battle this season after years of mid-table security, however unlike Derby they had sunk into the red. To me Wednesday are Derby’s biggest rivals due to the bragging rights at stake within my family. Since my first game I’d held all the rights and if recent form was anything to go by this would remain unchanged. Derby had won at Hillsborough this season and had yet to lose this millennium. I’m expecting to be rubbing Derby goals into my granddad’s face like scrubs on boots. Any confidence fled my sub-consciousness at the shriek of David Ellerey’s whistle. The Rams in their classic black-and-white playing from left-to-right up against a mustard-coloured Owls. After a few half chances, Wednesday get a corner in-front of the north stand. My stomach spins. I take my eyes off the ball to stare at the two-thousand Yorkshiremen transfixed by the opposite end of the stadium. Then they start stamping, clapping, whooping amongst a still silence of home supporters with the euphoria of taking the lead. I don’t know how it happened, but heart felt like it had been thrown off a cliff. I couldn’t face my granddad next to me, he’d either be gleefully celebrating, clapping politely to seem neutral or showing pity by keeping quiet. I don’t know what would’ve been worse to witness. 0-1 Minutes and chances pass but I’m sure we’ll hit back and be jeering at the Wednesday fans any moment. But as minutes drag by an unthinkable thought develops in my head: we’ll be lucky to draw with Sheffield Wednesday. I glance at the scoreboard to see how much time we have left; I gnaw my fingernails down as time disappears. Then, disaster. 0-2. Right in front me the net erupts, sending shockwaves behind the goal into the ecstatic Sheffield mass. As a neutral I’d have admired what a goal it was, a cleanly hit volley just outside the box but as a Derby fan it was just a pot shot from a lanky, un-prolific Sibon. My granddad suppresses his delight with a polite clap; I could never suppress such joy. Minutes evaporate as we push forward. Within minutes Strupar squeezes a header between Srnicek’s heels. 21

1-2 Present dissolves into past creating giddy levels of excitement at the prospect of a comeback. Achieving this meant; attack! CHANCE! Miss! CHANCE! Save! CHANCE! Post! We were in this game! Problem is: no defence. Donnelly picks up the ball on the halfway line and sprints into the vast open field of the Derby half. Save it! Foul him! Trip! Miss! Just don’t... NO! Donnelly strokes it past Poom, Wednesday fans bounce around like crazy. They had a third with three minutes of injury time left. They’d won. I leapt from my seat and stood over my seated Granddad and yelled “Let’s go! It’s over!” Fans were flooding out of the stadium like the driving rain drenching the turf. Granddad looks at me in disbelief and tells me calmly, “No stay, don’t leave before the end.” Granddad was being selfish, wanting to relish the win at my expense. “You don’t know what will happen,” he says. I nearly crack the seat in two as I sit down. The game slips into injury time, Wednesday resort to total defence. Probing the edge of their area proves ineffective until Sturridge darts down the right wing towards the by-line, gets an inch on the defender giving him space to loft a cross to the back post where Strupar heads it towards goal, Nolan blocks it but it falls to Burley who flings his foot at the dropping ball directing it into the net. Small Derby cheers mix with Wednesday jeers at this consolation goal. 2-3 Derby throws every last scrap of energy into a final attack. Johnson fights for the ball in the middle and lumps forward. Burley brings it down and spreads play left to Kindkladze, who curls the ball into the path of Sturridge advancing towards the sixyard box. Sturridge stretches out his foot sending the ball goalwards, but Srnicek makes himself big and the ball spins away to the left-side of the goal. Christie’s there in a flash and tries to square the ball back but Srnicek flings himself low. But not low enough; the ball strikes his underside sending it spinning towards the goal. Defenders fling themselves at the ball; one connects right on the goal-line. If it weren’t for the rippling of the side-netting nobody would have realised what happened. A scrambled mass of athletes trying desperately to direct a ball before thousands of impassioned eyes somehow led to all conscious thought being incinerated by a frenzied explosion that made people jump and scream their relief into the night! It wasn’t pretty -but it reversed all the joys of that small corner of the world instantaneously. Sheffield heads dropped like feet at the gallows while I and my team turned into a euphoric mob of happiness, liberated from misery because it was a point! A precious, priceless point in this battle to survive. Ninety minutes of mediocrity and failure forgotten thanks to three minutes of defiance. I walk out of the ground in a daze into a winter evening in the East Midlands where the rain fell down upon me, cooling the excitement circling about my being. The darkness obscuring all elements of the non-footballing world, as a mass of people 22

disappeared back into the other, real things in their lives. If I had left early then I wouldn’t have shared in this; being stuck beneath nature’s dreariest elements with only good feelings. This I have my Granddad to thank for, who probably didn’t share my joy but certainly gave me a fundamental life lesson: “You don’t know what might happen.” Dedicated to Alan Page (1934-2002)


One Summer Lee Garratt

I grew up on the edge of Rochdale in a new estate full of parents fleeing Manchester for a garden and some fresh air. We were the first kids to wander the maze of avenues and cul de sacs. It was all ours, and in winter we sledged down the streets while summer saw us on skateboards scabbing our knees on the perfect, smooth tarmac. Always though, there was football. One hot day after school we went to play as normal. As we crested the small rise that backed onto our pitch there, behind the goal, sat a group of older lads. This was unusual; they normally hung around on the green next to the pub. We started to play on the other side of the field. We knew them. We knew there would be trouble. Eventually one of us mishit the ball and I walked over to collect it, almost relieved to start with whatever was coming our way. ‘Can I have the ball?’ ‘Fuck off eh’ said one of the group. He got to his feet and, with his beer can in hand, booted it as far as he could. I knew a few of them. Arthur was sat amongst them. He was tall and dark and had a reputation for a psychotic violence. He looked at me. ‘Fancy a game?’ ‘Yeah alright’. There was nothing else to say. The game kicked off. Most of us were better players than these lads, fitter too. But we were all younger and smaller. They ran around the pitch hooting, threatening us to come close when they had the ball. They scored goal after goal. Eventually though they started to tire a little and our better technique started to tell. In the best move of the game we quickly moved the ball around eventually putting a pass into Pete, our best player, who beared down on goal. Suddenly, Arthur then came looming into view and, quite calmly, just kicked through his legs as hard as he could. Pete was crying when he hit the ground. It was amazing he hadn’t broken his leg. “I saw that you dirty bastard”. I turned around and Dave was climbing over the fence from the road. Dave was our mate. Older than us but from our estate, and, until drink and girls had appeared, had always played with us. He was a brilliant football player and 24

had had trials for numerous clubs none of which he seemed to take very seriously. “I’m playing”, he announced, “Right lads come here.” We hustled around him, Pete limping over. “Right, we’re better than this lot. They’re a set of dirty bullies but they won’t do so much of that while I’m here. Come on, let’s play”. And with that the game was on. The blatant fouls stopped – they were scared of Dave, but they continued to muscle us off the ball when they could. But we were inspired. As if all the countless hours we’d kicked the ball had all led up to this. Quick passes would be met with instant control, a change of direction, acceleration. The older lads laboured around the pitch but we were better and they knew it. Dave though, I’ve never seen anything like it. He wasn’t dressed for football like us, in his tight jeans and casual trainers, but it didn’t seem to matter. Sat in midfield he totally controlled the game directing us around the pitch like he was conducting an orchestra. Time and again he’d send us inch perfect, slide ruler passes, which we’d run onto gleefully. It was Dave who scored the goal who put us in the lead. I crossed the ball deep from the corner and, meeting it at a run, Dave leaped and volleyed it in. I’ll always remember it. Van Basten scored a similar goal a few years later but Dave’s was better. As we mobbed Dave jumping all over him, Arthur and his gang all marched off. They were beaten and they’d had enough. Dave just laughed when he saw this. The sun was behind him and, for that moment, he stood tall and blonde, smiling from ear to ear. He was beautiful. And with that the game was over. We got our ball and went. Dave lingered behind. I saw him laughing with Arthur and having a drink from his can. I can still remember that walk home. A new moon hung cold and clean in the clear blue sky. The sun was starting to set but, as it did so, it seemed to catch and highlight everything, each leaf, each blade of grass, in incredible detail. We all walked together, Pete laughing as he limped, shirts damp to our bodies. Life seemed pure and good and full of promise. A Police car was outside school the next day. At assembly we were told that Dave was in hospital and did anyone know anything? Dave and the group of lads had ended up in the centre of the village. Some kind of argument had broken out and a car, with Arthur inside it, had been driven which had ended up dragging Dave two hundred yards up the street. Dave never came out of his coma and, a week later, his mum and dad turned off the life support. Arthur and the others would go to court but no one was ever found guilty. 25

We played football all that summer, and the next, until we all started to drift apart into the world of girls and pubs and work. I’ve been to his grave once or twice since then. It’s a little wooden cross with a small metal plaque, his name and a date, in the long grass at the back of the church. You could kick a ball from there, over the road, to land on the pitch we always played on.


John Barnes Ben Wilkinson

‘Those people couldn’t get under my skin.’ Brazil boasted Pelé, Garrincha and Zico but drooled the day an English lad skipped past their back five, a dancing shadow striking home to leave the hosts speechless, the National Front quiet. Years later, a Merseyside tie at Goodison – dark slurs circle the stands as malice gets hurled over touchlines, head hung as you back-heel (of all things) a banana, launched by some half-cut thug. Play on. And you would – hurtling up the wing to arch a sweeping, goal-bound ball, the Blues slumped amid a Kopite song: He stands proud, while all defenders fall.


Neutral Ground Carol Farrelly

15 April 1989 2.50pm I try to keep my feet on the ground, hold gravity, but I can’t. Grown-up men jostle at me as I follow Da through the smallest, pokiest, longest tunnel in the world. One minute I’m pushed up in the air like a posh ballerina girl; the next I’m kicking at a man’s cricket-bat legs. My cheeks suck in air and I wish harder than ever that Grandpa were with us. If Grandpa were here, he’d sling me up onto his orang-utan shoulders and keep me safe. A man’s ringed finger bothers my cheeks, but I stay quiet. Da hates me whingeing. He can’t stand that sissy nonsense. Tears are for little girls and lonely old biddies, he says. It’s time I lost my ‘poor wee soul’ face, he said yesterday. Grandpa rustled the newspaper and told him to go easy on me. Da went mental, of course, and started on about pots and black kettles. That’s why Grandpa’s not with us today. Instead, he’s standing somewhere in the pen, on his tod, munching the cheese-and-onion crisps he always crushes into fish food in his pockets. Or maybe he’s still outside the stadium, lost in all those long wobbling streets. Sheffield. Neutral ground, Da says. Already seems like battle to me. A pair of hands lift me up amongst the squash of bodies. The hood of a green anorak, all dotted with old-man dandruff, presses against my mouth. I squirm. Oranges and a packet of crisps poke out the anorak pocket. For a moment, I think it’s Grandpa. I go to hook my arm around his neck and then I spot the cabbagey purple wart under the man’s left ear. I squirm again, fall and slither between fat bellies rumbling with pies. The ground’s almost on me when Da grabs me and swirls me up onto his shoulders. ‘All right, Joe?’ I nod. I’ve never felt so tall. 2.55pm The poor little bugger’s sniffling now. Little sobs of saliva catch on the back of my neck. He’s wondering where his grandpa is—searching for the baggy green anorak and white pointed ears. I can’t see him anywhere. There are too many bodies. A crush of bones. Joe raises his hand and peeks at his watch: he wants to have his grandpa’s lostness on a leash. It will only last so long, he thinks. Or he thinks his watch is a compass. The big hand will point him to my old bull of a father, Joe’s magnetic north. But there’s no north in here. It’s bloody bedlam. They’ve let too many of us through the gate. Bloody bizzies, herding us in here with their marshmallow-soft hands, shining their prissy silver buttons in our eyes, making like they know what they’re doing. A teenager jostles against me, as though he’s trying to bluster his way inside my skin, use my lungs as well as his own. His ear presses against my cheek, cold and leathery. Folk everywhere are swaying. We’re losing the ground beneath us. I grab Joe’s legs tighter. ‘Grandpa!’ he shouts. 28

‘Grandpa’, I realise, is a softer word than Da.

3.00pm The whistle blows and the men round the other parts of the stadium go berserk. All of us in the pen stay quiet. All the men in here are sulking. None of them are doing the mumbling, watching talk like the fellas off the telly. Nobody’s singing our song, blinding the baldy ref, shouting at Beardsley to nick us a goal. They don’t like feeling like a jumble of little Lego men. The custardy-haired man to my left suddenly tilts his head back like it’s on a stalk. He stares up at the sun. His lips have gone a goofy kind of purple. His eyes belong in a fishtank—all shiny and sad. I suck at the air again. I tighten my hold of Da’s neck. 3.05pm I can’t keep hold much longer. I try to push Joe upwards—if he stands on my shoulders and reaches up, someone could grab him from the stand above, but I’ve lost my hands. I’m buckling. Joe’s arm thrashes in front of me. The second hand on his watch twitches from one dot to the next. I watch and realise. Sixty seconds of breath. That’s all the air I’ve got left. The smallest clock face. I lift my head, imagine a snorkel between my lips, and suck at the ring of blue sky above. My eyes close. I’m running back down the tunnel. The crowd’s roar fades. I’m sailing down the tunnel but there’s no square of red terraced houses at the end. Only the whitest clouds. A streamer of sunlight. My shoulders lighten. I’m floating now. I look down on myself—a daub of feeble pink. Alone. No blonde cap on my shoulders. 3.06pm I’m falling. I’m spinning. Da, where are you? I’m sorry I whinged. Da? Grandpa? A boot stamps into my belly. My Da’s face butts against mine. Scratchy bulldog cheeks. A body topples onto me. I can’t breathe. No sky. 3.07pm Joe’s drowning. My body drowns him and I just watch from above. He doesn’t struggle. He just accepts, like flotsam. The next minute, they’re opening the fences. They drag us to the surface. A man in a green anorak flounders by a rippling fence. My Da. Joe’s grandpa. His arm reaches through the water and he grabs me just like he used to. His safe, bricklayer hands. He leaves Joe. He doesn’t see Joe. 29

15 April 2009 The newspaper drops through the letterbox. The front page unfurls. Hold tight, I whisper. All those faces swim across the floor. The egg-timer beeps. I shout ‘breakfast’ to Da and head back to the kitchen. Grasping the paper, I make for the square of light. ‘It’s all right,’ I murmur. ‘No’, Da moans. Joe lurches from my shoulders. He tumbles and disappears into the swimming, red linoleum floor. He’s drowning again. We’re still drowning.


The Tribe Sian Atkin

Pukka pies Excited eyes Bovril, beer to anaesthetise Or to disguise the jitter-twitch The angst, what if? No, no. It’s fine. Today will be our day to shine Self-lies benign A smile disguise Cast upon an open pitch. A rumble roar The boom, the drum Clatter metal shatter hum. The choir rises size and song Warrior tribe we now become Brazen shameless game’s true whore Discarded who we were before. Quicken beats thumpen pulsing strong A monochrome blood to nourish the numb. The disloyal clock ticks Why be cruel? Why antagonise? Traitorous skin pricks Solemn nods and commiser-eyes. The war cry dims Air thick with our fire Silent hymns of the pilgrims The will of the masses unite Upon a hundred and five yards of grassy grail. Our desire to aspire Our ridiculous attire Want to shoot the umpire We scream we perspire This simple old game It unstitches the tame How did a ball and a net become kryptonite?


This Magic Moment David Leicester

It’s cool, a May Saturday afternoon, dry. Sat in their seats, Ginny taps two stubs, from the tickets she’d won from the raffle at work. Will’s sat beside her, stiff, uncomfortable. Football’s not his thing. He dismisses the idea of ‘the beautiful game.’ ‘A beautiful game played by unpleasant men in front of braying spectators,’ he’d say. Football’s not Ginny’s thing either. She’d’ve given the tickets away, but it’s a Women’s Cup Final, it’s the sisterly thing to do. Fans from London and Tyneside pack the stands opposite, but there are spare seats over here. Ginny hears two men behind. ‘I reckon they’ll be late on. That nail varnish’ll need time to dry.’ ‘Hope the mascara don’t run in their eyes.’ One opens a can. Ginny thinks about shifting seats. The game starts cautiously, each side nervous of conceding an early goal, then settles into a midfield standoff, all about possession. Both defences are tightly packed and chances to move forward are hard to see. There are no real shots on goal, and, come half time, no score. ‘I think one of them chipped a fingernail,’ says one of the men. ‘Yeah, should’ve been a yellow card.’ Things warm up second-half. Both sides commit players forward. Still a goal won’t come, though both defences are stretched, and there are more corners in the first fifteen minutes than in the whole of the first half. One time the Sunderland keeper runs forward to punch the ball out of danger, only to collide with an opponent and see the ball land at the feet of an Arsenal attacker. Stretched out on the ground she’s powerless, knowing behind her is an open goal. But the centre back manages a desperate goal-line clearance, kicking the ball high and out of play. Even the men behind Ginny applaud. Her arm has been resting on Will’s and she feels it tense for a moment, then relax. He’s back in control, an outsider again, uncommitted. She looks at his face, passive, indifferent. He puts his hand over Ginny’s and crosses his legs. But then something happens. He’s alert, arched forward. He releases Ginny’s hand and grips the edge of his seat. She looks out onto the pitch, to where he’s staring. An Arsenal player is approaching the halfway line, the ball at her feet. She’s almost come to a stop, 32

the ball just trickling forward. Three Sunderland players are pelting towards her. Ginny looks back at Will. There’s a spark in his eye. My god, she thinks, he’s getting off looking at her. This is sexual. She looks at the player. Yes, she’s slim, slight even. But is she that special? Alluring, enticing? Will’s mouth is open, his neck stretched, his head jutting sideways following the action up the pitch. His eyes dart here and there but Ginny knows he’s focussing on just one player. Then it breaks. A huge roar goes up. And Will exhales, arms outstretched, ‘Wooh,’ he pants. And Ginny feels hurt. He didn’t say it to her, never turned and included her, never said anything, wasn’t that great, did you see that. She turns to look out onto the pitch, to the Sunderland goalie, cross, picking the ball out the back of her net, then over to the swarm of Arsenal players around the goal-scorer. After that, whenever she gets the ball, Will’s back straightens. Ginny’s aware of it, every time. Arsenal win, 2-1, but Ginny’s lost interest. Back in the car, Will’s in no hurry, just easing away from the ground. But once on St Alkmund’s Way, Ginny can’t keep quiet. ‘So, that girl, out on the pitch, did she have a nice arse?’ ‘Oh, Gin,’ he laughs. ‘I saw you ogling her. Admit it.’ He’s quiet for a moment. Then, ‘Look, remember that time we went to Palermo, that dance show the night we got there? There was that girl, must’ve been no more than twelve, you said she was special, you said, something about the look on her face, her poise, the way she moved. And maybe it was just a good night for her, or maybe she did have that little bit extra, but it was a moment of magic. And it happened again, just this afternoon, right there on that pitch. No other word. Magic.’ Ginny spits the words, ‘What magic?’ ‘Well, there she is, one foot on the ball. Three Sunderland players are coming for her. Suddenly she comes alive. She’s got speed, momentum. She bullies her way between two of them, then, just as the third comes up, she turns, pirouettes, changes direction, leaves them stranded. The Arsenal forwards are up with her but they know what she’s gonna do. Everyone knows. She just has the backs to get past. And the goalkeeper, hopping from one foot to the other. But here’s the thing. Here’s the moment of magic. She’s won the psychological advantage. She knows it. She’s persuaded them she’s gonna to score, through sheer willpower, and it works. The backs try to tackle, but their hearts’re not in it. Not really. They prefer to be part of her story, if only as onlookers, and the story won’t mean a thing if it doesn’t have a happy ending. That’s what I saw. Didn’t you?’ 33

No, Ginny hadn’t seen. She’d seen, written, another story, one that was untrue, one about misunderstanding, suspicion. She feels foolish, but, more than that, she feels empty. She and Will have written stories over the years, their own stories, together. But now there are two stories, separate, one fact, the other speculation. And she knows his story’ll last for him. In years to come he’ll have at least a memory of the memory of that event. Ginny won’t. She’ll recall the emptiness, the rejection, not deliberate but no less real. That’s what she’ll remember. His epiphany, her loss. But, oh, it could’ve been different, if he’d only remembered, if he’d only invited her in.


Bell’s o’ the Baw Char March

(wi’ love tae Craiggie – The Royal Blind School at Craigmillar)

Ken, whan we cam here furst, Yon baw anely hud wan bell, Soon stapped dirlin’ Even in mid-air – an’ then We wur aw staggerin’ Aroond yon pitch Like we wur fou: A wraithfu’ airmy O’ white sticks. Yestreen, oan oor dorm, Wee Alec un-sewed the damn ‘hing Gied it new harigalds: His babbie sister’s rattle; baith bells Aff the jannie’s cat’s collar; An’ wan o’ theym boxes wit Mooooooooooooos Like a cou in labour. Nou we can aye find it, Bluiter it oan an’ oan tae GOAL!!!! But heidin’ it – Ken, that’s nay joke!



Stephen Watt

Glorious, crumbling Miller Street entrance, with your skinny turnstiles causing problems for anyone with an unhealthy lifestyle. Here lay an alternative to the antidepressants. Behind the goals, we were protagonist champions in offering support, opinions, wrapped in knitted black and yellow vestments for neither warmth or comfort; our club’s stalwart ever-presents. Dead bluebottles stuck in the small stand’s windows where flakes of stale pie rained above the tunnel. Smuggled quarter bottles rustled inside pockets, suckled when constables became semi-conscious, seconds before the merciful half-time whistle. The unofficial changing of the ends; supporters exchanging insults, but the unlikeliest of friends when it came to the crackling tannoy results. We revelled mostly in the Scottish Cup upsets. Fans lived for superstitions, omens, the replication of emotions on the castle’s blazons; McQuade-twists, Gibson tap-ins, Mooney chips, Charnley explosions; whoever the opponents, so long as Dumbarton shred them into ribbons. Boghead, we lived through so many divisions until a new Millennium bulldozed your bricks. Now I keep my lovesick colours behind fastened buttons, and a yardstick of adoration for a lifetime of following Sons.