Do sport and creative writing come from the same planet? Can sports journalists ever make the Booker? There’s a suspicion that, down the years, great writers have always been those who dislike ball games. The ones who hung around the radiators in school when they should have been out there in the rain on the pitch. Those who lock themselves in the library when the six nations are on. The ones who think David Beckham is a game show host and Ryan Giggs a sandwich shop owner. There’s a gulf and our national Welsh propensity to compose poetry about agriculture doesn’t help.
Of course if you dig down you’ll find a whole raft of quality writing based around sports. David Peace’s brilliant The Damned United and Nick Hornby’s unputdownable Fever Pitch being two recent examples. And if you really want to find out what literary Wales’s take on ball games really is then Gareth Williams’s anthology in the Library of Wales series, Sport, should show you.
Yet the suspicion persists. Sportspeople don’t write, writers don’t play. The common ground between them remains full of mud and fog. Dave Collins, who edits the magazine Welsh Football, pointed out recently that his magazine is full of new Welsh writing. Reports on games, on players, on clubs, on history. The Day Arsenal Came to Winch Wen, The FA Amateur Cup of 1893, a list of the injuries received playing in the Welsh league. However, even Collins admits that the ultimate literary merit of his material might be questionable.
But all is not lost. When faced with a class of reluctant readers, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah simply takes them out into the yard to kick a ball about. Is this poetry, sir? It will be when you write about it, Zephaniah replies.
In the south Wales valleys Academi has been pushing this idea as hard as it will go. Reluctant writers in Merthyr have been encouraged to mix sport and creativity by Peter Read and Mike Church. Phil Carradice has shown pupils how sports journalism works. Daniel Morden has mixed story-telling with sporting prowess. Mick Jenkins has used photographs of sporting action to inspire new verse. And Scott Quinell has shown pupils that even legends can have slow literary starts. He’s had had whole schools engaging with his Quick Read Aim High.
In Cardiff the Bluebirds have worked with Academi to get pupils from the south Wales region to visit their new stadium and to mix literature with soccer. All Skilled Up – Read It, Write It, Play it. To date 700 pupils have benefited, working with John Tripp Award winner Peter Read to create a new giant football poem and then to work on match commentary and reporting. Future stars for Dave Collins’s magazine. And after that novels and goals of their own.
A version of this posting appeared in as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday, 10th April, 2010. #142