I have just read Project Restart: From Prem to the Parks, How Football Came Out of Lockdown. It includes case-studies of how nine teams fared during lockdown: Burnley, Swansea, Tranmere, Forest Green, Solihull Moors, Royston Town, Northumberland Park, Stonewall and St Albans City Girls. These were chosen to represent a spread of clubs from the Premier League down to grassroots football. They were also chosen from the clubs that the author could get information on; many football media teams were inaccessible.
He writes about the contrast between communicating with people at the higher levels of the game and those lower down. Attempts to talk to those at higher levels usually came to nothing. But when it came to Zooming and phone calls to those from lower levels he says, “my only function was to sit back and listen as they told me about their achievements, plans and ambitions . . . what they had in common was an enduring love of the game and what it can do for people.”
The author, Jon Berry, is a Birmingham City supporter so he mentions that club too. In the chapter on Solihull Moors he writes about Darren Carter and his decisive penalty that took Blues up to the Premier League. Jon Berry believes that football is one of the most important of the unimportant things. Reading his book is like chatting to another fan and it is a good book to read if you are missing football conversations.
Jon Berry writes about hope; hope for next season; hope that the Covid-19 restrictions will end. He says, “And that hope, among talk of second waves and localised lockdowns, might just be one of the reasons that football really is important.”
I enjoyed reading Hugging Strangers: The Frequent Lows and Occasional Highs of Football Fandom by Jon Berry. It is well written and many of his stories about supporting Birmingham City resonated with me. When my dad took me to games, I was one of the few little girls there and it felt like being in a different, much louder and more exciting world.
I took a long break from attending games when I went to university and lived abroad but I always checked their results. I went to only one game in the 1980s, an end of season relegation escape on May 15 1982, in which Mick Harford scored the goal that kept us up. I enjoyed the game but what I saw of destructive fans and aggressive policing made me decide never to go to any other games. I changed my mind about that when I went to the Leyland Daf Cup Final at Wembley, on May 26 1991. I went to the game feeling apprehensive about the possibility of hooligans being there but my mind was put at rest by the friendly group of men sitting around me. And when a stranger, celebrating our victory, kissed me on the way out of Wembley, I didn’t mind at all. I started going to games again.
Reading HuggingStrangers is like chatting to a friend about Blues, except than none of my friends deliver such quotable expressions as Jon Berry writes. I liked his description of Blues’ story as “great moments, dreadful half hours”. He wrote that “Fry was quite mad . . . the perfect fit for us.” He also aptly described my habit of protecting myself “by starting off expecting the worst and then being happily surprised if it doesn’t happen.”
In Omar Bogle’s interview on BluesTV, he talked about scoring a goal against Jack Butland, a former Academy team mate of his. He said he talked with Jack after the game, but he didn’t talk about his goal. It sounded as though he had the ability that professional football players need to have, to regard opposing players as enemies during a game and as friends at other times.
I believe that fans also need to be able to do this. During games we want to see our team play well and be lucky; we want the opposition to play terribly and have the worst bad luck imaginable. But, at other times, we can sympathise with fans of other teams. When Frank Knight, a Blackpool fan, agreed to pay £20,000 to the Oyston family, owners of Blackpool, so that they wouldn’t take him to court for his rant against them on Facebook, fans from many other clubs made contributions to pay that, an example of the football community at its generous best.
I’m reading a book that discusses this: What we think about when we think about Football, by Simon Critchley,
a Professor of Philosophy who supports Liverpool. He says that “there is an inherent
rationality in football that permits both passionately held commitment to one’s
team at the same time as being able to tolerate, understand and indeed
encourage others’ deeply felt support for their teams.” It is not easy reading, but it is interesting
and has some great photos.
Critchley wrote that “a game can be a 90-minute anxiety
dream”. Wednesday’s game felt like 87 anxious
minutes until Bogle scored his brilliant goal and I stopped worrying that Stoke
might equalise. But I will remember it as a brilliant game, with two great goals,
a large crowd and an atmosphere that reminded me of how it felt when I stood
with my dad on the Railway end about 65 years ago.
Hope I’ll also have good memories of today’s game.
When Saturday Comes describes itself as “the half decent football magazine” but it is always a more-than-decent read. In the May issue of WSC there’s an article about Ostersunds, a club that has gone from the fourth division to the Swedish premier division in five years. Culture is part of their training and, in the last few years, the players have acted in a play, produced a book and danced. The dance show included a version of Swan Lake and a dance interpretation of Diego Maradona’s second goal in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final. Continue reading →
Last week, after seeing a player tumble to the ground, a man near me said, “That was a brilliant dive.” He said it admiringly as it was one of our players. He might have described it rather differently if one of their players had earned a free kick in that manner. We football fans do tend to have double standards about such things. Continue reading →
I recently saw a thread on a Birmingham City fans forum with a link to an article about a billionaire who wants to buy a Premier League club. The article said that Hasan Abdullah Ismaik already owns a stake in 1860 Munich but is frustrated by the rules governing football in Germany that limit his voting rights to 49%. Continue reading →
Turning My Back on the Premier League is the story of a Man U fan who decided to follow his local team instead. His local team is Dagenham & Redbridge and the book is an account of going to their games in the 2013/14 season. I haven’t finished reading it yet but would recommend it; it’s a good read. Continue reading →
As Jasper Carrott once said, “You lose some, you draw some.” And Birmingham City have drawn their last four league games. And a draw doesn’t seem quite so good as it did when we drew with Wolves in November, a magnificent result in comparison with our 0-8 loss in the previous game. Continue reading →
Lee Clark has said that it is imperative for Birmingham City to keep our young stars, which is easier said than done. The financial mess of the last few years has meant we’ve seen youngsters given a chance in the team but has also meant we’ve cashed in on some of them. The fact that Nathan Redmond plays for Norwich, tomorrow’s opponents, is a reminder of that. Young players can be exciting to watch but they are reputed to be more inconsistent than experienced players. That means both manager and supporters need to be patient and not give up on them when they have a bad game. Continue reading →
You don’t have to be a fan of German football to enjoy this book. It’s packed with great stories of the characters that have enlivened German football from the days when it was seen as a dangerous foreign pastime up to May 25, 2013 when two German teams met in the Champions League final. It also discusses the difference between German and British fans’ views of their clubs. I have a feeling that Birmingham City fans are divided into two groups: those that are content to be customers and those that want to be more connected as German fans are. Continue reading →
I try not to spend my whole life thinking about Birmingham City but the worry about it lurks in the back of my mind. I can start off thinking about something completely different and my mind finds a way to relate it to the sorry state of modern football. Continue reading →