Michael Morpurgo on Football.

I recently was lucky to find a copy of ‘Billy The Kid’  by Michael Morpurgo on a bookstall in Derby Market that was signed by Michael Foreman the illustrator. This added to my recent reading of ‘The Fox and the Ghost King’ also by the same author and illustrator.

‘Billy the Kid’ first published by Pavilion Books Ltd 2000 is set in West London and is about a boy whose love for football and Chelsea takes him all the way to achieve his goal and play for them. Tragically the war interrupts his career and devastates his family and his heroics mean that an injury means he cannot attain the levels on the field he once achieved. His fall into despair and loneliness is finally countered by his love for Chelsea and he returns to the area where he was born. Luck turns his way and he is able to join the Chelsea Pensioners and again receive the adulation of the team and fans of his favourite club. A really good human story that gives you a warm feeling inside.

The 2016 book ‘The Fox and the Ghost King’ published by Harper Collins Children’s Books tells of how a family of Foxes living in Leicester hear strange voices coming from the ground of a central car park. Their digging exploits lead people to uncover Richard the Third’s grave and release his ghost who grants  the Foxes a wish. as all foxes in Leicester are Leicester City supporters they ask if they can win the premiership. He keeps his word and the rest is history. A really good feeling book even for every fan from other clubs.

Having read both of the books I still do not know which football club Michael Morpurgo supports but I do know he supports football in general and the human spirit.

An Unsuitable Game for Ladies: A Century of Women’s Football


To mark the England teams participation at the eighth FIFA Women’s World Cup in France there is a small exhibition at The British Library in the Sir John Riblat: Treasures Gallery called ‘An Unsuitable Game for Ladies: A century of Women’s Football’

Only a small area but it shows that women’s football started in London over 120 years ago but has struggled to survive having been at one time banned despite it being popular. Following the FA’s 1921 ban they took it back under their control in 1993 and are now seriously promoting the game at all levels.

The Exhibition is on until the first of September and is free to enter. Well worth a look if you are visiting the library or have some time when in the Euston/St Pancras/Kings Cross area.

The Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road


On a football theme outside the Library in the square is a statue that was funded by Vernons-Littlewoods-Zetters Pools. It is called ‘Newton’ and is a statue after William Blakes Painting in the Tate Gallery who refer to the picture online as  :Blake was critical of Newton’s reductive, scientific approach and so shows him merely following the rules of his compass, blind to the colourful rocks behind him.

The statue could be interpreted in a football sense (Ala the pools) depicting the mood of many football managers when success is not coming their way.

Diego Maradona

The Curzon Sheffield was an appropriate place to watch the film ‘Diego Maradona’ with it being opposite the Cutlers Hotel Sheffield the birthplace of the oldest football team in the world.

‘Diego Maradona’ is a film directed by Asif Kapadia, who also directed Oscar-winner ‘Amy’ and Bafta-winning ‘Senna’.

The film has been possible due to the use of over 500 hours of previously unseen footage about his life but majorly centring  on Maradona’s time at Napoli. This was after a career in Argentina and a time at Barcelona.

My view of Diego Maradona has always been coloured by the Xenophobia surrounding him whipped up by some elements of the press due to ‘The hand of God’ incident’ and the preceding Falklands War: Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange – taken from Wikipedia.

Maradona was a genius, cheat, god, fallen idol, drug addict, driven and committed, a family man and a man who refused to recognise the birth of a son (he finally did meet and endorse him in 2016). There are many more adjectives to describe him but his personal coach who kept him trained (achieving unbelievable athleticism even with a non conforming life style) describes him as being two people, the boyish lovely Diego and the driven Maradona who had to portray a strong outer shell to the world and not let them get to him.

I have changed my view of him as a footballer and believe he was the most talented player ever. How did he put up with and ride such aggressive tackles and then turn, swerve, run and still have the vision to make the telling pass or shot on goal that led to Argentina winning the World Cup and previously unsuccessful Napoli becoming the greatest team in the world.

The films director can be proud of what he has achieved joining endless clips into a seamless technically brilliant film which is not compromised by the sub tittles in any way. Some footage is switched to black and white and the music is both haunting and uplifting. The outstanding feature of the film is how it captures all of the emotions of the time, situation and outcomes.



Postscript:  Taken from the ‘Mirror’ on line  https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/peter-shilton-swerves-new-maradona-16508773

By Tom Bryant Head Of Showbiz 19:07, 12 JUN 2019

‘Footie legend Peter Shilton gave the premiere of a new documentary about Diego Maradona a straight red card. The goalie, who the cheating Argentinian scored his infamous Hand of God goal against at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, boycotted the event along with other former England stars from the campaign

The 69-year-old has previously slammed Maradona for his failure to apologise for his appalling sportsmanship and posted of the premiere: “I declined the invitation along with several England ex-players.” He later told the Mirror: “I’ve got more important things to do… like playing darts “.


Football’s uniting friendship

Liverpool’s footballing exploits are strong but just off the City Centre is another piece of footballing folk lore at  ‘The Bombed Out Church’, St Luke’s. A memorial to the devastation of the bombings in the Second World War which is now used as a space for gatherings as a venue of all sorts it also now the home of the statue ‘Truce’ by Andy Edwards.


Talking to the security guard at the church, a function was just about to take place, he let us take photos  and explained that a quarter sized version of the statue sits at The FA’s St George’s Park National Football Centre, Burton-upon-Trent and the original life size version is in the Belgian town of Mesen, also known by its French name Messines, the closest to where the Christmas Truce of 1914 is believed to have started. The Security Guard said that there had also been talk of one being made and sited in Germany.

Whether a football game actually took place can not be totally corroborated although diary entries of German soldiers state it did. There may also have been more than one game along the whole length of the front. What is definite is that a truce lasting roughly a week did take place in 1914 and songs, gifts and hand shakes were exchanged. The statue brilliantly portrays the friendship of mankind towards one another and that humanity triumphs in the darkest of times. Unfortunately the guns resumed and continued for nearly 4 years with the loss of so many.

Thank you Andy for a truly inspiring piece of art.

The Art of Football


On my recent visit to Sunderland I enquired about seeing the iconic Painting of Sunderland V Aston Villa that hangs in their reception and is recognised as the oldest painting of an Association Football match anywhere in the world. The painting by Thomas Maria Madawaska Hemy was painted after the end of the 1912/13 season when Sunderland won the Division 1 title and Aston Villa beat them in the FA Cup final at Crystal Palace in front of 120000 fans. This followed a 20 year period when the two teams dominated the First Division Championship, Villa winning it 4 times and Sunderland 3.

The painting is of an exciting 4-4 draw at Newcastle Road on 2nd January 1895 with a sprinkling of snow on the ground. It appears to depict a corner with all players in the painting except for the opposing goalkeeper.

Unfortunately I was unable to see the painting as I was informed that I would have to pay extra and return on a tour day.

My disappointment lasted a day as while leaving Sunderland I saw the above painting on the side of the Blue House pub. The painting is of Horatio (Raich) Carter who was regarded as the finest inside forward of his time. The painting is by local Sunderland artist Frank Styles and was completed in 2015.

A brilliant piece of local folk art.

Village Voice by Ian Cusak

Village Voice – The Story of Percy Main Amateurs 2009/2010 Season written by Ian Cusak and published by Ian Cusak Publishing 2010.


What a find, this book was £1 on a book table at Stocksbridge Park Steels and is the best read of the year so far.

Ian Cusak a long time Newcastle United fan and a part time follower of the local Non-League scene finds that his disillusionment  with the big time leads him to Percy Main Amateurs. The book tells of Percy Mains season 2009/2010 and his election onto the committee and his involvement in time, energy and emotion. It also gives an insight into how the club survives and the characters who make up the team, management, committee and fans (all of which are known by name). The book was written to chronicle the event and to raise funds for the club. My secondhand purchase won’t help this but it has meant that I will visit them in the future. The club comes across as very friendly and welcoming of ground hoppers.

During the season in question Percy Main attempt to gain promotion from Division 1 of the Northern Alliance a league that is based mainly in the North East but due to historical reasons has teams from as far away as Berwick and Carlisle. I will not give away what the outcome is and spoil it for other readers.

If you see this book buy it and enjoy the pleasure of football at this level and wander why the powers that be do not filter down more money to keep this life blood of the game in better health.


‘Those Feet’

‘Those Feet’ written by David Winner and published by Bloomsbury Press in 2005 and this paperback edition in 2006.

This book was written by David Winner who in 2001 wrote Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football ,a book about the Dutch mastery of football at the time with their ‘Total Football’. The book was acclaimed as a must read to understand how dutch history, life, people and society in general had all come together to create a style that swept all before it.

Those Feet looks at the English game from its Victorian outset, values and how they set a pattern for footballers, fans, clubs and officials that still influence English football in total.

The swash buckling centre forward epitomised in Roy of the Rovers, the never give up military attitude, the we know better than anyone else and our slow take up of new designs and tactics seem to show why we have only been successful at one World Cup. Since the book was published the game has changed with the spread of non UK players and the introduction of the worlds greatest managers with methods, tactics and strategies at the cutting edge of the sport. This has helped the national team to develop a more youthful outlook that gives great hope for the future. We are also now, due to the success of our Olympians, ready to accept and pioneer new techniques, equipment, clothing and diet to get those small incremental gains that make you world leaders.

The most outstandingly interesting paragraphs in the book are about how Sir Stanley Mathews adopted the new style football boots that were lighter and more flexible and gave him an edge. He saw the development of the new boot in South America and Europe and persuaded the Coop to make and sell the boot. This gives me even more respect for this footballing genius but his new boot was treated as a gimmick rather than the revolution it was.

The detail of the book is really good and gives as it intends an understanding of how the English game developed its own style and in a way held it back form being more competitive on an international stage. Many would say that was great in that it created a fast, competitive, end to end style that we have all enjoyed and loved. At what cost, the forever under achievers of a game that we helped to invent and fashion into today’s   global super sport.

A good Read


Thank God for Football!

‘Thank God for Football’ by Peter Lupson was another Oxfam bookshop find. The book was published in 2006 and explains that of the 38 clubs who had at that time played in the Premiership 12 could trace their origin directly to a church.


The book is well researched and at only 163 pages was easy and quick to read and thoroughly enjoyable.  It throws light on the fact that many clubs that were formed in Victorian times were as a result of belief of the senior local church hierarchy that they could reach the local community through education and physical activity that would also be linked with spiritual needs. In the Chapter on Southampton FC is the passage “All connected with the club are believers in muscular Christianity, and think that the advantage of strong developed limbs, a supple frame, and a quick eye, cannot be over estimated.”

Many of these teams were also adjunct to the cricket team who were looking for a sport to keep them fit in the winter. The clubs were also often stated in deprived areas as an alternative to the daily monotonous grind of work and a social life that was alcohol based. Some of the teams formed had a temperance culture. Not only is it a book about football but is also a great social reference of the times.

The Teams in question are:-

Aston Villa FC – The Aston Villa (Wesleyan) Football Club

Barnsley FC – Barnsley St Peters Football Club

Birmingham City FC – Small Heath Alliance  (Out of Holy Trinity Church)

Bolton Wanderers FC – Christ Church Football Club

Liverpool FC and Everton FC – St Domingo Football Club

Fulham FC – St Andrew’s Cricket and Football Club

Manchester City FC – St Mark’s (West Gorton) Football Club

Queens Park Rangers FC – St Jude’s Institute Football Club

Southampton FC – The St Mary’s Young Men’s Association Football Club

Swindon Town FC – Swindon Town Football Club  (Out of Christ Church Swindon)

Tottenham Hotspur FC – Hotspur Football Club  (Out of All Hallows Church Tottenham)


Thank God for Football by Peter Lupson 2006. Published by  ‘Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge’



Sheffield Library’s in the Premier League

Sheffield Library’s do a lot to promote football history in Sheffield and involve the community along the way. As well as having a good depth in books about football both in the general and reference library and a very helpful team to help you they also offer other services to help many who may be lonely, fighting depression or dementia through sport.

Sporting Memories Group

They have set up sporting memories groups in 5 libraries to help older people unlock  sporting memories  whether they be football, cricket, swimming, Olympics etc. Regular sessions are now held at, Crystal Peaks, Ecclesall, Firth Park, Stocksbridge and Central libraries and they have been a great hit often with full groups and a waiting list of people wanting to go along.

Walking Tour App

Another initiative is the ‘Walking Tour App’ of the places that give Sheffield a rightful voice in saying it is the ‘Home of Football’.20181102_125837.jpg

The best way to describe the App is how the Library themselves describe it.

“Between 1857 and 1889 Sheffield had 95 football clubs and the app explores locations associated with these early clubs and the development of the modern game. While visiting ten stops over the 4.7 mile walk you will be introduced to the places and people that made Sheffield the home of Association football.

The app includes audio commentaries, so you can listen as you walk or simply sit and enjoy in your armchair from anywhere in the world.

As you reach key points along the walk content in the app will be triggered automatically. You can also follow your location on an 1855 map, giving you a sense of what Sheffield was like at that time.”


It will be something I’m sure I will do on a visit to Sheffield in the future.

Sheffield Football Treasures

On the 25th October the Central Library put on a day between 10.30 and 2.30 when you could visit them and see some of the treasures that are in Sheffield that show off its football history credentials. There were displays and talks by many groups showing and explaining the history of the game.


Some photos are from Sheffield Library’s Twitter page.

There were as well as the FA Cup some of the local cups first played for in Sheffield and perhaps more important with regards the history of the game at its outset.


This support for Sport locally is just one of the ways that Sheffield Library’s are keeping on top of the league and encouraging people to use this amazing resource.




‘Kes’- Fifty Years On

It is fifty years since the iconic, social commentary film’ Kes’ was filmed in Barnsley using many local people, dialect and locations. This gritty sometimes bleak film was based on a book by Barry Hines (Kestrel for a Knave .1968) and Directed by Ken Loach whose 2016 film ‘I. Daniel Blake’ still shows he can capture aspects of life often not seen or appreciated in all parts and strata of society.

I was able to re-live watching the film through ‘Off The Shelf’ which in its own words is: “Off the Shelf is one of the largest and most accessible literary festivals in the UK. Every year we bring the biggest names in literature and the arts to Sheffield.”  

The film is about Billy Casper a teenage growing up in Barnsley and just about to leave school. Being brought up by his single parent mum with his step brother he has become disengaged with school and what he might do in the future if he is not to follow others down the pit. He finds fulfilment, excitement and learning through bringing up a Kestrel and teaching it to fly to him.


The social commentary of the film is still relevant today with disengaged teenagers stuck in non-fulfilling school days and job prospects to follow. The cane was the go to means of control then as is exclusion today.

The football scene with Brian Glover playing the games teacher (Mr Sugden) is a must watch for all football fans. The picking of teams is classic with the one left, Billy Casper being put in goal in Brian’s team. This is after he tries to get out of games but has to wear the largest shorts you have seen.

The game is played in rain and mud with the games teacher treating it like a top game as he tries to dominate the play through brute force and his whistle. He turns it into a Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur fantasy and creates a twice taken penalty to level the scores. This does not work however as the opposition score in the last minute as Billy dives theatrically the wrong way.

Billy is then bullied into taking a shower despite having no towel and humiliated in front of his peers.

A fantastic scene and film from Ken Loach.