About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A Shot At Glory

The world of cinema has regularly tried to translate the thrilling spectacle of football to the silver screen with mixed results. With the game often being stranger than fiction, football drama tends to err on the side of contrived and predictable. Nevertheless football films are usually an enjoyable watch although not always for the right reasons.One recent classic of the genre doing the rounds on Freeview at the moment is "A Shot At Glory", a bizarre Hollywood attempt to capture the magic of the Cup.Featuring the marquee names of Robert Duvall and Michael Keaton, the film follows the fortunes of lowly Scottish team Kilnockie. Wealthy American owner Peter Cameron (Keaton) has bought the club and has a dream to move the club MK Dons style to Dublin. To prevent this wily old manager Gordon McLeod (Duvall) has to bring success to the moribund club. To help him do this Cameron buys star Celtic striker Jackie McQuillan, who just happens to be the estranged husband of McLeod's daughter Kate.Here the fun and games start off screen as McQuillan is played by Rangers legend Ally McCoist. This leads to some bizarre footage of McQuillan's early career inserted into the early part of the film. This footage shows McCoist scoring goals for Rangers from his real career, but because the Director wants to show McQuillan's past the famous blue Rangers shirts are coloured green! This was an alleged pay off for acceding to McCoist's request that the top team in the film was Rangers!Anyway back to the film. Of course Kilnockie despite being behind in every game somehow manage to secure promotion and a place in the Scottish Cup Final despite Duvall's strange attempt at a Scottish accent and team talks limited to "If you score more goals than the other team, then you will win".The match footage shot at Dumbarton, Queen of the South and Kilmarnock is not bad with the extras being supplied by Raith Rovers. Several real life football stars had speaking roles including John McVeigh, Peter Hetherston, Didier Agathe, Ally Maxwell, Owen Coyle and Claudio Reyna. Unfortunately the scenes on the terraces isn't quite so convincing with actors dressed in all manner of Kilnockie merchandise not quite getting it right.I won't spoil the ending by telling you what happens in the Cup Final, but I doubt you need me to tell you that everyone is reconciled off it, including Duvall and his managerial Nemesis Brian Cox who plays Rangers head honcho Martin Smith.All in all a wonderfully wasteful way to spend a couple of hours of the festive holiday once you’ve gorged yourself on mince pies and sherry. Ally McCoist is by far the best thing in the film. You would be hard pushed to tell he wasn't an actor and his footballing ability speaks for itself. Duvall on the other hand whilst looking like the stereotypical craggy Scottish Manager spoils the illusion every time he opens his mouth. All set to a score by Mark Knopfler, Local Hero it ain't, but it is head and shoulders above some of the other football films of recent times.
Watch It: A Shot At Glory is probably still available in the budget section of your local DVD emporium.

The Damned United

Literature and football have never been easy bedfellows. Unlike say cricket there has always been a shortage of wordsmiths willing to describe the beautiful game. Indeed Basingstoke Boy John Arlott who wrote many a fine piece on both sports described football as "the craft without an art". Although things changed in the 1960s with the likes of Arthur Hopcraft and Hunter Davies writing about the game, its still a challenge to find anything stimulating on the bookshelves beyond the trashy "my story" biographies. Thus when a gem such as "The Damned United" comes along it really stands out from the morass. The Damned United was published in 2006 and written by David Peace. It is the sixth novel written by Peace, all of them an attempt to write a fictional account (faction?) of events in Yorkshire in the recent past. The first four, known as the Red Riding Quartet, chronicle the eventually successful investigation to catch the Yorkshire Ripper. The fifth provides an account of the 1984 miners' strike, whilst The Damned United takes on Brian Clough's disastrous 44 day spell in charge of league champions Leeds United.Divided into 44 chapters, Peace provides a day by day account of Clough's quick failure to stamp his authority on the team, who were to go onto reach the European Cup Final under his successor Jimmy Armfield.This is no staid procession of results and reports however, as intertwined with the story is Clough's tale of his career, a prolific goalscorer in the North East with Sunderland and Middlesbrough, a playing career cut tragically short by injury, the slow rise to managerial glory with Hartlepool United and Derby County with partner Peter Taylor, the sacking from County and return to the lower divisions with Brighton.The fact that the book describes a time when Derby and Leeds were not only amongst the best clubs in England but also Europe, makes it simple to slip into this almost fantasy world of Clough as Peace imagines how Old Big 'Ead would tell his story. A swift look at the history books confirms the fantastic facts of this portion of Clough's career, but what Peace does so well is to explore the psyche of a man who against solid opposition from all quarters of the establishment rises to become the hottest managerial property in football.This is no hagiography though, as Peace endeavours to uncover a man with such a strong drive to succeed that he will destroy anyone who stands in his way with his cutting comments, with even friends and family not spared the wrath of his tongue. This provides Peace with a route into Clough's alcoholism, as for all his success and hero worship, Clough appears as a man haunted by his failures, with only a whisky providing succour.Of course this particular story ends in failure, but Clough's belief remained indestructible, battered but unbowed, the epilogue reminding us that he would go on to take a second rate midlands club to championship glory and not one but two European Cups to take his place in the pantheon of English managers accompanied in my view by only Herbert Chapman, Alf Ramsey and Bob Paisley.How did he do it? By not knowing when he was beat, by relishing seemingly impossible challenges and achieving them, by having utter faith in his ability as a leader and manager. Quite simply his credo can be summed up in The Damned United by his answer to the question "Do you believe in God Brian?"
"No I believe in Brian Howard Clough".
Read on: The Damned United by David Peace is available from all book sellers of distinction.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

I Ludicrous

Football is a dangerous topic for songwriters, with the aura of parody always lurking round the corner. New Order just about maintained respectability with World In Motion, although the John Barnes rap element was pretty near the knuckle. In my view only one musical act has treated the beautiful game with the right balance of levity and realism, south London duet William Hung and John Procter, better known as I Ludicrous.
Meeting at work in the early 80s the pair discovered a shared passion for Crystal Palace and The Fall, and began to record songs which reflected their love of a wry take on the life’s everyday trials and tribulations set to a post punk backing track.
Naturally much of their subject matter concerned football, their first single “Preposterous Tales in the Life of Ken McKenzie” referring to such unlikely events as “the Palace score 4 goals away from home”. Follow up “Quite Extraordinary” was a damning verdict on the work of David Coleman “It gets worse in the winter with the god-damn videprinter, That's Stenhousemuir's 13th game without a scoring draw, Incredible, Remarkable, Quite Extraordinary”.
However this was just the tip of the iceberg. Flip over to the B side of “Ken” and you would find “3 English Football Grounds” a simple guide to what you could find at The Den, Craven Cottage and Burnden Park. The fact that two of these grounds no longer exist (indeed the third was almost abandoned) reveals that this song was written in a different age, 1987 in fact. A time prior to the embourgeoisification of football post Italia 90 and Sky, when revealing yourself to be a supporter put you firmly in the gutter. Including vital statistics such as the cost of entry and a pint, “Fulham - £4 to get in and the beer is mediocre “, there was also a guide to the nature of the locals with Millwall summed up as “We are not animals, we are human beings, Whose fans only resort to violence in the face of immense provocation”.
More football was to follow in the paean to cliché “At The End of The Day”, musings on the fate of the bench warmers “Bring On The Substitute”, the state of the game in the Premiership era “English Football 2003”, and most recently an investigation of Scottish Non League Football in “The Highland League”.
However all this stands in the shadow of the pair’s awesome summary of the lot of a supporter, “We Stand Around” which I make no apology for reproducing in unabridged form here:

“We stand around in wind and rain, locked in voluntary,
All ages, all male, all swearing, all cold.
We sing and sway we punch the air,
We chant out names, we seek a wave,
In pens we huddle in corners too,
We shout out names we shout abuse.

We travel every Saturday,
We go wherever we play and pay,
Spending money we can’t afford,
We are the fans we go everywhere.

In groups of two we punch the air,
We sing and sway and dance and swear
We taunt the home fans humorously
The policemen eye us with ill disguised contempt.

Our best players all get sold,
Their replacements old and slow
The manager raids the Sunday leagues,
We have no youth team anymore.
The team defends most of the game
We cheer every breakaway, three in the box
In goes the cross, we hold our breath
Goal kick.

The keeper does his level best
He's overworked and overdressed
The shots rain in we hold our breath
No offside flag the bulging net.
No time to restart

We turn up every Saturday
We know every motorway
We travel miles we don't complain
We stand around in wind and rain."

Read on: www.iludicrous.co.uk
Listen up: The compilation “20 years in Show Business” is available on iTunes and at all musical retailers of distinction