Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Could it really all have kicked off with King Lear?

Football fiction has turned out to be a tricky little vixen. I’ve had a great deal of difficulty in tracking stuff down, but now I’m starting to get places. Thanks in part to the Encyclopedia of British Football written by Richard William Cox, Dave Russell, Wray Vamplew and the National Football Museum.

I’m looking at scoping the history of the genre. The where-it-all-began. It’s hardly a journey back through the mists of time, but it spans the best part of a hundred years. So long as you don’t count Shakespeare. But I’ll get to that.

It didn’t start with Sydney Horler either, but among the 150 or so books he wrote, Horler penned a spree of almost romanticised football fiction (about 20 of the blighters) like Life’s a Game about spy footballers and all sorts. Along with works by Arnold Bennet and JB Priestley, they were published around the 1920’s right up until the 50’s.

A new favourite author of mine, Robin Jenkins, wrote The Thistle and the Grail in 1954 and little seemed to come afterwards until the mid to late 60’s when Barry Hines knocked out A Kestrel For A Knave (1968) a cold, hardbitten northern English story. Hunter Davies published the notorious Striker in the late 70’s and the story of Sinderby Wanderers was published a couple of years before it. Reviews of some of these titles will follow in the coming weeks.

Things picked up in the 80’s and 90’s when the likes of Roddy Doyle (the Van), DJ Taylor (English Settlement), Julian Barnes and Martin Amis, among others, wrote about or made reference to football in their work and, wittingly or not, established or imposed something of a literary level on the genre. No doubt, the nobility of the Italian World Cup, with its Nessun Dorma’d operatic theme contributing, the low brow gained some height before the likes of Irvine Welsh (Marabou Stork Nightmares, the Acid House) and John King (The Football Factory, Head Hunters and England Away) brought it back to earth with a lager-fuelled, hard-edged come-down and a solid terrace-style beating.

Since then there have been a number of other standouts, peers and undeserving derivatives of those mentioned, as well as a few which found themselves out of play for one reason or another. More recently David Peace lifted football fiction out of the doldrums with The Damned United. (I've reviewed it already)

There’s more to this in my PhD. Things are filling out. But my main concern will be in identifying trends, peaks and troughs, hits and misses and the anomalies, the oddities, the plain old plums and the triumphs.

Importantly I’m searching for the exact place it all started. There’s been speculative news reports and comic strips and a host of other stuff too including fiction books for kids of all shapes and sizes since the dawn of the era. I would imagine people have been telling football tales, tall and true, since the first ball was kicked. There’s even mention of a “football player” in King Lear, which could mean that Shakespeare wrote the first football fiction.

As much as I doubt it, from my studies point of view, I think it might be very cool if he did.

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