“I think of those men…a dozen men in a room above The Red Lion…
They founded a football club
Not for profit….not to further their standing in the town…
But to meet a need….
The game is a ritual; made-up rules, man-made oppositions. Make-believe.
The crowd, the ceremony, the collusion of souls willing it to matter – makes it matter.”
It’s Friday evening and a small but perfectly formed posse of Saints fans (plus one unscheduled Orient addition in the form of Richard, work colleague, wielding a Brompton bike) are up for the Red Lion. Not a pub but a play. We are on the Sarf Bank, home to the National Theatre (of dreams) for a bit of kulture, a bit of drama.
Drama and football don’t often sit well together. There are only a handful of mates and family members who I can talk to about both theatre and football with my usual obsessional intensity; most like one or the other, not both.
Most films with football as the central theme have been a bit rubbish (Escape to Victory being ideal rubbish for a wet Sunday afternoon I would argue) and while I was a sucker for both Jossie’s Giants and Sky’s Dream Team they weren’t really that good. Even Mr W Shakespeare didn’t seem that bothered. A mere two references to the beautiful game in 37 plays.
There is some crossover in terms of language but it is a bit of a one way street. Football is often dramatic, but drama isn’t often footballatic. A player may be the villain of the piece or might be described as writing his (or her!) own script but I’ve never seen a theatre review that suggested Lady Macbeth bossed the first half before falling apart in the final third leaving her husband’s defences hopelessly exposed, ensuring he was taken out of the game by MacDuff. Shame really, it could explain a lot. Clearly King Lear wasn’t appalled at Cordelia’s lack of loquacious talk “nothing my lord.” Rather he couldn’t believe her lack of ambition for Lear FC and predicting a future of barren nil-nils under her leadership, “nothing will come of nothing”, he handed over the reins of the first team to joint managers Goneril and Regan.
As you can imagine I could probably take that little ramble into extra time but I’ll save it for another time…back to a pub with a fine view of old Mother Thames and a few pre-match beers. Or in my case wines. There was a slight look of shared disbelief on the faces of Lee, Davy Mac and HatBoy as TLF appeared not armed with her trusty pint of AmStella (see what I did there) but festooned with a very large (and as it turned out very grim) Merlot. It’s not that I feel obliged to ‘up’ my posh factor pre-theatre, actually I suppose I’d have to find my posh factor not just up it….rather I have to consider capacity. My capacity if you get my drift. While the loos at the National Theatre give their visitor a bit more of the old mod cons than those at Clarence Park, visiting them as often as you like during the unfolding drama is not an option, unlike Clarence Park. And so it’s always wine if I’m headed to watch something on stage. Although not usually quite as much. And not usually on an empty stomach with only a small tub of cashews and one square of fudge to keep the wine company. And those two items only made an appearance because of Davy Mac’s very welcome intervention. Still I remember the whole play and I didn’t embark on a huge swearathon until I was safely on the train (oh so that’s alright then) so it can’t have been too much (ahem).
We were a slightly depleted crew with a few notable and genuine missed absences including Mr TLF who had, “been out for lunch and was feeling a bit tiredy.” Indeed. I reassured him that no I didn’t mind and of course I wouldn’t mention it in my blog. Still one tipsy TLF was probably quite enough for a theatre trip.
Which reminds me….the play.
Written by Patrick Marber it is set in the suitably scruffy dressing room of a club we never get to know the name of, only that their badge is the red lion of the title. Three characters – ancient kit man Johnny Yates, speaker of the lines at the beginning of this blog, one time club hero who briefly made it pro and then when it went wrong spent time homeless and messed up. Kidd, the manager who is slick, ambitious, immoral, with a great line in curses and a casual contempt for the volunteers that keep the club going and the kid, Jordan the talent, who…..and then……well that would spoil it for those who ain’t seen it to be honest. It provides a great contrast in attitudes to the game. Is it about collective ethic or individuals? What matters most community or profit and success? Funny lines but heart-breaking ones too and all delivered brilliantly by the cast. As you might have guessed, I liked it. And before you think that TLF does her theatre criticism through wine-tinted specs I purchased the play text yesterday and read it today – still brilliant. As The Independent put it, “A beautiful play about the beautiful game. Funny, sad and haunting.”
A perfect start to a perfect weekend which saw Mr TLF’s three singly placed bets come in…the collective and more profitable noun for this being a (missed) Treble. The mighty Saints picked up their first home win of the season, and there was a trip to Brum for some more kulture in the form of a Richard Thompson OBE gig at Symphony Hall (the philistines now asking ‘who he?’ should google him as a matter of urgency). Ironically this diary date, combined with the Lesta game being moved to a Sunday for SKY meant I missed witnessing the game live and most importantly their 20 minute comeback that saw them beat Aston Villa. Instead I indulged in some expletive strewn and nervous pacing of the small expanse of a Premier Inn in Birmingham while watching the game on a website update; Mr TLF having wisely decided that TLF watching the game in a local pub probably would not do much for east and west Void relations.
Anthony Mingella the film director once said, “I wish every film had as exciting a shape as most football matches.” That’s what my weekend was, without even stepping inside a ground. It was football-shaped.