It was a great honour to be asked to chair an event at the Manchester Literature Festival. The theme was football and literature, the venue the National Football Museum, the authors Rodge Glass and David Conn. My function was to do what I would do at any number of events – make a conversation flow, play to the strengths of the speakers and make the audience smile.
This wasn’t an audience full of people looking to ‘network’ and do business. These were people who had bought a ticket. And it was a sell out. No pressure then.
I know David pretty well, we’ve worked together over the years as journalists and I’ve read his column in the Guardian on football almost religiously. I only know of Rodge through reading his book, a clever and observant tale of one man’s demise – that man being a fictional member of the Manchester United Youth Team of 1992, in fact the worst player ever to play for the first team, who enjoyed nothing of the life of Beckham, Scholes, Robbie Savage even, or the centrepeice of the book, Ryan Giggs.
I tossed a coin for who was going to read his piece first, which Rodge won. They did about ten minutes each, then I started the discussion for 20 minutes or so on the main themes I wanted to develop.
What fascinates me is the bravery of incorporating football into literature and storytelling at all. So we explored that – asking the question of whether fiction and a biographical life story can ever match sport for its drama and sense of jeopardy – who could imagine an ending greater than Barcelona 1999 or the conclusion to the 2012 season?
David’s latest book is a personal story – from the tradition of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch – it’s as much an honest account of a man growing up and wrestling with his cultural traditions and how his value system collides as it is financial history of City.
Rodge I compared to Zadie Smith and Hanif Kureshi, but his choice of a first person voice full of truth, but with a baleful monologue was right out of John Niven.
I was also fascinated in how Rodge weaved in and out of real events and obviously included real people. I liked how he took literary liberties with all of that, and asked how far he could go?
The questions from the audience focused on what we were billed to talk about, the dominace of football as an often negative cultural and commercial force, but still the prism through which so many stories can be told. About how football’s dominance as a cultural reference point makes it such a potent ingredient for both their stories?
The questions were good, on the whole. Then we came to the endpoint, in extra time. As both have used the backdrop of a simple, beautiful game ruined by greed and unimaginable wealth, I wanted to ask if it truly has been? Is there still something beautiful at the heart – something good to come from football’s simplicity and from its raw cultural power. I even quoted Albert Camus – “all I know of obligation and morality, I owe to football.”
It seemed a good time to end. Books were signed, hands were shook, photos taken. And my boys, pictured with David, me and Rodge enjoyed such tales. And the occasional swear word. Gosh!