notes from a small curate
Poetry, Sheer Bloody Poetry!
from When Saturday Comes October 1987
It was Oscar Wilde who said "Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but it is hardly suitable for delicate boys", a statement which comes as no surprise to followers of both football and fiction. You could hardly imagine Morrisey's favourite literary figure lasting very long on a field with Mick Quinn, for instance. Or having to contend with that other rough girl of our time, Norman 'Nancy' Whiteside. It has often seemed that most, if not all, of the poets of our glorious past, have been, like Wilde, 'delicate boys'. But new evidence is coming to light of a previously unheard-of devotion to football by the cultural giants of a bygone age. Re-reading the old masters reveals that many of the great British poets could have been players or fans.
Penned in the days when Brazil was just a tiny smudge on some explorer's piece of parchment, Lord Byron's epic poem 'Italy versus England' is a piece of reportage that set the trend for today's 'serious' writers. He doesn't mention the game, but instead waxes lyrical about religion, politics, the arts and the scenery, concluding with the line, "England, with all thy faults, I love thee still!" Obviously our boys had been subjected to a hearty continental drubbing, but Byron's blind devotion in the face of incredible incompetence is still in mode today.
Lord Byron wasn't the only one. Andrew Marvell recognised the dilemma of his own support in his celebrated line, 'The Definition of Love':
As 'tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
Some poets seem to have been players, none with more nerve than George Herbert who, in 1630, faced his directors with a transfer request unique in British poetic tradition:
I will abroad"
Ben Jonson is another poet who seems to have had footballing connections, but he wasn't built in the Herbert mould. In an 'Ode to Himself', he asks:
Buried in ease and sloth?
So much for the poems which we all had to study at school, and hated. Many original versions of famous literary works are now also being uncovered, which reveal that many of our most celebrated writers were in fact obsessed with soccer. Shakespeare himself doodled:
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
Now we've lost 3-0, the lads are done in
And the rain it raineth every day
By contrast, William Wordsworth was obviously more of a 'delicate boy' than a football fan, and an incident in the Lake District had such a shocking effect on him at the time that it inspired his most famous first line:
That floats on high o'er hills and vales
When all at once I saw a crowd,
Ten thousand very rowdy males,
Outside the pubs, all round the place,
Singing, " Workington are bloody ace!"
His wonders to perform;
I got eight draws on Saturday
But didn't post the form.
This article is likely to be in The First Eleven - The complete first 11 issues of WSC, 1986-1988. Foreword by John Peel, and available from the WSC shop