In the absence of any volunteers to blow it on my behalf, I again raise my own trumpet and embark upon a tune. It’s a familiar melody, one that I’ve played many times before here; but it’s my party and I’ll blow my own trumpet if I want to. Anyway, the fact that publishing houses have closed their doors along with all other businesses happily doesn’t stifle the creative or publishing process for the independent artist; and knowing one’s endeavours will be available to anyone interested within weeks of the last word hitting the page is a nice benefit of being ignored by the mainstream industry. The removal of alternatives courtesy of Covid-19 has had one personal positive for your humble narrator in that it has channelled 99% of my energies into my art, and it has certainly proven to be the next best thing to compensation. I’ve written and published (via Amazon) three books this year so far – my first collection of short stories; my fifth collection of poetry; and my first book on a facet of pop culture I’ve previously written about on here but never before in book form.
The fact that all three books are completely different – fiction, verse and non-fiction – not only reflects my restlessness and reluctance to repeat myself, but that I was able to have them on sale ASAP also highlights one of the bonuses of not being dependent on the lumbering monolith of the publishing industry. In fact, were I signed up to one of those prestigious houses, I have a feeling I’d currently be promoting something I wrote over a year ago instead of something I finished a month ago. The disadvantage to self-publishing, as ever, is the limited means by which the writer can alert the world to his work; I don’t get reviewed in the press, on the radio or on TV, and I’m not bombarded with requests for interviews or invites to literary festivals; and, of course, I sell very few copies, which means I make very little money. But, hell, at least the work is out there and it’s ‘Instant Karma’, as it were.
I appreciate my prolific work-rate might give the impression I’m something of a hack, but the reason I can write so much in such a short space of time is simple: I haven’t got anything else going on in my life. That has never been truer since March; accustomed as I am to necessary isolation, the sudden absence of the usual periodic (and welcome) breaks from it has meant there haven’t been any distractions; no excuse not to work when there ain’t nothing else is why this year has seen me maintain my work-rate without breaking sweat. Yes, there have been times when I’ve wondered if all this flows out of me because I’ve not got long left and it’s a subconscious way of leaving the only legacy behind me I can; but I guess morbid thoughts have room to breathe when one goes months without speaking to another human being in person. Anyway, I’m pretty sure now the same fate that awaited the likes of Van Gogh and Nick Drake is to be my probable destiny – if I’m lucky. We shall see. And, even if I don’t get to enjoy the material fruits of my labour, at least I haven’t wasted all my life; plenty do.
The latest title to be added to ‘Solitaire’ (the short stories) and ‘Year Zero’ (the poetry) is called ‘No Place for Boys’; it’s a non-partisan celebration of a pop cultural event that took place fifty years ago this year, the 1970 FA Cup Final. Now, this just wasn’t yer average game of football. I place the event in the context of other things that happened to be happening around the same time. For example, the day before the game, news broke that The Beatles had split; pretty big news story. The same day as the game, Apollo 13 launched; again, pretty big news story. And between these two stories, another unfolded at the old Empire Stadium, Wembley. Yes, one could argue the same story had unfolded there every year once a year since 1923; but 1970 was different.
Thanks to the impact of George Best, the national game was undergoing something of a facelift at the beginning of the 1970s. The traditional followers of the sport, whose Saturdays were devoted to forking out five bob to pass through the turnstiles and huddle together on the terraces, had been confronted by a challenge to the short-back-and-sides hegemony as 60s pop culture began to infiltrate the last bastion of old-school masculinity. Increased television coverage and the influence of the Belfast Boy had a particular impact on one football club situated in the epicentre of Swinging London, Chelsea FC; with Stamford Bridge a stone’s throw from the hip boutiques lining the King’s Road, it was no real surprise the team should embody the spirit of their neighbourhood. They played an especially attractive and flamboyant form of football that contrasted sharply with a club that had competed with them in particularly combative fashion over the previous five years, Don Revie’s Leeds United.
When both sides reached the FA Cup Final that year, it felt like the footballing equivalent of the Battle of Waterloo, the deciding clash of two rival powers. Yet to slip into clichéd stereotypes of Hard Northerners Vs Flash Cockneys is to overlook how well-matched Leeds and Chelsea were; the London boys could be as ruthlessly brutal as the Yorkshiremen on the pitch, whereas Leeds could be as creatively attacking as Chelsea. It made for a fascinating encounter, and the Final at Wembley has rightly gone down as a classic, even if it was played on a surface reminiscent of Aintree the day after the Grand National. At the end of 90 minutes, the score was stuck at 2-2, and the sides couldn’t be separated after extra-time. Never before had an FA Cup Final at Wembley had to go to a Replay, but it did in 1970. The end of the season that year had been brought forward to accommodate England’s preparations for the World Cup in Mexico; with a congested schedule of League and European campaigns to conclude the pair had to wait two and-a-half weeks before they met again, this time up at Old Trafford.
The delay built up anticipation on the part of the public for the rematch, and when it eventually came round over 28 million viewers watched on TV. It remains the fifth most-viewed programme in British television history, and the only football match to have attracted a larger audience was the 1966 World Cup Final. The game itself was officiated by a retiring referee who allowed play to run unimpeded by interference on his part; as a result, the viewers were witness to a remarkably uncensored exercise in physical play as five years of intense rivalry culminated in a memorably visceral 120 minutes of football unlike any seen before or since. The title of the book is lifted from the BBC commentary of Kenneth Wolstenholme; confronted by the carnage on the Old Trafford battlefield, he declared it was ‘no place for boys’. In the end, Chelsea eventually beat an exhausted Leeds (playing their 62nd game of the season) 2-1.
The way in which the two-legged battle between Leeds and Chelsea captured the attention of the nation transcended the normal level of attention the game attracted and helped cement the sport’s union with the zeitgeist for the first half of the 70s – until the scourge of hooliganism forced the wider public to fall out of love with it for a good decade or more. Of course, 1970 is a million miles from 2020 in many ways, not least football. What my book hopefully does is show how the Leeds and Chelsea players of 1970, for all their differences, had far more in common with each other (and their respective supporters) than they do with the tattooed millionaires playing to the prawn sandwich brigade of today. I’ve tried to tell the story of 1970 in a way that might even appeal to those who wouldn’t regard themselves as football followers but who maybe find that era in British pop culture intriguing and interesting. I believe I’ve succeeding in doing so, but as I am the one blowing the trumpet, I would, wouldn’t I? If I’ve piqued your curiosity, check out the trailer…
© The Editor