Poor old Pompey - Dennis Hamley

We're going away on January 8th for our annual pilgrimage to New Zealand for two months, so I thought I'd better get my my next two blogs ready and scheduled.
          January's blog seemed to be going well: a reasoned discussion of something which I think is of some moment even if nobody else does. Then, as the old year died, something happened to stop me. I left Blogger for a moment and switched over to the football results. And there I saw something which shocked me and made me postpone January's blog to February.

         League 2.  Portsmouth 0, Northampton Town 0

          No, they must have got it wrong. Portsmouth have been rubbish all season but they've got a new manager now and he's put the fear of God in all the under-achieving players and they beat Dagenham and Redbridge last week and now everything would go BRILLIANTLY and they'd win and win and win and get promoted after only one season in League 2 and in five years' time they'd be back in the premiership and THEY'D WIN THE FA CUP AGAIN just like they did in 1939 and 2008. And Northampton are bottom of the league and everyone knows they are REALLY RUBBISH, even though my brother supports them.

          But they didn't get it wrong.  Pompey couldn't score a single goal against the worst team in the whole of the Football League. The only consolation is that some teams did worse. After all, Cally, while all this was going on, Turriff were losing at home 0-4 to Deveronvale in the Highland League. Never say I don't keep my finger on football's pulse.

          Well, why should I care about this underachieving football club in the deep south in a city I rarely go to?  The last time was February 2012 for Jim Riordan's funeral. It's one of those strange tarradiddles of fate which sometimes come upon us. My father in his youth was an apprentice electrician on Portsmouth Dockyard and every other Saturday would see him with his mates on the terraces at Fratton Park. He carried his passion through life. I sometimes think Portsmouth being relegated to the Fourth Division in the 70s hastened his death. And of course he passed his obsession  on to me. In 1939 he had a spare Cup Final ticket to see Pompey play Wolves, there were no takers and in the end he gave it away. I curse myself for only being three at the time.


Pompey 4, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1.  'Play up Pompey.'

Fact. Because of the war, Pompey kept the cup for six years, the longest of any club.  (More trivia to  follow).

          Anyway, after the war was over, following Pompey was great.  During the late 40s and early 50s they were the Man U of their day. They were League Champions two years running, 48-49 and 49-50. They would have won the Cup and League double in 1949 if they hadn't unaccountably lost to lowly Leicester City in the semi-final. I cried myself to sleep that night.
          Then  things went wrong. They had a series of relegations, went into the basement, struggled back, twice were on the verge of liquidation and then were saved by a rich Serbian businessman. Premiership four years later, Man U beaten at home two seasons running, no sweat, soon a team full of internationals, the FA Cup again in 2008, in Europe in the old UEFA Cup - and then, suddenly, disaster. The owner, Milan Mandaric, sold the club, the new owners piled in money they never had and left suddenly. More potential owners came, including two billionaire Arab brothers who it's now widely thought didn't actually exist.  Now the club was in staggering debt and on the point of being wound up.

          What happened next was the result of a long and brilliantly organised campaign (to which I contributed money, asking for it to be recorded as being in memory of Jim Riordan) carried through the city and then through the courts. And the result is that the crooks have been kicked out and Portsmouth Football Club is now wholly owned by its own supporters. The team may at the moment be rubbish, but who cares, hey! it's our rubbish.  Not so long ago I expected them always to beat Man U at home - and once, memorably, away. Now I was thrilled that they scraped home against Dagenham and Redbridge. 

          Do you see a metaphor here? Pompey are football's version of the indie writer, apart of course from the rubbish bit. So in future I expect all serious Electric Authors to support them. You know it makes sense. And if you can't support them, at least wish them well because their fortunes may parallel ours in ways we can't yet see.

Fact. The first ever League floodlit match was at Fratton Park, 22nd February 1956, Portsmouth versus Newcastle United. Sadly, Pompey lost 0-2.

          Besides, I've always seen football as a good metaphor for life itself, which is why I often end up writing about it.  I sometimes think of authors in terms of football clubs, though I'd never dream of applying the formula to Authors Electric.  I used to use it a lot on children's and young adult writers as a good way of clearing my mind. Philip Pullman was - is - Manchester United, Michael Morpurgo Chelsea, the late great Jan Mark definitely Arsenal and our own Sue Price obviously Liverpool - first of all spectacularly at the top, then a productive period of rebuilding and now, under new management, coming back strongly.
          And as for me? Well, with occasional short-lived glimpses of the sunlit literary uplands interspersed with long slides back into obscurity, I suppose I may be the West Bromwich Albion of the book world. Or even, God help us, Pompey. Try playing this game with crime writers (a few Electric Authors in the Premiership?) or SF writers or even, God help us, literary novelists. It's a good way of comparing like with unlike and finding unexpected correspondences, because writers and football clubs have a remarkable amount in common.

Me in my replica shirt.  Oh, I do take it so seriously.
This is the 2002-2003 strip when Pompey were promoted to the Premiership.

          Pompey turned me into a part-time football writer with lots of short stories and two full-length novels. And the club keeps creeping in to them. I write stories obviously about fictional teams but I like to set them in a half-real world where they play real ones. I usually manage to get a plausible match in where Pompey really hammer my imaginary creations. Childish but satisfying.
          The novels were published years ago, Haunted United, published in 1986 by Andre Deutsch and then as a PoD in 2004, is as its title shows, a ghost story. Death Penalty, a Scholastic Point Crime in 1994 and PoD in 2005, has a serial killer slicing a path through Radwick Rangers as they push for promotion. They are thoroughly out-of-date and probably not worth ebooking, though Death Penalty might be a possibility if I had the patience. Kids loved it when it first came out.

Product Details

The goalkeeper garotted on his own goalpost. Lovely!

          I've just this minute noticed that on Amazon Marketplace the Back-to-Front PoD edition (as above) is going new for prices ranging from £22.64 to £31.24. How weird the book trade is. There'll be no more new copies because Back-to-Front and the Solidus Press have sadly packed up.  Well, I've got quite a few new copies myself and when we get home in early March I'll let four of them go to the first comers for £5 each including postage.  But if £22+ is the going rate for new copies I must find a way of cashing in on the rest of them myself! I know we must encourage booksellers as much as we can but charity begins at home.

          Haunted United it seems isn't available any more. Well, I've got a shelf loaded with those as well. I wonder!

Fact. In 1927, Portsmouth were promoted to the old First Division by scoring one more goal than Manchester City over the whole season. In 1994 they failed to be promoted to the new Premiership because they scored one fewer than West Ham United over the whole season.

          No more trivia. Farewell for now from Kiwiland.

          PS. Pompey have just got themselves beaten by Southend United 2-1. Where will it all end?


madwippitt said…
For an encore they will no doubt beat themselves! :-)
cally phillips said…
Very interesting Dennis, and not just the Turriff score. You can't miss it here it takes up pages of the local paper - known as 'the Squeak' - Because I didn't know how interested in football you are! Lots to discuss (off comment box ) on that score. But funnily, as you were describing Pompey's ownership 'journey' I thought - what a great argument for independence it contains!!! But that's enough controversy from me for the day. Enjoy NZ - well you've probably gone now and look foward to seeing you back in a couple of months - ready and refreshed to get your Raiding hat on and come to Galloway?
Jan Needle said…
Fact: Jan Needle was born in Portsmouth (more or less) and lived within a mile of Fratton Park for twenty years. He wondered occasionally at the funny noises drifting across the land on Saturday afternoons to his house in Fratton Road, Fratton, but only discovered when he'd moved to Manchester that Pompey (of whom he'd vaguely heard) played there. In his forties, one of his sons (a Man United fan) gave him a Pompey scarf as an insult. Jim Riordan forgave Jan, generous chap that he was. Dennis, try to find it in your heart to forgive him as well. As to football being a metaphor for life, Jan prefers to put his faith in nose-picking. It's a point of view...

Have a lovely time in God's Own, Dennis and Kay. See you when you get back.
Lydia Bennet said…
Hope you are having a great time in NZ Dennis! I noted some football stories in your recent anthology so this doesn't surprise me. I only wish we authors earned something like footballer's pay!
Dennis Hamley said…
Madwippit, they have already, several times. Cally, yes an unofficial frank exchange of footie views would go down well. Jan, of course I forgive you. And I wouldn't be at all cross if you were to send Matti's insult to go with my replica shirt. Val, here in Queenstown by Lake Wakatipu is idyllic.
Jan Needle said…
aha! but it wasn't matti, it was wilf. wilf now lives in glasgow, but still wastes his time following united. matti is like his father - sensitive, mature, artistic and therefore thinks football is shite!

but if i can find the pompey scarf, dear boy, you shall have it.
glitter noir said…
Well, I'll definitely have to get myself a copy of Death Penalty. Looks and sounds like lots of fun!
Dennis Hamley said…
You shall have one, Reb, round about March 8th. Address please by ordinary email

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