|Jeff Stelling cranks out the bad news for the distant. "...And Stranraer have just added a sixth at Montrose in the Scottish Third Division"|
|"Is this a line-out, Kevin? Am i doing it right?"|
|King Kev and Emlyn Hughes hedge their bets in 1980 with Mrs T. Oooft.|
Hornby, by focusing on personal biography, and his relationship with Arsenal, managed to circumvent the insoluble problem of it being very difficult to write a decent book about football. Fiction about the sport is very tough, as teams have to be invented (Roy of the Rovers "Melchester Rovers", and their Scouse rivals "Everpool"; Michael Hardcastle's "Scorton Rovers"), opposition and players have to be invented- a strange, unsatisfying, suspension-of-belief parallel world to the real thing.
The two authors who have come closest to writing a good football book under the constraints of fiction are Robin Jenkins, whose The Thistle and the Grail, published in the late 50s, pretty much still tells you all you need to know about Scottish junior football, the many fragile and difficult personalities in the average home dressing room, and the relationship between those players and the small communities of a now long-vanished industrial Scotland. Brian Glanville's Goalkeepers are Different is also superb, in charting, for a young audience, the relationships, tensions and frustrations of a fictional 70s first division side, through the blinking-scaredly eyes of its teenage goalkeeper.
Glanville, of course, was famously lampooned in the sadly defunct Scottish football fanzine The Absolute Game as "Bruno Glanvilla", a pompous, cigar-chewing oaf who never used one clause, when seventeen would do. Writers and journalists who have attempted to write intelligently about the game have struggled. Take Graham Spiers, who started at Scotland on Sunday and now has a berth at The Times; his thoughtful pieces have attracted quite staggering levels of odium from readers, on the grounds of pretentiousness, assumed poshness, and a stubborn insistence in using words with three or more syllables in them. In other words, he's not "real", not "one of us", not really "a football person".
|Roddy Buchanan's AC & Inter photo series|
However, the very ubiquity of the sport these days mean that artists intervening in this area can often meet with indifference, if not hostility. Buchanan's work was unique fifteen years ago; Gordon has always strongly located part of his practice and artistic personality on his interest in the game. Despite these precedents, for some in the art world, there may be a questioning of sport as a "proper" subject; indeed, the term "sporting art" connotes images of ghastly, lumpy paintings of horses, greyhounds and terriers. From many in the world of football, the relevance of art to the production and consumption of the game seems at best tenuous, at worst downright unwelcome. This despite both spheres of activity being moved in recent times to play with "nostalgia" and "retro" themes; in recent football shirts, and in the endless trite hankering after popular TV of the late 70s and early 80s, that characterised yBa.
|Nostalgia means thinking fondly of a time past, that wasn't very good when you were living through it. Here's a photo of Charlie Nicholas.|
|The game that will never end: action from early on in the performance|
On the footballing side of things, the best and worst of the Scottish amateur game was there for all to see. The most memorable example was the lanky process artist Neil Scott, being booted six feet up in the air by a quite dreadful challenge, in the last ten minutes of the game (the brutal Lochee Harp-ness of the tackle was mitigated by it being an accident, and he seemed all right); woeful finishing; sclaff after sclaff, particularly in the wee small hours; set against that, sheer dogged persistence, sheer endurance, some good goals (a shot on the turn from Stuart MacAdam), and a couple of fine saves. The moment of the whole event, though, was the euphoric, exhausted celebrations at the end, at 7pm on Saturday, when the marathon finally ended, with over 1,000 goals having been recorded in twenty four hours. In a final absurdist touch, MacDonald, as the captain of the winning "Blues", was presented with a trophy- a cast Adidas Samba- that he'd actually made himself.
The event generated quite a bit of press attention, from STV, the Dundee Courier and the Sunday Post (surreally, the game briefly stopped to allow a Post photographer to snap the players at about 11am on Saturday morning), and will hopefully begin to generate a new wave of interest and discussion on the relationship between art and football. Both spheres of activity have changed unimaginably in the last twenty years, fro being rather obscure and limited-audience activities, into both becoming key facets of the culture industry. Despite this parallel narrative, football and art have rarely intersected or worked together; maybe this epic encounter will help begin to change that. If it does, then the no doubt agonised and exhausted limbs around various living rooms in Scotland today, will have paid a worthy price for it.
My next post will be about my time in Ohrid, after I've had some tea. Honest.