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, 3 September 2008

JB Priestley

As has been noted before in this column, football lacks something of a literary tradition, particularly when compared with cricket. This dearth grows the further back you look with the shining exception of the work of JB Priestley who came to prominence as an author during the inter war years.
Perhaps most famous for his play “An Inspector Calls”, Priestley was born in Bradford and first tasted success with the publication of his 1929 novel “The Good Companions” which contains within its opening pages a description of a football match in the fictional town of Bruddersford.
The passage that follows bears no relevance at all to the rest of the novel but almost eighty years later still represents a perfect exposition of the attraction of football and a ready made speech for any of us who feel the need to justify our love of the beautiful game to sneering acquaintances.
"To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink. For a shilling the Bruddersford United AFC offered you Conflict and Art; it turned you into a critic, happy in your judgement of fine points, ready in a second to estimate the worth of a well-judged pass, a run down the touch line, a lightning shot, a clearance kick by back or goalkeeper; it turned you into a partisan, holding your breath when the ball came sailing into your own goalmouth, ecstatic when your forwards raced away towards the opposite goal, elated, downcast, bitter, triumphant by turn at the fortunes of your side, watching a ball shape Iliads and Odysseys for you; and what is more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half, for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you had escaped with most of your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swopping judgements like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with Conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its Art. Moreover it offered you more than a shilling's worth of material for talk during the rest of the week. A man who had missed the last home match of "t'United" had to enter social life on a tiptoe in Bruddersford."
Five years later, Priestley wrote a travelogue called "An English Journey". Cited as an inspiration for Orwell's "Road To Wigan Pier", on arriving in Nottingham, Priestley attended the local derby between Forest and County.
Writing in a similar vein to the Good Companions, Priestley paints a beautiful picture:
"Men who looked at one another with eyes shining with happiness when County scored a goal. There were other men who bit their lips because the Forest seemed in danger"
Yet appropriately enough in the context of the last money mad seven days, looking back at Priestley's writing shows just how little has changed:
"Nearly everything possible has been done to spoil this game: the heavy financial interests;... the absurd publicity given to every feature of it by the Press; ... but the fact remains that it is not yet spoilt, and it has gone out and conquered the world."


Indra said...

Thanks for that Steve. Had a right row with a mate about what Chomski had to say about football. That old chestnut about the bread and circuses/ opium for the masses etc. If you cannot appreciate football as a performance may be a) you should not talk about it b) make it a point to step down from that mighty steed and try and analyze what makes football as popular as it is. I have all the respect for Noam Chomski, but sometimes his need to contradict just for its own sake gets the better of him.

Steve said...

Hi Indra,
Thanks for reading my blog. I often find Gramsci's theory of counter hegemony a useful argument to deploy in this scenario.