The death of Hugh McIlvanney this week saw the passing of a colusus, one of, if not, the greatest sports writers of all time. His knowledge, attention to detail, use of words and amazing descriptive ability could have made paint drying seem like an interesting spectator sport.
Perhaps his greatest work was writing about boxing but for me it was about the greats of football, the matches, the culture and the World Cup. For me the football articles inspired me to read more of the depth of the beautiful game.
I also remember his series ‘The Football Men’s on BBC about the great managers that came out of the heavy industrial areas around Glasgow, Sir Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Bill Shankly. The dark moody scenes set the background of the industrial landscape with his warm voice and Scottish accent vividly describing these giants background and achievements. If he had remade the film a few years later he would have included his friend Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Alex said ” Getting to know Hugh over the years was one of life’s great pleasures” in an interview with Johnathan Northcroft for The Sunday Times.
The Arena productions can still be seen on YouTube.
Hugh, thank you for the inspiration.
The picture taken from the back of Hugh ‘McIlvanney on Football’ book. I look forward to reading it again.
This link is to an article by Nicola Hudson 10.09.2018 published on the Supporters Direct web site. Their group “has been working since 2000 to help supporters gain influence in the running and ownership of their club”.
The article is about the EFL now making games available at 3.00 pm on a Saturday for viewing on TV and how this has affected and will change attendance at football matches throughout the English pyramid system. Andy Holt the Chairperson of Accrington Stanley has criticised the move due to lack of consultation.
Thank you Nicola for an article that again shows the lack of discussion in the game when it comes to generating income. What will happen when there is no one left in the ground, who will turn off the lights?
Non league day is tomorrow 13th October, a day when the Non-League clubs promote themselves showcasing what is good about local, often community or volunteer led football. These clubs exist primarily on gate receipts and club house sales, the club house being the hub of the local community in some cases. Sometimes the clubs are supported by local benefactors giving back something to their community but in all cases it is the hard work of people for no reward that give us this amazing depth of British football.
The day is usually on an international break weekend when the senior league clubs are not playing and often non-league clubs promote attendance through special offers, e.g. free for under 16’s, discounted entry if you show your season ticket for another club that is not playing due to the break. Please get out there and give support where you can.
Another great supporter of Non League football is the Non-League Club Directory which this year is celebrating its 41st edition. This is an amazing book of information about many hundreds of clubs and players. Although available now , mine usually comes on Christmas Day and gives me hours of pleasure at this leisurely time of year. I can’t wait.
A month without a football report has been enforced because of snow over the Easter Break (Buxton v Matlock Town postponed) and yesterday a waterlogged pitch at Shaw Lane in Barnsley. There was a visit to Villa but the one sided win (3-0) against a ten man Reading team from early in the 1st half did not warrant a mention.
Arriving at Shaw Lane’s ground at 7.15 for their home game with Stalybridge Celtic I was curious why there was no one about and the gates were locked. A check on the internet explained that the game had been moved to Stalybridge’s ground for the same night due to the constant rain of the previous day. Barnsley to Greater Manchester in 30 minutes was not on so it was two coffees and a chat at a friend’s nearby.
Fingers crossed the game next Thursday at their Sheerien Park will go ahead although it doesn’t look good with tomorrows match with Lancaster City being moved to Lancaster. Shaw lane are running a free coach for all of their supporters. Great gesture.
As I pass through this small residential area on the A60 in Northern Nottinghamshire I have always wandered if it had any reference to the “Kops” at football grounds.
Research suggests that the local paper to Woolwich Arsenal’s Manor Ground in 1904 made comparison to ‘the silhouette of fans standing on a newly completed bank of earth to soldiers standing atop the hill at the Battle of Spion Kop’.
This area however has no hills but it turns out that its name comes from that same Battle of Spion Kop which took place during the Second Boer War in Natal, South Africa, in January 1900. Major General John Talbot Coke a prominent figure in the battle was the grandson of a local clergyman and industrialist in the area and it was because of this that the area was given its name. The Major Generals involvement in the battle appears inconclusive due to poor communications on the battlefield.
Many grounds still have an area called the ‘Kop’ but most have been covered and had seating installed in response to the Taylor Report which required all grounds in the two top leagues to be all seater stadiums.
Living only 30 minutes from Sheffield I have been lucky to have recently learnt fascinating facts about football.
Football Heritage Walking Tour
It started with a ‘Football Heritage Walking Tour’ in Sheffield as part of Heritage Weekend in mid September led by researcher and consultant Dr John P Wilson who teaches at the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford. His knowledge and enthusiasm explained how Sheffield should be considered the home of Football as we visited sites and views of the city with a group of Football fans whose own knowledge added to the fun. We ended the tour at The Cutlers Hotel in the centre of the city for a review and further information and anecdotes from the tour party. The 1857 bar is situated at the site where Sheffield F.C. (the world’s oldest football club) was formed. It is owned by Greg Dyke former Chairman of the FA through Saxon Hotels Ltd. John finished by giving us some leaflets of research he had led that show why Sheffield should be considered ‘The Home of Football’. He passionately asked us to pass on the information to the widest audience possible.
My next education came at Chapeltown Library Sheffield on Friday 13th October where Martin Westbury gave a talk on his new book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889’. Martin was enthusiastic over the www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk a resource which eventually will feature 40 million pages from the British Library’s vast collection. The whole venture will take 10 years to complete but lucky for Martin Sheffield newspapers have been completed. A small fee has allowed him access details that have shed new light on the start of 95 local teams in the formative years of Football. This book is a cornucopia of charts, drawings, maps and photos and gives a clear, informative insight into this age. Once started you won’t put the book down. Again it was stressed that Sheffield was ‘The Home of Football’ and this year “2017 is a very important year for Sheffield football and Association football in general”.
Martin has an amazing insight into fòtball in general and runs the website Soccerbillia. The website sells football magazines and papers and takes on specific searches if required.
Off The Shelf Festival of Words
The ‘Off The Shelf Festival of Words’ which is in its 26th year gave me more football exposure. As part of the ideas alive at 5.45 a session on the 19th October was delivered by Dr Chris Stride from The University of Sheffield’s Institute of Work Psychology – Around the World in Eight Football Statues. This was an amazing talk on the growth of Sporting Statues around the world and was based on a data base compiled by researchers at the University of Sheffield. The database can be viewed at www.sportingstatues.com and is updated regularly.
Flying over an Olive Grove – The Biography of Fred Spikesley
A Flawed Football Hero.
Again as part of ‘Off the Shelf’ another fascinating chat by Mark Metcalf and Clive Nicholson about their book co written by themselves and Ralph Nicholson about Fred Spikesley a working class hero of his time. A Lincolnshire lad who was able to escape the drudgery of an industrial or farming career to play football for a living at the end of the 19th century. His career at Sheffield Wednesday playing at Olive Grove is his link to Sheffield where many of his famous football achievements were performed.
He was the first scorer of a hat-trick against Scotland, a gambler, he appeared on stage with Charlie Chaplin, escaped from a German prison in 1914 as well as coaching football on three continents.
The best way to further review Fred’s career is to visit https://spiksley.com/book/ where you can also buy the book.
This under threat institution was recommended by some of the above as a great source of Football books. They were not wrong with a good range on the shelves and in the archives of the reference library who let me borrow some books.
One of these was ‘Underdogs – The Unlikely story of Football’s first FA Cup Underdogs’. A book about Darwen and their exploits in the FA cup in the first years of the competition. This working class team of underdogs reached quarter and semi finals only to be beaten by the gentlemen of Old Etonians and Old Carthusians sometimes with tactics that were not gentlemanly.
This easy to read book is also really informative of the social and industrial history of Lancashire and football in general. It is written by Keith Dewhurst. In a chapter on Sheffield Keith gives two other reasons of why it is so important to Football stating that the use of the whistle and heading a ball came from there.
Home of Football
So in a small space of time I have been able to see the real significance of Sheffield to Football, but I don’t think it is any more the home as: Wembley – the home of the FA and the national stadium, St. George’s Park – Burton upon Trent, home to Englands 28 national teams and training ground, Manchester – National football Museum.
In fact I feel that the home of football is that which is close to you. My home of football is Clarence Park – St Albans, where I watched my first game many years ago and gained a clip round the ear for gathering dropped paper and putting it on a dis-guarded lighted cigarette end that started smoking to the laughter of the crowd but the distress of my father.
What is important for Football’s heritage is that we all get behind Sheffield FC’s campaign to move back to within a stones throw of where they started (Olive Grove) in a venue fit for the oldest team in the world and a visitors centre that will reflect Sheffield’s true place as a significant center of influence on the rules of this wonderful game and its continuing innovations.