Saturday, November 8, 2008

Elements of style

The elements of style in football fiction have very little to do with fashionable strips, cutting edge hairdoo’s, trendy cars and flashier bars. It’s about the words and how they’re placed on the page. The order of things. In football it’s the stuff the manager thinks about mostly. Smart players do it too. Well… I’ll leave that where it is.
Smart fans know it’s all about the football. Smart fans don’t worry about style or image, unless it’s to take in the latest version of the club’s away game alternative training kit.

Now, take Robbie Williams, Port Vale’s ‘biggest’ fan. Obviously when we say ‘biggest’ we’re not talking pie-eating, legging stretching or Texas rancher euphemising here. We’re talking celebrity LARGesse. Yesterday, pop’s largest celebrity football fan, ignored his famously favoured team to watch what he described in an impromptu game-side Sky Sports interview as his ‘secret Vale’ in action at the Emirates stadium.

Standing alongside his old Take That chum, the Barlow boy - he is after all unofficial leader of the manboy ‘band’ (he’s the only one who can actually play an instrument), Williams blaw-blaw-blawed a profession for football love at its vainest. He unwittingly revealed something most people probably would have guessed. He suggested following Port Vale can be difficult sometimes and that he enjoys watching a team who win a game once in a while. I know. Wanker! Football fans stick with their teams through thick n thin. Or thin n thin if you’re a Vale fan, but that’s besides the point.

It turns out Williams thick, like many of football’s shallower, shiny trophy, gold diggers, is a clandestine dirty love for Man. Ewe, Alex Ferguson’s pedantically preened multi-millionaire European champers who strut, stroll and, with the ball at their feet, victoriously sweep all-comers aside. Except, they got done, didn’t they?

In the classic writer’s text, Elements of Style, by Strunk, White and Kalman, now in its fourth edition, it says write about what you know about, write about what you feel most comfortable with.

Clearly most weeks Robbie words would have wrung truer than the electronically controlled giant bell hanging above the Thames near the houses of Paharliament. Except he chose to say what he did during an interview in the stadium on a day when his sentiment was hopelessly inaccurate. Clearly as a singer of over prescribed love songs this is not new to him, but in the world of football, fictive or otherwise, these are the things that count. Like a flat cap, a black pudding under the arm, a losing racing card and a pair of steel toe-capped boots, your words are the stable, solid ground you stand on and if you get it wrong, you’re in the mire. I don’t think football fiction writers are any different.

Port Vale’s 2nd round FA cup spectacular 4-3 comeback (from 3-1 down) was the stuff of legend, a genuine football story of the day. Or would have been if it hadn’t been overshadowed by the Red Devils (has there ever been more appropriate name?) getting their bums felt by the Gooners. While the result will make the likes of Nick Hornby, Karren Brady and, allegedly, Osama Binboy Laden happy, it only leaves Robbie wishing he’d been in Huddersfield.

On a side note, I was wondering if the destruction of the part of the Emirates stadium by Osama’s mob in Chris Cleave’s novel Incendiary would count as a football fiction moment? Mind you, it’s probably just a happy coincidence that my thinking of these things has converged in this week’s post.

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