Archive for category Football
In all of the words I’ve churned out about 2016, I haven’t talked about football. Whilst it was, indeed, a reason to be miserable, it seemed inappropriate to mention it alongside Aleppo, Trump and Brexit. And frankly there was nothing to celebrate alongside the brilliant films, books and so on that I have recommended to anyone who’s interested.
Supporting Nottingham Forest has provided very few reasons to be cheerful in recent years. I have the advantage over my son, in that my years as a Red have included the glory years, the miracle years, celebrated in Jonny Owen’s film, I Believe in Miracles. The best we’ve seen in his years as a Red has been promotion from League 1 to the Championship, notwithstanding the odd good game along the way. We’ve appointed and disposed of many managers, some with good reason, others quite arbitrarily.
I’ve only managed to get to two games so far this season. I saw them defeated away at Hillsborough, after being one up at halftime, and I saw them beaten 2-0 at home by Wolves. The latter was quite the worst performance I can recall.
So what can I salvage from a dismal year? What reasons can I find to be cheerful or at least hopeful? The change of ownership may well prove to be positive, but we’ll have to wait and see. And whether with the new owners we have yet another change of manager, and whether that is a good or bad thing – well, the jury’s out. Should they give him time, particularly given the appalling injury problems he’s had to contend with, or has he already had enough time and failed to prove that he has a grasp of strategy or the ability to get the best out of the players?
But what I do take away from this year is not anything that happened on the pitch. It’s about what it is to support a team through thick and thin, through glory days and the slough of despond. It’s about the rueful camaraderie between people who support crap teams, whether they’re crap teams who were once brilliant, or crap teams who’ve always been that way. Last Saturday summed that up for me.
Firstly, Forza Garibaldi. This group of Forest fans, proper, Forest ’til I die, couldn’t change it if I wanted to, Forest fans, organised a very jolly Xmas pre-match meet up in a Nottingham pub, raising funds for Archie’s Smile, a charity supporting kids with Downs, including one Tyler Cove, whose joyous presence lit up the whole event. There were Wolves fans there too, who joined in with enthusiasm, sending themselves up and engaging in some competitive ‘we’re shitter than you’ sing-songs which kind of sums up what it’s like being a football supporter outside the top echelons of the Premier League.
Forza’s mission is to
mobilise ourselves into creating a positive, enjoyable occasion around NFFC games both home and away. And, crucially, to harness that into improving the atmosphere and backing of the team. The objective is to create a platform that galvanises the fanbase into wanting to offer their support.
So, how do we do this?
We don’t pretend to have all the answers or a full strategy but our starting point is to get people together before games and create something, a ‘buzz’ if you will. We will do this via mass gatherings at various locations and occasional specialised events with the theme always being that we inject a degree of adrenaline into proceedings. We hope that fervour and passion is then carried beyond the turnstile.
Secondly, Bandy & Shinty. I’ve found much pleasure in recent years in reading some excellent Forest-focused blogs. Now there’s a fanzine, its second issue published just a couple of weeks ago, which features fascinating articles on a range of Forest topics, with an incredibly high standard of writing, and beautifully produced. Copies were very much in evidence at the Forza jollification and I understand they are selling fast.
After the Forza do there was some frankly inept and half-hearted messing about on the pitch, and a well-deserved defeat for the Reds. I will let other pens dwell on that misery. After the final whistle we headed home on the train. A couple of Wolves fans just across the aisle, and then at Chesterfield we were invaded by a horde of jubilant Bolton fans, singing ‘Up the football league we go’. We all assumed they’d won, but apparently not. They’d travelled all the way to Chesterfield, been beaten, but were having a half-decent season and so were in tremendously good spirits. We ended up talking to the Wolves fans, and one of the Bolton fans, and it was all rather jolly.
Years back, I would have been nervous, would have been tensed for the atmosphere to turn nasty. Instead there was that rueful camaraderie.
I’d love Forest to win, I’d love another miracle. But I’d settle for staying where we are – no promotion, no Cup runs – if when the team came out on to the pitch we knew that they cared about the team, wore the shirt with a sense of its history and of how important it is to the fans, did their best, every time. And that the manager had a sense of how to get the best out of all of those players, in terms of motivation and also what Clough did so supremely, to spot what they could do best and then focus them relentlessly on doing that, just that, until they were unbeatable.
Maybe next year.
Forest ’til I die, couldn’t change it if I wanted to.
On the 15th April 1989 I was nine, and I can remember playing a game with my younger brother Sean. We were in the bedroom of our house in Burscough, messing around on the bunk beds. At some point we wandered downstairs, to get a drink or a ‘Toronto Snack’ – a fruit salad like the ones I used to get at nursery in Canada when Dad was teaching there for a year and Sean was just a baby. In my memory we came into the living room to find him watching the television.
“Something’s happened at the match,” is what I remember him saying. I remember the green of the pitch and the blue of the sky and the people milling around on the grass. People running as they carried others on makeshift stretchers. A line of police. As the afternoon progressed we learned of the deaths. 10, 20…
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The best thing I’ve read about football in a long time. For those who share my despairing love for Forest, or for other football clubs with similar histories, you’ll understand. For those who don’t get it, read this, and try. Forest ’til I die.
No one knows why he chose Nottingham.
Arthur ‘Artie’ Scattergood had it all. His parents – my great, great grandparents – were textile merchants. They lived in a big house, on a grand Georgian square, in one of the nicest part of London.
And one day, it’d all be his. The house, and the factory, and the money. The life.
But Artie didn’t want it.
Why, we never knew. When he rocked up at Bestwood Village in 1920, he had no friends, no prospects, and no reason for being there. Maybe he’d taken the first train out of St. Pancras; maybe he just closed his eyes, and pointed at a map.
Whatever the plan was, Artie worked hard. He made himself a life—a life of his own, for the first time. He got a job at Bestwood Colliery. He found himself a woman, and a home. And soon…
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On 14 April 2012, marking the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, I wrote this:
…the awful truth is that no matter how many of those fans were drunk and how many were there without tickets, if there had been stewards in front of the entrances to the Leppings Lane pens, directing fans away from the already crowded central pen, then no one would have died. No one. It’s horrifically, tragically, simple.
Earlier this week, at the inquests in Warrington, David Duckenfield who was the police commander in charge on the day of the match, acknowledged, at last, at long last, that ‘his failure to close a tunnel that led to the overcrowded Leppings Lane terrace pens directly caused the deaths of 96 people.’
The truth about the tragedy was always known. It was always that simple. But the lies that were spun and spread were so effective that it’s taken us 26 years to have that truth stated so starkly, in public. So to the tragedy of 96 lives lost, and so many more injured and traumatised, so many families devastated by grief, was added the bitterness of the contempt that the dead and their families received, the scandalous lies, the fabrication of blame.
It is unforgiveable.
And yet I find myself pitying Duckenfield. Forgiveness isn’t for me to offer, and whether, if I were a family member I could ever have the courage and the grace to forgive I don’t know. I do not, cannot, sympathise, let alone empathise with him. I can imagine myself, briefly and inadequately, on those terraces, or in the homes where people waited and hoped and then despaired. I cannot, however, imagine covering up catastrophic failure and living, for 26 years, with the knowledge of what my failure had done not just to 96 people but to all the others who loved them. That is beyond my comprehension.
It’s not that I find it so impossible to imagine finding myself out of my depth, being expected to make huge decisions and realising that I haven’t got the knowledge to do so, freezing like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car, lying on the spur of the moment to try and cover up a catastrophically wrong decision. There but for the grace of God, as they say.
But faced with that aftermath, not just the bodies, the grieving families but the tabloids full of lies, to remain silent? As Taylor and Stuart Smith inquired and scrutinised, through the private prosecutions and the Independent Panel, he remained silent, acknowledging only what he had no choice but to acknowledge, that he had lied about the opening of the gate. I can’t understand, I can’t sympathise let alone empathise, and it is not for me to forgive.
But I felt pity for him this week, for the first time in 26 years. That he suffered from depression and PTSD in the aftermath of the disaster is hardly surprising. That he, as a middle-aged Yorkshire bloke, was ashamed of that diagnosis, saw it as weakness, and attempted to hide it, is not unexpected. Locked in his own shame and misery, he could not see, he says he did not see until so recently, what his failure to acknowledge what he did to the 96 was doing to the survivors and the families of the 96.
I’m not letting him off the hook – not at all. From his blunder and the knee-jerk attempt to blame someone, anyone, for the unfolding disaster rather than to take responsibility for it, flowed everything else that happened that day. And from his failure to speak out in the days, weeks, years that followed, flowed the persistent stream of misinformation, the inevitable rejoinders to every article or statement supporting the families. The S*n would not (or so they say) have published that most scurrilous and vicious of reports had they not heard the allegations from the apparently impeccable source of a Tory MP and a police commander. And inevitably what he says now causes yet more pain. For the families to hear of his PTSD after their years of agony, to hear him say that failing to foresee the consequences of opening exit gates at the ground was “arguably one of the biggest regrets” of his life – arguably? ‘one of’?? – must have been extraordinarily difficult, and little wonder that some had to leave the courtroom.
But he’s said it now, and it stands there, that crucial admission, after all these years of denials and lies. Too late, of course, but it cannot be unsaid. And I cannot help but pity a man who has carried so much guilt, the responsibility for 96 deaths and for prolonging and intensifying the misery of the families, who has had that weight to carry all these years. I cannot help but pity a man who has known all along what was right, and been unable to do it. I do not say that I hope he finds peace now. Peace is what is owed to the families and the survivors – it’s not for him. I do, however, hope that he finds some way to channel the guilt and shame that has festered in him for 26 years into doing something good now, something right.
RIP the 96. Massive respect to the families. You’ll never walk alone.
Some of the cultural highlights of my year – a year of working at home, long train journeys to long meetings which gave me more time to read, less time to go to the cinema or the theatre. However, I did manage a few outings…
- Twelfth Night at the Crucible – a real delight. I’d been disappointed that we weren’t getting a tragedy or one of the problem plays, rather than a comedy that I’d seen on stage before, but that feeling evaporated very quickly indeed. The performances were excellent, the staging imaginative and suggestive of darker undercurrents (the cast appearing at windows almost like the undead, the showers of rose petals – see also Poppeia).
- Brilliant opera at Leeds Grand – La Boheme, and The Coronation of Poppeia. And another Boheme, this time in Graves Gallery, from Opera on Location.
- Music in the Round – I’d pick out the Schubert octet, Tim Horton’s bravura performance of the Prokofiev Piano Sonata no. 7 (described by the Guardian as ‘ferocious’), Charlie Piper‘s WWI suite, The Dark Hour; works by Schulhoff & Haas, and consort of viols, Fretwork.
- Once again we celebrated Tim Richardson’s life and passion for learning and teaching with the 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on a host of topics, from WWI poets to insect sex, from biogeography to Mozart, from underground science to fairground history – ok, you get the picture. Once again a host of people stepped up to help, everything ran smoothly, and we were able to donate to Rotherham Hospice and Impact Young Heroes. We’ll be doing it again on 16-17 April 2015. Tim’s charity, Inspiration for Life, goes from strength to strength.
- I revisited the City Ground after far too many years, for the first home game of the season, and Stuart Pearce’s first game as manager. That was a great game. We’re in a slump at the moment, and that early euphoria has dissipated. If it was anyone but Psycho in charge I suspect the calls to sack the manager would be ringing out right now, but few Forest fans would want to deny him the chance to turn things around. I hope he can. I really, really, hope he can.
Top TV of 2014
No attempt at ranking. How could one decide on the relative merits of a gritty cop drama and a comic book fantasy? So, what do all of these shows have in common? First, excellent writing, and great performances. Essential to have both. So many big budget dramas skimp on the former and blow the budget on the latter, but even the best actors can only do so much with a script that clunks. Second, great female characters. All of these programmes basically kick the Bechdel test out of the park. It’s not just about having ‘strong’ women. Not all women are strong, and no women are strong all of the time. It’s about having women characters who are rounded human beings, fallible and flawed, but not dependent on men to make decisions or to solve problems. Some of these women do indeed kick ass, but they don’t all have to. So, to Nazanin Boniadi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Amelia Bullmore, Lauren Cohan, Clare Danes, Siobhan Finneran, Danai Gurira, Keeley Hawes, Elizabeth Henstridge, Gillian Jacobs, Suranne Jones, Nimrat Kaur, Sarah Lancashire, Melissa McBride, Vicky McClure, Tatiana Maslany, Lesley Sharp, Allison Tolmin, Ming-Na Wen and the rest – cheers, and thanks for giving us images of women that are as diverse and complicated as actual real live women are.
- Fargo – I was decidedly unconvinced beforehand, but it turned out to be funny, gruesome, and touching, with one of my favourite women cops in Allison Tolmin’s Molly (not just a re-run of Frances McDormand’s marvellous Marge from the film, but a character in her own right), Billy Bob Thornton as a grimly hilarious killer and Martin Freeman as a weaselly one, and a wealth of other characters, some of whom we came to care about so much that at tense moments there was much yelling at the screen as we thought they might be in danger.
- Line of Duty – I wasn’t convinced about this one either, mainly because the first series had been superb, and I wondered if they could match it. They did, and it was Keeley Hawes’ performance that clinched it. Whilst I’d watch Vicky McClure in anything, Keeley wasn’t in that category for me, despite Ashes to Ashes. But in this she was riveting, absolutely mesmerising. The rest of the cast was superb too.
- Happy Valley was perhaps the most ironically titled programme of the year. This valley was pretty damned grim. But Sarah Lancashire as cop Catherine Cawood was wonderful, and the story was compelling and moving.
- Scott & Bailey maintained its form in series 4. The three central women (count them! three central women!) are all convincingly real, sometimes infuriatingly so.
- The Walking Dead opened series 5 with an episode so gripping that I really could neither breathe normally nor speak for quite some time. It’s maintained that tension (more or less) whilst varying the format, to focus on different subsets of the characters, and different locations. Carol has been central to this season’s episodes so far, and her character is one of those that has been allowed to develop and deepen throughout. There’s no shortage of other interesting characters, and the plot allows for philosophical, political and ethical speculation as well as for gory shocks and suspense.
- Agents of Shield got past a slightly wobbly first series and got its pace and tone just right. It fits right into the Marvelverse, but stands alone perfectly well. And it features girl-geek Simmons, a Sheffield lass, and there’s just a hint of South Yorkshire in her accent from time to time.
- Community made me laugh more than anything else this year. Just when you think it is as bonkers as it could be, it ups its game, to be even more meta, and even more daft.
- Doctor Who I have spoken of elsewhere. I have a deep love for this programme, and whilst this regeneration has been unsettling at times, uncertain in tone perhaps, I have great hopes for Capaldi and Coleman in series 9 next year.
- Homeland redeemed itself. Gripping stuff, with Clare Danes acting her socks off and getting us deeper into what makes Carrie tick.
- Orphan Black is one of the most criminally underrated programmes of this (and last) year. Tatiana Maslany inhabits each of the characters she plays so well that I forget – disbelieve almost – that there is just the one actress involved. And when she’s playing one of them pretending to be one of the others…. Cracking plot too.
Films of the year – I leave the in-depth cinematic reviews to Arthur Annabel who promises an extensive blog on this topic soon. I simply note these as films which have delighted and/or moved me, in no particular order. Worth noting that whilst the programmes on my TV list get A* on the Bechdel test, the films are considerably weaker on that front. Nonetheless, some fine performances, and Nicole Perlman was the first woman with a writing credit on a Marvel movie (Guardians of the Galaxy).
Women of the year:
Jack Monroe – for enlivening my repertoire of meals to feed the family, and campaigning about food poverty
Professor Monica Grady – for being emotionally, exuberantly passionate about science
Laura Bates – her Everyday Sexism project helped to give women a voice, to tell their stories, to shout back.
In 2014 I’ve blogged about refugees, genocide, football, W G Sebald and Michel Butor, Kazuo Ishiguro, everyday sexism, Tramlines, Josephine Butler and Doctor Who. I got a bit personal on the subject of depression, and was inspired by Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl to present my manifesto – a plea to just be kind. And my blog about reading the last of the Resnick series of detective stories won the approval of the author, John Harvey, who linked to it on his own blog, and republished my jazz playlist!
Amongst the blogs I’ve followed, or at least tried to keep up with, I would particularly note Searching for Albion. This is the record of Dan Taylor’s four month cycling trip across the British Isles, talking to people he meets, by plan or by chance. A fascinating project, beautifully documented.
To all of those who’ve shared some of the above events, obsessions and enthusiasms with me, who’ve given me support when I’ve needed it, who I’ve learned from and with, thank you. I don’t know what to expect from 2015 – but see you there!
I’ve written quite a bit about football over the couple of years that I’ve been blogging. But I’ve said next to nothing about what happens on the pitch. I’ve talked about what happened on the terraces one day in April 1989, and the quarter-century aftermath. I’ve talked about the various nations competing in the World Cup and their history and politics in terms of the displaced people across the globe. But the game itself?
I can talk about music, though I’m not a musician, I can talk about art though I’m no artist. But I can’t talk about football, the playing of the game, without it sounding second-hand, words and phrases borrowed from the pundits on the telly or the pundits in my own life.
Nonetheless it’s played an important part in my life, still does. I barely knew the game existed until the early 70s, when the family moved to Nottinghamshire, and my brothers determined that our loyalties would henceforth belong to Nottingham Forest. And I went along on a Saturday, wearing the scarf that I knitted myself (the only piece of knitting I ever finished, at one time embroidered with the names of the players) at least until the final whistle blew and we hid our scarves away and legged it to the bus station. I stood on the Trent End, being pushed one way and another, pressed up against the barriers till it hurt, sometimes. I went along to watch them train in between home games, to watch the reserves play, to get their autographs. I loved the atmosphere, until the violence – always simmering – seemed to come every week to the boil, and I was too afraid and too sick to love it any more.
Reading Danny Rhodes’ Fan brought it all back. He writes about following Forest, and I recognise everything he describes. But at the same time my experience of being a football fan was so different – being a girl, a swotty, geeky girl at that, I could never have been part of the beery sweary scrappy bloke culture.
I never lived for it, but I loved it. Time was I knew all the names, the numbers, the fixtures, the results. Time was I could recognise every player on the cards my brothers collected (the Panini stickers of their day) – and I was tested on this regularly and rigorously. I lost that over the years, lost touch with the minutiae of the team and the game, but never stopped checking the results, and feeling a glimmer of excitement if we were doing well in a Cup or league, or – at least as often – frustration and gloom if we weren’t.
Looking back, I’d thought that ‘my’ Forest era was the glory years of Clough, European cups and league triumphs. But in fact, the years when I was going most Saturdays, when I was the most engaged and invested, were before that. In fact, I supported Forest under three managers before Clough & Taylor arrived (Gillies, Mackay and Brown), and saw them relegated in ’72 to the then 2nd division.
Clough came in ’75, the year I went up to University in Sheffield, and my match attendance plummeted. But I still went, when I could, and saw two League Cup finals (victory over Southampton, defeat to Wolves), and a European cup tie against Grasshoppers Zurich. And I saw the players who Clough inspired to greatness, many of whom I’d been watching in the reserves before Clough saw what they could be capable of and gave them the chance to achieve it. It’s been a pretty bumpy ride since then, and most seasons I apologise to my son for making him a Forest fan – I may have seen some dire, desperate games and some crushing defeats, but I also saw the team when they were the best.
So I can reminisce, but I can’t pontificate about the game. I know genius when I see it – old clips of Best, new clips of Messi, and my memories of seeing John Robertson, short stocky guy, invisible on the left wing until he suddenly took off and scored before the opposition had even registered his presence. Clough said ‘give him a ball and a yard of grass, and he was an artist’, but also that he was (or had initially appeared to be), an ‘unfit, uninterested waste of time’, perhaps the supreme example of Clough’s own genius.
But the offside rule is something I understand only fleetingly and I never spot an offside before it’s called. And I can’t analyse – I’m always kind of surprised and pleased when my general impressions of possession and dominance are confirmed by the ‘experts’ and the on-screen stats. Instead I get caught up with the ebb and flow, the swell of the crowd’s noise and the dying away when the moment is lost, the grace and athleticism, the exhilaration and despair. I can share in that, and I’ve wept over results before now, most recently when Ghana were knocked out of the last World Cup thanks to a certain Uruguayan’s blatant hand-ball.
But when the City Ground crowd invites me to join in and assert that I hate Derby, or Leicester, or anyone else, I can’t do it. I don’t recall racist chanting on the terraces at Forest – and I do recall leaflets on the seats at a reserve game vigorously opposing the National Front and their calls for Viv Anderson to go back where he came from (as Clough pointed out, that would be Clifton, about 15 mins drive from the City Ground) – but I know that black footballers in Britain were subjected to vile abuse, and that this still happens in many European countries. I know that there are aspects of the game that are profoundly ugly.
I saw that in the violence that became endemic in the game – people who turned up for the fight, not for the football, driving other spectators away, and creating the vicious circle of aggressive policing, media contempt and political rhetoric that led us inexorably to Hillsborough. I know that the tribal loyalties that make following a football team so emotional can be dangerous, and are dangerous when they’re linked to other loyalties – religious, ethnic, political. And there’s a dispiriting cynicism in the way the game is played (nothing new, whenever I see the perpetrator of a blatant foul turning to the ref with an expression of affronted innocence, I think of Leeds’ Allan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke).
Yet, despite all that, there’s something wonderful about it all. The experience of being at a match (Premier league, championship or Sunday junior league) is unlike anything else I do. If I’m at a gig, probably the closest thing, where one is caught up in the collective experience, responding emotionally and vocally to what’s happening on stage, still, I know that it’s not going to end with the band I’ve come to see being humiliated and defeated. Every football match presents that possibility.
And all of the above is why Hillsborough is seared into my soul. I wasn’t there. But I stood in my kitchen, just across the valley, watching Grandstand, trying to figure out what was happening. And later, watching as the death toll crept higher and higher. And then hearing the way the narrative twisted – so soon – into the familiar territory of blame. I wasn’t there but it haunted me, and still does. Because it sums up what British football had become – the adversarial policing, the pens that crushed the life out of so many, and the contempt for the fans that allowed the lies to be believed, in the face of all the evidence, for so long.
I do feel some nostalgia for the days when I stood on the Trent End. It is so much safer now, so much tamer. And I’m glad of that, even whilst I feel the loss of the visceral excitement that was part of the experience then. Because that’s forever associated with the reasons I stopped going to matches. And, overwhelmingly, with 96 football supporters who never got home after the match, and the families who’ve had to fight for 25 years for the truth of what happened .
Can we find a middle ground? Can football be family friendly, safe, without being bloodless and corporate? The contradictions will always be there, I think. And I will always have this ambivalent relationship with the beautiful game but will be – can’t help it, couldn’t change it if I wanted to – Forest till I die …
Danny Rhodes, Fan, Arcadia Books, 2014
Playing today – Argentina, Bosnia
Fittingly for the last of my series of World Cup linked refugee stories, both of today’s have a football theme.
Bayan Mahmud fled ethnic violence in the north of Ghana, stowing away on a ship leaving Cape Coast, and ending up in Argentina. He was lucky, finding kindness from a member of the ship’s crew, and then from strangers who helped him get to Buenos Aires, and to get refugee status. Now, he’s on the Boca Juniors youth football team and hopes to one day be the first black player in the Argentine national team. Maybe next time…
Bosnia & Hercegovina
Dejan Cokorilo’s story of leaving Sarajevo for safety in Sweden – ‘The Civil War kidnapped our childhood. Our city was under siege, but somehow my parents found a way out. We found peace and freedom in a new country, far away from home.’
Meanwhile the Bosnian national team includes a number of players who at least temporarily fled their homes during the war – amongst them Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begović, Senad Lulic, Haris Medunjanin.
There’s an actual Refugee World Cup, in Manchester later this month. Details here:
and another took place in Sweden just before Rio as well: