March 2010

Wanted: Footballing Time Machine

One of the most exhilarating feelings in the world is the slow dawning of reality back into the world after putting down an especially engrossing book. You know what I’m talking about; the return of the senses that had previously been in a field during the 1860s under fire from Union forces with bullets, gore and mayhem all around; or maybe you were on the foredeck of the Piquad, the sea salt air and sprinkles splashing your face as you spy a whittling native American and can’t shake a sense of imminent doom; or maybe you were in the arms of the handsome Dr. Strong who has finally realized all these years that what he is looking for is you… Whatever floats your boat, the best writing takes you someplace, somewhere else in time and space without ever leaving your room.

I came across one such piece this week. Harry Pearson, author of the wonderful The Far Corner, wrote a piece that struck as many personal chords as if Pete Townsend had turned up and started windmilling up and down my ribcage.

The fact that it’s about your own team helps but it also taps into the universality of seeking omens, signs and anchors in something as mutable and random as football. This season has not been a vintage one but I am enjoying something of a renaissance in my personal life, the phrase I overuse is that things are going suspiciously well, almost in inverse proportion to the team’s progress. You would think that this makes the team’s failure easier to bear but it really doesn’t. The opposite is truer, when you are facing tough and lean times yourself; at least if your team is spanking everybody out of sight then there is some reflective glory and hope that can be drawn from this. Some areas of Manchester and Liverpool make downtown Detroit look like the Hamptons but because of the success of Liverpool, Everton, Man City and United; the pain is somehow more bearable.

Pearson also takes me back to the crucible of my football conversion, the now departed Ayresome Park. A rickety, wooden, early 20th century ground with one tea hut to serve an entire 8000 man terrace; a painted section of wall to pee on and a section running along the entire South Terrace parallel to the playing field called the Chicken Run which housed some of the most vicious, dry and sarcastic wits ever to emerge forth from the Infant Hercules on the banks of the Tees. Ballboys used to fear being stationed in front of the stand as many were reduced to tears by the constant barrage of equally mixed wit, invective, anger and spite. Footballers never stood a chance either, opposition wingers were beaten as soon as they set foot onto the pitch, not that it helped a succession of tubby Boro fullbacks either. I read the lamentable pleas from the millionaire boys in mens bodies to be nice to them and scowl/laugh in equal measure at how the Chicken Run would have reacted to a “No Booing” request.

Age and alcohol makes liars of us all, especially when looking backwards and Ayresome was undoubtedly a hole – the modern Riverside Stadium being superior in nearly every aspect – but one thing the generation of fans brought up on Juninho, Ravanelli and David Wheater won’t know is that it’s a house, not a home.

In a week when the overseas owners of the biggest club in Yorkshire, Leeds United, are allowed to remain anonymous yet pass the “fit and proper persons” ownership test; when Shaun Wright-Phillips, previously seen as one of the more amenable and grounded footballers of his generation bemoans a new pay offer of $105,000 a week as derisory;  when the Glazers try to get a member of a potential rival investment group fired for his involvement then the cold, hard, wind soaked embrace of my youth is a far warmer place than sparkly, neon, palaces of Johannesburg and The Premiership will ever be.

Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at

Guy Bailey

  • Kyle

    Great post, Guy! I’ve heard really good things about the Pearson book.

  • Amy

    BRAVO !!