The third stage of my journey from fun-loving pop fanatic and tractor boy to misery pop fanatic and psychogeographic depressive, Pot Plant Pantry appeared in late 1987 and saw me retreating from the throwaway stuff. Stung by a rebuke meted out to me in response to Too Much Hanky Pantry that I should ‘fuck off back to [my] brat-pop’, I got serious. As I’ve often said, these were days when arguments with your closest allies were likely to be far more ferocious than those with your most reviled opponents. In this respect it helped that I was embarked on the second year of a degree that paired philosophy and sociology under the laughably erroneous moniker of ‘Modern Studies’; being voluntarily and increasingly under the influence of those now well-known French jokers Debord and Vaneigem hardly held me back in the furrowed brow stakes. I never did develop Raoul Vaneigem’s capacity to consider the revolution of every day life as quite the unbridled joy he would have you believe it to be.
Not that you can work out any of this from the cover, which featured a wonderfully pretty line drawing by my friend Robert Aspland, multiplied Warholistically and ever so slightly wonkily by me. Showing his versatility, Robert (now busy landscape-designing the Olympic park ready for 2012) also produced a caricature of Graeme Souness for the cover of the fourth issue of When Saturday Comes.
On receipt of Pot Plant Pantry, Malcolm Eden of McCarthy sent me a ‘keep your pecker up!’ postcard, saying ‘you seem to have become almost as solemn as I am…’
So that’s something for readers to look forward to as I post pages from Pot Plant over the coming days and weeks.
Attentive readers with long memories will recall that I had embarked on a series of scans of pages from my 1980s fanzines. The undertaking got derailed by a mixture of an antiquated scanner finally meeting its match in the form of Windows Vista, and my depression at the awfulness of the majority of the contents with which I was faced. Now that I have a twenty-first century scanner, I’m beginning again – keeping in mind this note made by William Empson: ‘Sir Max Beerbohm has a fine reflection on revising one of his early works [Zuleika Dobson]; he said he tried to remember how angry he would have been when he wrote it if an elderly pedant had made corrections, and how certain he would have felt that the man was wrong.’
The back cover star of Too Much Hanky Pantry was Mervyn Peake, a somewhat unfashionable writer in 1987, and hardly any less so now. But it’s still a pleasure to be borne slowly along by his marshalling of the sensitive grotesques that people the three parts of the Gormenghast trilogy; and Peake’s doorstop has the distinct advantage over Tolkien’s of a much greater need to understand the human condition.
Though there were East Anglian folk of whom it might have been formed, the Sugar Beat Collective sadly remained a figment of my imagination. The editor of Gobstopper would have been a member; in this issue, instead of reviewing fanzines, I quoted best lines, and his were: ‘Camp! Everybody get camp!’ and ‘I’ve changed from a miserable sod pretending to be happy to a happy sod pretending to be miserable.’
From the first issue of Caff (editors Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs) I quoted part of ‘The Vod Duck story’: ‘[Walt Disney’s] version of Vod was called Daffy and – minus the big red star on the neckband – Daffy Duck was a big success.’
Coca Cola Cowboy #2: ‘I never met a banana I didn’t like.’ Within the same issue, Juniper Beri-Beri (Stephen Pastel) wrote: ‘If you prefer your food straight off your girlfriend’s stomach rather than on a plate, then the Vaselines are probably the group you’ve been waiting for.’
When Saturday Comes #6: ‘When you’re bored with Arsenal, you’re bored with life’ – attributed to Bob Wilson!
Are you scared to get happy? #3: ‘WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU who are just far too lost to understand the magic of a pure bright light in a darkened room or like JUST TOO FUCKING OLD in simple terms.’
Frolik # 1 on the Soup Dragons: ‘This music makes me want to pour custard into someone’s underpants.’
Pure Popcorn #4: ‘We, the sweet melodies of youth, invite you suckle our collective breast (figuratively speaking of course) and elevate your tawdry existence (YOU SUCK!) to a higher plane of being.’
I should mention the geographical spread of eighties fanzine production. It was a nationwide phenomenon, with outposts in every town and city, and a fair few of the villages and hamlets too. You could, of course, listen to John Peel anywhere, taking inspiration from the music and making postal connection with the fanzines whose contact details he read out on air. As he used to say, ‘Where do they get these names from?’
I’ve been rather distracted by football lately. But not just the Euros on the box – I’ve also been reading You’ll win nothing with kids: fathers, sons and football by Jim White, sports journalist and manager of his son’s football team. In it Jim tells the tale of a season which culminated in a cup final and a relegation dogfight, interspersed with the politics of boys’ football and the familial dynamics which led him to take on the mantle of manager. It’s a generously written and easily read account, full of arch humour and flowing pass and move, with occasional moments of high farce and strong sentiment. Not unlike a fair number of the matches we’ve seen in Austria and Switzerland this month.
What comes across most strongly is Jim’s affection for the kids in his charge. His instinctive inclination is to trust them more than any tactical nous he might possess. His belief in the team pays off and is backed up by the professional help he can’t help himself calling upon while carrying out the day job. At Manchester United’s Carrington complex, he observes a training session taking place in near silence on the coaches’ part – the only noise is from the youth players themselves. They are being taught to work things out for themselves. Jim makes a mental note not to rant and rave on the touchline the following Sunday.
Managing a team which includes your son is a potentially tricky task in the parentally zealous world of boys’ football. Jim’s pride comes from the fact that Barney makes the task easy by giving his all, even to the point of getting sent of against a side from Germany, and by being distraught after the match at having let the team down. You’ll win nothing with kids is touching, humble and wise as well as funny.
Reading it brought to mind one of the most memorable moments I’ve had watching football. In 2002, Ipswich were 1-0 down at Millwall after only five minutes. As the second half began with the score the same, I realised that the man sitting directly in front of me was signalling to our striker, and incredibly the player did indeed appear to be looking up and taking note. The striker was Darren Bent, a teenager I’d seen score at Highbury in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup a couple of seasons before. That the man in front of me was one of the very few black faces in the away end made the connection obvious – surely this was Darren’s father, communicating where he thought the space was and where his son should situate himself. Not exactly in the United spirit of self-learning, but ingenious in taking advantage of ethnicity and perspective. And it came good with only ten minutes of the second half gone, when Darren ran into space on the right and tucked the ball away at the keeper’s near post. Any goal your team scores is celebrated with a degree of emotion, but – from where I was standing – that one more than most.
Interesting to note in this interview with David Peace that the first game of football to which he was taken by his father was also the very first of Brian Clough’s time at the helm of Leeds United, a friendly against Huddersfield Town. That goes a long way to explaining the psychological genesis of the idea for The damned Utd, as few things can make a greater impression on a youngster than their first sight of the emerald green turf at the centre of a football stadium slowly filling up with tens of thousands of people.
There are fourteen pieces of puff on the covers or inside the British paperback edition of David Peace’s The damned Utd (Faber), a fictional recreation of Brian Clough’s short tenure at the helm of Leeds United. All of them are by men.
It’s safe to say that not many women are going to feel any pull to immerse themselves in the all-male world of a top-ranking football club in 1974. For legal and no doubt more honourable reasons, Clough’s wife is a necessarily neutral figure, an adumbration against the flesh and blood portrayal of football’s greatest-ever motivator. There is therefore nothing to leaven the weight of masculinity in the book, no Sam Tyler to challenge Gene Hunt with 21st century values, as in Life on Mars. Instead – inevitably, unavoidably – the reader is fed a non-stop diet of ciggies, brandy, swearing and enmity (though it strikes me that I may just have listed the chief ingredients of a girls’ night out in the Leeds of 2008).
The hellfire and damnation of Clough’s six weeks at Leeds are cleverly intertwined with the glories and troubles of his career to that point, and a convincing portrayal of a monomaniacal manager emerges, one that lives up to the originality and simplicity of the idea – that a novel focussing on those forty-four days could be written from inside the head of the man at the centre of the whirlwind. The episode, and Brian Clough’s subsequent achievements with Nottingham Forest, must have coloured the young David Peace’s understanding of the game, beautiful or otherwise, as much as it did not only mine, but a whole generation of technically undernourished football lovers and players. I envy him the moment of inspiration in which the idea crystallised.
Now I’m off to read some chick-lit so that my feminine side can reassert itself.