My favourite literary passage on football

To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink. For a shilling the Bruddersford United AFC offered you Conflict and Art; it turned you into a critic happy in your judgement of fine points, ready in a second to estimate the worth of a well-judged pass, a run down the touchline, a lightening shot, a clearance by your back or goalkeeper; it turned you into a partisan, holding your breath when the ball came sailing into your own goalmouth, ecstatic when your forwards raced away towards the opposite goal, elated, down cast, bitter, triumphant by turns at the fortunes of your side, watching a ball shaped Iliads and Odysseys for you; and, what is more, it turned you into a member of a new community, all brothers together for an hour and a half, for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you had escaped with most of your mates and your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were, cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swopping judgements like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through aturnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with Conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its Art. Moreover it offered you more than a shilling’s worth of material for talk during the rest of the week. A man who had missed the last home match of ‘t’United’ had to enter social life on tiptoe in Bruddersford.

J. B. Priestley, The Good Companions, 1929

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Author: HanesCymru

I teach history at Swansea University.

1 thought on “My favourite literary passage on football”

  1. Good old J.B. Priestley. How much has changed would you say from his desciption of the escape from the routine drudgery of life that football offers? This extract does demonstrate how much the game was a working class sport enjoyed by men – as an escape from the nagging wife and children. No doubt there is an element of that today but as we know there has been a big increase in female fans in recent years. I like his reference to the ‘ball shaped Iliads and Odysseys’ – conjuring up something elegiac and heroic about football and those that play it. It would seem that J.B. believed the game elevated Man.

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