Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Ours: Football

This event was one of our contributions to Leeds Lit Fest   #LLF20

New Headingley Club - Friday 6 March 2020

Ours: Football by Lee Ingham

Richard Wilcocks writes:
I was the interviewer on this occasion, and can say with confidence that in terms of good-humoured openness and loud responsiveness, the capacity audience (75) in the New Headingley Club was one of the best ever. It was united in its passion for the game of football, and a number of rival teams were represented by vocal supporters: Burnley and Leeds, for a start. There were similarities with other large audiences that Headingley LitFest has called to the Club in past years, but obvious differences too. Similarities include the facts that it was mainly middle-aged and contained people who asked the author, Lee Ingham, how he had planned the book and how long it had taken him to complete, questions which turn up whenever visiting novelists are on stage. Differences include the overwhelming maleness when most LitFest audiences have a majority of women, and a sense of surprise amongst many that a non-fiction book about football and its future could be included in a festival and be categorised as literature.

Lee Ingham's book, his debut work, counts as an item in the comprehensive world of literature for me, undoubtedly. He was inspired to write it after attending a Headingley LitFest event three years ago when James Brown promoted his book of footballing memoirs and opinions 'Above Head Height'. Lee's book runs along similar lines, and is funnier. As well as the game, it is about male and family bonding, childhood memories, the need for community spirit and standing up to corporate, money-grubbing powers. There are fascinating snippets of historical information, for example that the Inghams of the 16th century owned land which incorporated Turf Moor, now the site of Burnley Football Club stadium, information which Lee found in a book called 'The Lancashire Witchcraft Conspiracy'! There is plenty about his opinionated Dad, who turns up in a number of anecdotes, for example in a memory of Lee's first game at Turf Moor for Burnley against Liverpool:

...the thing I remember most was Tommy Smith...picking the ball up to take a throw in directly in front of me and my Dad. At which stage my Dad shouted out to the hard man of football: "Smith, you big pudding." To which, Smith (ball in hand) turned round and out of the back of his hand told my Dad to "fuck off!" Tommy Smith swore at my Dad! I remember walking back up Centenary Way after the game and thinking, the Inghams have arrived on the world stage of football.

Lee read out a series of whole chapters, all of them short, gathering confidence as he proceeded. He added asides and comments to accounts of the kit he is used to wearing, watching the game on television, talking about the game in the pub (often Woodies in Headingley) and favourite Burnley chants. His amusing, self-deprecatory style won everybody over, and all the teasing was friendly.

It was an event of two halves, and the interval had to be extended due to the popularity of the pie and peas which were served in generous portions. We have served cake slices at LitFest gatherings before, but never pie and peas. Something to think of to do again? 

The second half was more serious, addressing the 'Ours' part of the title. We looked around. Not many women. Just a few from minority groups. A couple of young people (well, it was Friday evening). How many young people go to matches nowadays without their parents? I nearly mentioned that the same question applied to classical music concerts. What's the attraction of going to a match nowadays anyway, now that it's sit-down only? With proper barriers in place, why can't people stand? Now that the Elland Road stadium has been more or less cleansed of racist chanters and hooligans, what's the problem? 

Football is no longer the be-all-and-end-all in my life, said Lee, mainly because it has been so corrupted by the vast sums of money involved and by the needs of television schedulers. What happened to the old Saturdays where you began the day with reading the football section in the newspaper over your breakfast, then journeyed to the ground to watch your team? It was engineered to fit into your day off. Lee is furious. Why should people have to travel long journeys, sometimes at short notice, sometimes having to stay overnight? He adds: 'And that's why I do not have and never will have, Sky or BT Sport' and brings in an array of facts and figures about the financial sums involved, and the ways they skew decisions; '...for the 2019 - 22 seasons, games have been sold for £9.3 million per game, as opposed to the £10.2 million that they are currently being sold for'.

The answer is to Stanleyise the game. Accrington was one of the 12 founders of the football league, and now has a turnover of just £2 million per annum. It is a time capsule, and takes pride in belonging to its supporters and the town. Lee says, 'At my first ever visit to their ground I received a flavour of what football had lost and I can safely say that Accrington Stanley v Forest Green is one of the best footballing days I have ever had'. It's a big community success. And it even has a group of Norwegian supporters who fly over regularly.

Thanks to all who bought the book (now available on Amazon) and who donated for the pies and peas, the cost of the room and the Football Supporters Federation.

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