Festival platform as Clavane and Cowley explore football and culture

Having done much to highlight the cultural significance of football in his fine book, Promised Land, it seems only fitting that Anthony Clavane has been given a literary platform from which to expand on the theme.

He and Jason Cowley, the editor of the New Statesman, will be appearing at the Ilkley Literature Festival on Sunday (October 2nd) to explore football and culture in an event entitled Promised Land.

Clavane’s book, the paperback version of which is subtitled A Northern Love Story sets the history of a football club -- Leeds United -- alongside the evolution of a city and its communities in a wonderfully crafted narrative that deservedly won a number of awards.

Named Football Book of the Year in the National Sports Book Awards, it was subsequently awarded recognition as the overall Sports Book of the Year after a readers’ vote.  Promised Land was also selected as Sports Book of the Year by the Radio Two Book Club.

Cowley, former editor of Granta and of the Observer Sports Monthly, is the author of The Last Game: Love, Death and Football, another acclaimed work that brings together football and sociology.

The Last Game focused on the epic final game of the 1988-89 season, when Arsenal won 2-0 at Anfield to steal the title from under the noses of Liverpool, as a defining moment, a shaft of light in the black shadow of the Hillsborough disaster six weeks earlier, in the history of football.  But, like Promised Land, it has a broader sweep that places in the story against the political landscape of the day.

Clavane and Cowley will share a stage in the Conservatory at Craiglands Hotel in Cowpasture Road, Ilkley, from 4pm.

The Ilkley Literature Festival, which features more than 200 events over 17 days from this Friday (September 30th) onwards, also offers a chance to listen to Alastair Hignell, the former England rugby player, county cricketer and broadcaster, and now a busy fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, with which he was diagnosed in 1999.

Hignell will be at the Ilkley Playhouse Theatre on Tuesday, October 4th (7.45pm) to talk about his autobiography, Higgy, which tells his warm and inspirational story from his early days, to playing alongside all-time sporting greats and his work as a leading campaigner for all those living with MS.

Higgy: Matches, Microphones and MS was published this month by A & C Black.  Click here to buydirect from Amazon.

Follow these links to buy Promised Land: A Northern Love Story (Yellow Jersey) and The Last Game: Love, Death and Football (Pocket Books)

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Writer Crace recalls bleak days when football became therapy

By Jon Culley

John Crace is a feature writer and satirist for the Guardian newspaper best known for Digested Read, the column in which he sums up the content of a book in a few carefully constructed paragraphs and then, by way of a punch line, in one pithy sentence.   You might see it as a kind of service to the time-poor -- ‘we read the books so you don’t have to’ -- albeit one delivered with tongue firmly in cheek.  Often it is brilliantly funny.

For the first time, in a book, Crace has written about football.  Vertigo: One Football Fan's Fear of Success (published by Constable & Robinson) is about being a Tottenham supporter.  But it is not Nick Hornby in a Spurs shirt.  The occasional highs and frequent lows of following the boys from White Hart Lane are described in ways with which his long-suffering fellow fans would identify but there is another, more personal element to the narrative.

Crace suffers from depression.  Not all the time but regularly enough for it to be a constant, underlying threat to his well-being.  And he does not shy from talking about it, disclosing feelings that others stricken with the curse will recognise only too well.

He sees the funny side of his condition, suggesting that decades of underachievement, an heroic sense of injustice, a pathological ability to rewrite failure as success, a seemingly infinite capacity for self-destruction and a selective memory make he and Tottenham a perfect match.

But when he likens going to a football match to being on a psychiatric ward he is not joking. Indeed, he makes an extraordinary observation very lucidly.

“My psychiatrist,” he writes, “…thinks his job is trying to keep me well enough not to need to go into a mental hospital, but part of me – obviously not the well part – can't think of anything better than going into a mental hospital, because I was sent to one when I was first diagnosed with depression and I quite enjoyed it. Not the being ill bit, but the being in the hospital bit, because it's one of the few places I've ever been where I felt totally safe.”

Later, explaining how, some years later, despite having barely enough energy in the grip of his despair to walk to the end of the road, he still managed to go to football matches, he identified a similar sense of release.

“Beyond just about holding my job together – I had a lot of holiday held over, so I went on a two-day week – and trying to deaden the panic attacks in the gym, the only thing I could really manage was going to the football.

“It… was something that required nothing of me beyond showing up. I could shout or stay quiet as I pleased, and no one would judge. Or notice. At the best of times, the idea of milling with crowds of shoppers on the high street makes me anxious and homicidal. Yet, even when I'm nuts, I feel safe in a football crowd: over and beyond a common sense of purpose with everyone else, I feel as if I'm in a bubble where there's nothing getting in between me and the moment.

“All the other worries that are invading my psyche 24/7 – ‘You're going to die, John, it's only a matter of when’ – dissolve for a few hours. There is no me; only football. It's the most perfect time off, time out from myself. Knowing there are football matches – and therefore moments like these – ahead is one of the things that helps me survive those days when every minute feels like an hour.”

Vertigo’s sub-title -- One Football Fan’s Fear of Success -- highlights the new angst for Tottenham fans faced with the elevated expectations and still greater potential for disappointment associated with Champions League status.

Yet it might have just as easily been: How Football Saved Me From Myself.

Buy Vertigo: One Football Fan's Fear of Success direct from Amazon

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Find more books by John Crace including Brideshead Abbreviated: The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century



Engage: a harrowing story brilliantly told

By Jon Culley

No one can know whether Matt Hampson would have played in a Rugby World Cup but he was established on a path towards full international recognition when a commonplace incident on the training field changed his life forever.

It was March 15, 2005 and Hampson, a 20-year-old tight-head prop from the Leicester Tigers club, was in a practice session with an England Under-21 team that included Ben Foden, Toby Flood and James Haskell, who was directly behind Hampson in the second row.  All are currently in New Zealand with Martin Johnson’s England squad.

The forwards, under the supervision of Tony Spreadbury, an international referee, were in full, contested scrum practice. Not unusually, during such sessions, the scrum would collapse from time to time.

Thankfully, despite the risks inherent when 16 hefty men engage in a head-first shoving match, such collapses seldom result in serious injury.  This occasion, however, was different.

By some freak of physics, the full force of this collapse ended up being borne by Hampson’s neck. In an instant, he suffered a dislocation that trapped his spinal chord.  He was saved from dying on the field because Spreadbury happened also to be a paramedic, but the damage done paralysed Hampson from the neck down.

Paul Kimmage, the Sunday Times journalist, visited Hampson as he recuperated. His brilliant piece -- headlined ‘One Tragic Day’ -- won him the Sports Journalists’ Association interviewer of the year award for the third year in succession.

They struck up a friendship and now Kimmage has told Hampson’s full story, in all its harrowing detail, from the build-up to the fateful day, the drama of the accident itself, the incredibly long rehabilitation, to his struggle to adjust to what passes for him as a normal life.

The result has been hailed as a story that reveals the true hellishness of personal disaster on the scale that befell Hampson as well as the astonishing capacity of one human being to make the best of what little he had left -- in a physical sense -- but does so without sentimentality or by seeking pity.

Hampson now lives in a converted barn in a Leicestershire village, a home custom made for him by his father, Phil.  His team of 10 carers have everything they need for the daily routines necessary to keep Hampson alive, most importantly ensuring that the ventilator attached to him by a pipe does its job by breathing for him 21,600 times in every 24 hour period.

Engage takes its title from the last word Hampson hears, from the lips of Tony Spreadbury, before the life-changing moment on that cloudy March morning.  It conveys the sense also that here is a young man determined not only to stay living but to engage with life and Kimmage is widely credited with putting it across superbly, drawing in particular on the sense of humour that Hampson has retained despite his unthinkable situation.

Kimmage, the former professional cyclist, has already won one William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for Rough Ride, which exposed drug use in his sport and made his name as a writer.  He surely has another contender here.

Matt Hampson now works to offer help, advice and support to the victims of serious injury and disability, in particular in a sports context, through his charity The Matt Hampson Foundation.  To learn more or make a donation, visit www.matthampsonfoundation.org

Engage shortlisted for William Hill prize.

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Buy Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson direct from Amazon



The Colourful Story of Donald 'Ginger' McCain: 1930-2011

by Jon Culley

The death of racehorse trainer Donald “Ginger” McCain two days short of his 81st birthday brings down the curtain on one of horse racing’s enduring fairytales.

McCain, a former taxi driver and used car salesman, is the only trainer to have won the Grand National three times with the same horse and one of only two to have won the race four times in all.

He won for the first time in 1973 with Red Rum, a bay gelding whom he bought at auction for just 6,000 guineas on behalf of Noel le Mare, a businessman who was a regular ‘fare’ in his cab.  Red Rum won again in 1974 and 1977 as well as twice finishing second.

Red Rum, who had been bred to run mile races on the Flat, arrived in McCain’s yard, behind his car showroom, with a degenerative foot condition but was famously nursed back to health by being galloped on Southport beach.

His story helped save the Grand National after a period of declining attendances and the real possibility that the famous Aintree course -- just 15 miles from the McCain stable -- would be sold to a housing developer. (Continues below...)


Red Rum died at the age of 30 in 1995, to be buried next to the winning post on the National track, but McCain revived his association with the race two years later when Amberleigh House gave him his fourth victory, equalling trainer Fred Rimell’s record.

His son, Donald McCain Junior, maintained that association this year when he trained Ballabriggs to win over the four-and-half-mile distance, watched by his father.

McCain told his story in My Colourful Life: From Red to Amber in 2005, assisted by the Daily Mail sports journalist Malcolm Folley.

Racing journalist and author Ivor Herbert had published Red Rum: The Story of Ginger McCain and His Legendary Horse earlier in the same year.

All three of Red Rum’s triumphs can be watched in their entirety, beginning with his epic chasing down of the Australian chaser Crisp, on a DVD entitled The Twelve Greatest Ever Grand Nationals [DVD], narrated by former BBC commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan.

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Will Red turn the studio air blue when Neville teams up with old boss Hoddle?

by Jon Culley

Gary Neville’s just-released autobiography, Red, has jumped to the top of the Amazon sports bestsellers’ chart, which will not surprise anyone who saw the queues that formed as the former Manchester United and England full back signed copies at London’s Canary Wharf on Thursday afternoon.

It is probably fairly safe to assume, however, that Glenn Hoddle, one of six managers for whom Neville played during his 85-cap England career, will not be requesting a personally inscribed edition when the two sit alongside each other in a Sky television studio on Friday evening.

Indeed, if Hoddle has read the book he might want to talk to Gary about matters other than England’s performance against Bulgaria in Sofia, when both will be Sky pundits.

A touch of controversy is almost essential if a football autobiography is to attract any worthwhile publicity and Neville has made sure he fulfils that obligation in Red.  Unfortunately, Hoddle is one of his targets.

Neville criticises the Football Association for even appointing the former Chelsea manager in place of Terry Venables, whom he says the FA ’let go too easily’, and lumps Hoddle with Steve McClaren as someone given the job ’before he was ready’ -- an intelligent coach who wanted England to play the right way but who lacked man-management skills.

And he also makes clear his scepticism -- almost contempt -- for some of Hoddle’s ideas.

‘He also believed in alternative methods, including Eileen Drewery, the faith healer, who'd visited the camp a few times before the World Cup,’ Neville writes.  ‘As a bit of a sceptic, I'd never gone to see her.

‘When the 1998 World Cup started, some of the players started taking injections from Glenn's favourite medic, a Frenchman called Dr Rougier.

‘After some of the lads said they'd felt a real burst of energy, I decided to seize any help on offer. So many of the players decided to go for it before that Argentina match that there was a queue to see the doctor.

‘Before the game, Glenn did his usual pre-match routine of moving around the players, shaking their hands and touching them just over the heart. We'll never know if the methods had any positive effect.

‘One of the masseurs told me Glenn had asked the staff to walk around the pitch anti-clockwise during the game against Argentina to create positive energy. Sadly, it didn't do us much good.’

Hoddle may be cheered to know at least that he is not singled out for criticism.  Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Eriksson and McClaren do not escape unscathed, although confusingly Neville on one page has a pop at the Swede for guaranteeing a place to David Beckham (among others) instead of picking the best team, but then on another claims McClaren made a mistake in deciding Beckham should be dropped.

Red: My Autobiography is published by Bantam Press

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