Tuesday, March 24, 2009

football n fiction, ...they started walking out together.

Now I've talked about defining it. I've talked about the books. I've talked about the history of this lovely wee genre. I've even talked about how it works. Now it's about time I start putting it all together. It's going to take weeks. The progression will be fractured and distracted with all the usual nonsense - journal entries, updates on my PhD, spurious argument and obviously football books as I find them. [It's been beyond mental in thesimplestgame back office. It's nice to be back]

The first question I need to address is... Is football fiction really a genre?

Football fiction may have started with Shakespeare. In act one, scene four of King Lear (1606), the Earl of Kent kicks and taunts Oswald with the line, “Nor tripped neither, you base football player.” I have read too that there are references in The Comedy of Errors (1592). So, it's possible that football fiction has been around for longer than the modern version of the game, which developed some 260 years later. I doubt it though.

In Ray of the Rovers: the working class heroine in popular football fiction 1915-1925 Alethea Melling puts football fiction's roots in working-class “factory or dialect fiction”. But there are examples of football fictions existing before that. In The Encyclopedia of British Football, Cox and company do a good job of contextualising the history of 'football literature', but in following Alethea's lead, they spurn the chance to create a definition themselves.

The only other uses of the term football fiction I have encountered are for classification purposes on the East Sussex (England) public library website and on a gay erotic fan fiction site. I hope the two never get mixed up, the East Sussex WI's knickers' would be so twisted for so long, there would be tears in every brown eye.

In an attempt to broaden the field to include other forms of football writing (a practice I want to steer things away from), including non-fiction, plays, revues, photography collections and poetry, DJ Taylor, in Rally Round You Havens! and John Turnbull, Thom Satterlee and Alon Raab, in The Global Game have assigned the collective works of football writing the distinction of being soccer or football literature.

This was the definition I developed (in an earlier blog). It raised a couple of eyebrows during the auld confirmation process.

Any work of fiction with a significant reliance on football as a central or substantive element of the narrative.

It's still a little spongy. It'll need some reworking, particularly around what qualifies as significant or substantive, but what it does is offer a centre spot, somewhere to play from until the field firms up. Otherwise where would you start?

Do you include Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for a Knave (1969) for example? As John Turnbull pointed out on this site, it’s about a boy and his bird, but there is also a single, narratively ‘significant’, 20 page game (in a book of 159 pages). Do you include John King’s The Football Factory (1996) even though the reader rarely sees any actual football?

Albert Camus and the boy Nabakov have both written about football - particularly their own experiences as players, (see the Global Game site, its full of great stuff like this), should I consider their work? The Plague (1970) is full of football references, well not full, but it is mentioned a number of times.

I would say no to Shakespeare on the grounds of historical perspective. King’s trilogy The Football Factory , Head Hunters (1997) and England Away (1998), works of stunning violence and football hooliganism, are saturated in the parlance of football culture and are assuredly first eleven. Barry Hines makes the subs bench as Billy Casper, the wee boy in A Kestrel for a Knave, is colourfully and clearly developing as a character in the scene that, more importantly, is a sustained description of a football game. As for Camus and Nabakov, I’m not so sure.

This all seems well and good, except people have been making stuff up about football since football began; in skewed match reports, transfer speculation filled newspapers, websites and ‘pub-storytellers’ recounting great events. If you counted everyone who’d allegedly attended Scotland’s defeat of England, then reigning World Champions, in 1967 in Glasgow, the stadium would have been filled at least three times over.

It'll do though. More next week.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Detached from the world…still chasing the ball

thesimplestgame must apologise to regular readers for the less than regular service here over the last couple of weeks. My life has been given a fairly hefty doing by the PhD confirmation process. I’ve now completed and submitted the document. I can honestly say that the 140 page academic ‘tour de force’ was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken and I still have the presentation and the gruelling 5 person panel interview/review to do.

Such an intense period of thought, research and study has left my battered, bruised and bloodied brain feeling like it’s been sitting on a hot plate for the last six weeks, or in a bain-marie. Either way it’s kind of soft, hot and sweaty. A less than nutritious goo has been beading my ears since last thursday.

Every time I’ve sat down to knock over the latest spraff on football fiction the front heated window of my mind steams over and I can’t get started. It’s the reason for the delay in posting this week. It’s not a block of writerliness as such. It’s simply a matter of unravelment. Like an auld woolly jumper on a washing line in the rain, my brain feels like it's come apart in fairly substantial sections. The re-enravelment process is not happening as quickly as I had hoped. As you can see from this here word deposit, it’s still too difficult to concentrate for long enough to throw a couple of lines together.

My thesis is about football fiction. Specifically the differences between young adult and adult works. To do this I’ve graphed and historicised the sociology of fictional football writing. It’s been really interesting. I’ve blended work from people we’ve seen on this site, such as DJ Taylor and John Turbull with work by cultured theorists like Steve Redhead, Alethea Melling and the writers of the Encyclopedia of British football. I’ve also come up with some of my own ideas on the genre – which is the way of things I suppose.

I’ve broken the genre down – because I can say with some authority that it is a genre – into streams and movements, which I will discuss when I’m feeling a little more attached to the world.