football

this is not your beautiful game by ben banyard

england under 20

future stars?

This past Sunday (June 11th) saw the greatest achievement in English football for 51 years. The Under-20s won their World Cup in South Korea, beating such senior giants as Argentina and Italy, but also less renowned countries like Guinea and Venezuela on the way. Talk (prematurely of course) is now whether they can go on and do the same for the senior team in Qatar 2022. The team is made up of players on the books of top Premier League clubs, but hardly any have played more than a handful of games for the first team. They play their games at lower league grounds, such as Oldham and Rochdale, which I think is good, as it brings international level games to a wider audience and at lower prices.

Football, as we have seen previously on this site with Rishi Dastidar’s poem, “We are Premier League”, is dominated by big money, whether it be players’ wages, ticket prices, or television rights and subscriptions. But as with many sports, top success is underpinned by the misnomer of non-league football, which itself starts with youth leagues, where parents volunteer for the child’s team as manager, trainer, team secretary, running the line, or putting up the nets (the latter two were my job, and at 5ft 7in, the crossbar was out of reach).

Support for their local teams is part and parcel of this territory. It is there that I go by the ‘blighted by birth or where you live’ rule when it comes to supporting a team – there is no pick and mix (I was born in Coventry for the sins of my parents). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t contradict that rule by making your children support the god forsaken team you were born from.

Ben BanyardBen Banyard’s poem ‘This is Not Your Beautiful Game’ nicely captures the reality and sometime excitement of such wind-blown support, “This is not Wembley or the Emirates./We’re broken cement terraces, rusting corrugated sheds,/remnants of barbed wire, crackling tannoy.” You don’t get prawn sandwiches here (not that you would want them), it’s “pies described only as ‘meat’,/cups of Bovril, instant coffee, stewed tea.” But out of such masochistic adversity, comes great strength, as well as pride. “Little boys who support our club learn early/how to handle defeat and disappointment…./We are the English dream, the proud underdog/twitching hind legs in its sleep.” It is never too late for some players’ dreams; many have risen out of the lower ranks, to play in the Premier League, like Chris Smalling, Charlie Austin, Jimmy Bullard, Troy Deeney, and Jamie Vardy. And of course not forgetting Coventry’s own Trevor Peake, who at the age of 26 was bought from Lincoln City and was part of the 1987 FA Cup winning side.

[NB: for one time only, I am allowing a Birmingham fan to grace the pitch of Proletarian Poetry. There are times (and poetry is one of them), when the game must trump the tribalism – aka pride before a fall. But don’t tell any Cov fans]

Ben Banyard grew up in Solihull but has lived in the West Country since the mid-90s. His poems have appeared widely in the likes of The Interpreter’s House, And Other Poems, Under the Radar and Popshot. Ben’s pamphlet, Communing, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2016 and his first full collection, We Are All Lucky, is due out from the same press in 2018. He edits Clear Poetry and blogs at https://benbanyard.wordpress.com


This is Not Your Beautiful Game

This is not Lionel Messi, balletic, mercurial.
We have a journeyman striker with a broken nose
no pace, poor finishing, very right-footed.

This is not Wembley or the Emirates.
We’re broken cement terraces, rusting corrugated sheds,
remnants of barbed wire, crackling tannoy.

Here, the captain winning the toss
chooses to kick uphill or down
considers which half his keeper will stand in mud.

We have pies described only as ‘meat’,
cups of Bovril, instant coffee, stewed tea.

Our shirts feature the logo of a local scaffolding firm,
can’t be found in JD Sports.

Don’t tell us about football’s grass roots.
We don’t worry that all of this must seem small-fry,
that our team comprises keen kids and sore old pros.

Little boys who support our club learn early
how to handle defeat and disappointment,
won’t ever see us on Match of the Day.

We are the English dream, the proud underdog
twitching hind legs in its sleep,
tapping in a last-minute equaliser as the rain
knifes down on tonight’s attendance: 1,026 souls.

We Are Premier League by Rishi Dastidar

The footballer Colin Kazem-Richards was born thirty years ago in east London to a Turkish/Cypriot Muslim mother and a West Indian Rastafarian father. He has played for 13 clubs in as many years, in seven countries, winning titles in Turkey, Greece and Scotland. He currently plays for the Brazilian team Corinthians, is married to a Brazilian woman with whom he has two children, who are their mother’s nationality. His national team is Turkey. Kazem-Richards is an embodiment of what the philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah (himself of mixed-heritage and has lived on three continents) calls ‘cosmopolitanism’; being a citizen of the world through shared values and culture.

Chertsey Town vs Mole Valley SCR

Image by Chris Turner*

It could be argued that today’s elite football at least, is one of those shared cultural experiences, being played and watched by billions of people across the world (China is the latest country to spend big on the game). In the UK, the Premier League is a polyglot of players from different countries (in 2015 it was 64 countries, compared with 50 in Spain’s La Liga). But whilst this is a positive illustration of cosmopolitanism, it is also a negative illustration of globalisation in terms of the economic foundations that prop it up. If the Premier League is the London Square Mile of football, the lower leagues are the forgotten inner city and rural pockets of deprivation (ask any fan of my team Coventry, or Leyton Orient). Where players in the Premier League can command long and rich contracts (they are paid five times more than a Championship player), a League Two player will not only be paid much less but will have much more precarious employment conditions (short-term/loan). And then there is the totem ‘tea lady’, who is barely paid a living wage.

Rishi 9 FINAL BW suggested cropRishi Dastidar gives us a wonderful carousel of images of today’s modern Premier League players in his poem “We are Premier League”. The lines “We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings/We are charitable visits, making dreams come true”, shows the seeming contradictions of characters who command such wealth but still enjoy the ‘finer’ delights of chicken shops whilst visiting hospitals and schools. Many of these players themselves come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with little education (they were too good at football in their teens to worry about A levels, if not GCSEs) and travelled little. But like a lottery winner, the money can go to their head, and without proper guidance, they become: “We are court appearances in Armani suits/We are playthings of offshore corporations.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say they should be the foundation of a social mobility strategy, but neither should they be made the scapegoats of global capitalism. Many of the leading players, when retiring do a lot of good work supporting different communities. But there should be a way in which the benefits of cosmopolitanism can spread the income from globalisation more equitably; the football authorities are in a position to show leadership here, especially in these times of a resurgence in reactionary nationalism.

Rishi Dastidar’s poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others, and has featured in the anthologies Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins) and Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe). A fellow of The Complete Works, the Arts Council England funded programme for BAME poets in the UK, he is a consulting editor at The Rialto magazine, a member of the Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective, and also serves as chair of the writer development organization Spread The Word. His debut collection, Ticker-tape, is published by Nine Arches Press.

 

We are Premier League

We are Nando’s skin on X-box wings
We are charitable visits, making dreams come true

We are role models and bandwagon drivers
We are baby Bentleys on private roads

We are gold tattoos on choking necks
We are orange spider mohicans on the backs of heads

We are dating on TOWIE and fit well jel
We are boys made good on our roasts

We are court appearances in Armani suits
We are playthings of offshore corporations

We are sponsored elite, and we are endorsed
We’ve parked the bus and we want more

We are the wages of underachievement
We are 17th place and we are class

(“We are Premier League” is taken from Rishi’s debut collection, Ticker-tape, published by Nine Arches Press)

* Image by Chris Turner

Inside Out by Zeina Hashem Beck

The late great Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly had many famous sayings that are repeated to this day. The one that struck me growing up was, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Although I have followed football all my life, I have rarely, if ever Palestine-Logo-Bigworn my team’s shirt. For one, I didn’t want to get beaten up by any wayward away fans; and two, I have never liked the tribal allegiance element of the game nor the violence that lies behind it.

Football is also not devoid of influencing national politics to the point of igniting armed conflict as was the case in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador. The political map influences where teams will play; most notable being that the Israeli national team and its clubs compete in Europe. The Palestinian team was only recognised by FIFA in 1998, but has great potential despite the political and social conditions that surround it. I bought the Palestinian football shirt, as a small act of support when at the large protest march against the war in Gaza last year.

Zeina's PhotoOf course, football is a passion among many people in Gaza and the West Bank, and Zeina Hashem Beck puts that into stark perspective in her heart-breaking poem Inside Out, where she paints a scene of Gaza under attack during the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. “my friend’s mom in Gaza is cheering/for Brazil and Holland/all that orange/burning almost/a sunrise all that/smoke”. Zeina goes back and forth from the football to the terrible scene unfolding, “there’s an old woman/who dies holding/her spoon waiting/for iftar/which comes but so do/the rockets/and the news/Brazil loses to Germany 7-1”. The poem continues without punctuation reflecting the relentless nature of the Israeli bombardment, until the end of the tournament when, “a player kisses a trophy/his wife his son/a mother/kisses a dead child/grief inside out/is resistance” Like Laila Sumpton’s poem ‘Morning Prayers’, Zeina juxtaposes the everyday events we take for granted, such as watching a football match with the tragic situation in which Palestinian people live, in a wholly different type of everyday event. (more…)