Friday, August 14, 2020

Because it's Saturday

This week my guest blogger has celebrated the publication of a long awaited book.

It's about football. Or soccer as you guys might call it.

I recall having a long conversation with Lisa Brackmann about the atmosphere at a baseball game and why it all takes so long. She explained about the family entertainment, the food, the celebration.

I grew up in Govan. Home of the Glasgow Rangers . In the East End of the city is the home of the Glasgow Celtic. This is a tribal and sectarian situation, which should be getting better but to be honest, I think they are now sober,  tribal and sectarian!

But there are of course, many other little clubs, full of charm and empty stadiums/stadia,  the butt of jokes with a  goalie who is often a plumber. A far cry from  the Beckhams.

So after being a journalist, a war correspondent and a travel writer, Gavin Bell took a notion to write about the passion, and the  heartbreak of  football for football's sake.

What was it that sparked the idea for this book?  

When I was a boy I had a set of football league tables made of cardboard, given away by a newspaper. They came with name tags of teams and every Saturday, as the results came in, I’d rearrange them into their new positions. I knew next to nothing about most of the clubs and even less about where they came from, but names like Accrington Stanley and Plymouth Argyle had a magic ring to them and in the back of my mind I had this thought that one day I’d visit them. So this book is really a boyhood dream come true.


Is it because you are a Motherwell supporter that you are drawn to 'teams who win nothing but their fans devotion'?  (Motherwell is a town to the east of Glasgow,  known for its steel production, hence the team is called The Steelmen. They play at Fir Park.  It has a three piece suite in the stand and that's an all seater stadium for them. For many years I thought they were called  Motherwell nil.    These are the two famous Motherwell jokes)

One thing supporting Motherwell gives you is a philosophical attitude to life. You are spared Old Firm ( Rangers and Celtic) expectations and demands that you’ll win every match, and when you do win it comes as a nice surprise. This outlook is shared by fans of the likes of Grimsby Town and Berwick Rangers, they are kindred spirits, and I felt very much at home in their company. We understood each other and it was a pleasure sharing opinions and reminiscences with them.

 And that idea of the buses leaving Motherwell and Paisley to watch The Old Firm teams?

They say real football fans don’t choose their clubs, it’s either where they come from or the team their mum or dad supports. So I think it’s sad that so many Old Firm fans don’t come from Glasgow and don’t support their local teams. Motherwell and St Mirren are both family friendly clubs that care for their fans and deserve their support. Our tenement and my primary school were barely half a mile from Fir Park, and although we moved to Glasgow when I was only seven there was never any question in my mind that I came from Motherwell, and that I would support the Steelmen.


And, thinking about our visit to Maryport,  the most depressing place on the face of the planet if you recall? Is the passion for the local team something that gets folk out their bed in the morning?

Possibly. I discovered amazingly close bonds and easy familiarity between lower league teams and their fans that are rarely if ever shared in Premier League glamour clubs. As often as not players, managers and even owners mingle with supporters for drinks after games. And small clubs with big hearts invest huge time and effort in social welfare programmes in the communities that support them. So for many fans, particularly in towns struggling with post-industrial decline like Accrington, their local teams are far more than football clubs. They are a way of life. A Grimsby fan told me: “This place is on its rear end, the team’s about the only thing it’s got going for it.”


This is a departure from your award-winning travel writing, was it hard to make the transition?

Not really, I love football as much as travel and for this book I found myself wandering off in the footsteps of writers, artists and poets like Laurie Lee, L.S. Lowry and Rupert Brooke, whose musings helped to convey images of the places I was writing about. The Plymouth pub where Beryl Cook sketched some of her most famous jolly paintings was great fun.


Any great stories come from the research you did?

The kit man at Berwick Rangers used to be the team’s part-time physio and he told me about a match at Stenhousemuir when he ran onto the pitch to help an injured player, who continued playing. When he came back to the bench one of the club staff said: “That was an easy tenner.” One of the substitutes asked: “Whit’s that aboot a tenner?” He was told that if an injured player carried on the physio earned ten pounds, but that if he had to leave the field the physio got nothing. In the second half the substitute came on and collapsed in a heap five minutes later, and the physio ran on and asked him what was wrong. The player replied: “There’s nowt wrong wi’ me but that’s a fiver each.” True story.


Did you ever play football? What do you do now?

I reached the dizzy heights of playing for Govan Amateurs in an era when many opponents were the sons of shipyard workers and hard men not known for shirking tackles. Games frequently degenerated into kung-fu with a football, so I switched to my dad’s sport, middle distance running, and I was amazed when rivals congratulated me after races instead of trying to kick me to kingdom come. Now I’m a dad myself and my greatest joy is discovering the world with my lovely wee daughter. As soon as Covid permits we’ll be off to Fir Park, Motherwell.

Gavin, Colin and their mum. She used to run the riding stables where my dad got manure for his allotment! Small world.


 Because it's a Saturday was published this week and is availble through the usual channels - 

It's also on Waterstones and W H Smith websites.

Gavin Bell

1 comment:

  1. We to the west...far west...of you, Gavin, generally share the same by birth loyalty to our professional football teams (football to all in the US). My father took me to games from practically the time I could walk--and sit still. Tribal chants from those days still ring in my ears. The interesting parallel to your beloved Motherwell is that my team, too, was perennially terrible. Yet a deep loyalty remained in me even after I'd moved to locales with far better teams. Then one day the Fates intervened and rewarded my loyalty. My team became champions. Nothing in my life was as satisfying as the vindication I felt at their winning that first championship. There's a kindred spirit between that team and Motherwell in more ways than a shared name. Just as your Motherwell Steelmen brought hope to its fans, my Pittsburgh Steelers helped bring a town off its butt, and roaring back onto its feet. Go Motherwell, beat...someone?