For the overworked programme seller who pocketed my fifty pence piece, and the turnstile operator hunched inside his stall like a jockey without a mount, my North East accent immediately gave the game away and cast me as the Other. It was ever thus for the away fan. You inevitably felt like an interloper, condemned to creep in through the equivalent of the tradesman’s entrance.
But this journey from New Street to Wolverhampton wasn’t simply a physical one of a body in motion through time and space, it was also one embracing the phonetic and semantic structures of language itself – from Brummagem to Black Country in less than twenty minutes.
My own hesitant pronunciation veered from ‘Molly knew’ to ‘Molly know’ like a photon not sure whether it was meant to be a particle or a wave. The old girl, though, was in bad shape, however you pronounced her name. Two of her stands were no longer in use, and the rusting hulk seemed an apt symbol for the present state of this once great industrial heartland which had been given a good kicking of late by the untrammelled forces of the free market.
Despite the pervading sense of drabness and decay, the game was anything but dull. Swathed in the familiar old gold and black, like an angry wasp on Benzedrine, and with his hair almost cropped to the wood, that working-class scrapper from the Moat Farm Estate – Steve Bull – was at his brutal, bruising, belligerent best. Finesse was never his forte, but rather raw, unstoppable power.
After the Wolves ran out 5-3 winners, with Bully adding yet another hat-trick to his tally for the season, I stayed behind and listened to the full time results over the tannoy. Perched on the terrace in front of me were two frail old men, leaning on their walking sticks, as if they were a couple of crane flies with missing limbs. Had I been so inclined, I might have seen them as symbolic as well.
With one Walsall fan and one Lye Town fan on the editorial board of this blog, there was a lot of teeth sucking at this marvellous piece from Michael Jarvie. What we both agreed on is that a) Stevie Bull was absolute dynamite, and b) Jarvie’s writing is too. In this piece Jarvie waves the flag for the cultural importance of local football teams and local heroes, especially in times when their towns (Wolves, still a town then) got a bit of a kicking from economic policies in place at the time. Steve Bull’s pitch presence, despite the down at heel surroundings, links perfectly with the traditional working-class attitude of Black Country communities, despite their sometimes down and heel surroundings. Is it any wonder football is so often eulogised in poetic terms? What he also manages expertly is expressing the beautiful, playfulness of the region’s dialect, and the important, albeit slight, differences between us and Brum. I’ve (Rob) said this before about Jarvie, but it’s worth repeating, he’s a writer’s writer.
Michael Jarvie is the author of a collection of short stories, The Prison, and a recently published novel, Black Art. Find out more here – https://wordpress.com/view/michaeljarvie.wordpress.com