Saturday, 3pm – new book out now. Order direct here

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My new book, with its rather lovely cover, is out now. You can  buy it direct from me, signed, for a tenner including p&p by clicking here (for non-UK sales, see Shop): 

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Here’s the official blurb:

Overpaid players. Sunday lunchtime kick-offs. Absurd ticket prices. Non-black boots. Football’s menu of ills is long. Where has the joy gone? Why do we bother? Saturday, 3pm offers a glorious antidote. It is here to remind you that football can still sing to your heart.

Warm, heartfelt and witty, here are fifty short essays of prose poetry dedicated to what is good in the game. These are not wallowing nostalgia; they are things that remain sweet and right: seeing a ground from the train, brackets on vidiprinters, ball hitting bar, Jimmy Armfield’s voice, listening to the results in a traffic jam, football towns and autograph-hunters. This is fan culture at its finest, words to transport you somewhere else and identify with, words to hide away in a pub and luxuriate in.

Saturday, 3pm is a book of love letters to football and a clarion call, helping us find the romance in the game all over again.

Each is a precision-tooled delight… even apparently obvious subjects are described with such lyricism that the everyday is routinely transformed into the sublime… here is a book that contains nothing but pure, unadulterated joy.
When Saturday Comes magazine

Delightfully written…countless little gems of recognition and satisfaction, many of them very funny… a lovely little thing.
The Daily Telegraph

 

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A little bagful of stardust…each chapter is a little paean of praise, almost poetic at times, waxing lyrical as evidence of what makes the heart sing. A lovely package of observation and eulogy…it deserves to be widely read.
Yahoo! Sports

Many of the lyrical sweet nothings Gray whispers in your ear still survive…It might be small enough in size to slip into a stocking, but there’s nothing lightweight about a book that wears such a large heart on its sleeve(s).
Scotland on Sunday, a 2016 Football Book of the Year

A wonderful book. Arguably the football book of 2016.
Off the Ball, BBC Scotland

A warm, smiling celebration of football’s quirks, and of ours. Never mind how good a writer Daniel Gray is: what an eye he’s got. You’ll never watch a game again without liking some daft little moment and wishing you could share it with him.
Michael Grant, The Times

A wonderful, wistful read.
Oliver Kay, The Times

A sonnet to football, whimsical and deeply rewarding.
Stuart Roy Clarke, Homes of Football

A real midget gem of a book that fits perfectly into a jacket pocket for reading on the way to the match, or indeed during it if you’re an England fan.
Harry Pearson, author The Far Corner

A superb book…thoughtful, moving, lyrical, joyful.
Ian McMillan, poet, writer and BBC radio presenter

Gray beautifully articulates the pleasure offered by such pursuits as jeering passes that go out of play, listening to the results in the car, and spying a ground from the train window…his prose is exquisite…a physically slim but spiritually hefty treat.
Pitch & Page, Books of the Year 2016

An elegiac, poetic tribute to what there is to love about the game…This wonderfully bijou volume serves as a description of nothing less than a way of life.
Two Unfortunates

Lovingly crafted prose-poetry…a wonderful antidote to the money-sodden excesses of the modern game.
Late Tackle magazine

I love this book, I had enormous fun reading it…a great book.
Matt Williams, Simon Mayo Drivetime show, BBC Radio 2

Really nicely written. A brilliant book. Romantic, very recognisable things.
James Brown, TalkSport

The author has compiled some wonderful things about our national game…I love this book. Wonderful. A delightful book.
BBC Manchester

A loveletter to nice things about football…fifty perfect little essays. A beautiful book.
BBC Tees

I commend this book. Two pages are worth ten cliché-ridden football books. It evokes the nodal points of football memory.
Archie McPherson, BBC Scotland

Full of eternal delight. I loved it to pieces. Hymns that evoke the essence of the game. A fantastic book.
The Anfield WrapMore Saturday, 3pm – new book out now. Order direct here

Postcard #8: Wembley

The man has a piece of paper. On it is written ‘Black Ford’ and ‘11.30am’. Up and down, up and down he paces along the footpath, glancing at cars and then at the paper. With the non-note hand, he nudges his sinking spectacles hard against the bridge of his nose, sighs and slumps against a wall. Luton Airport’s pick-up area does this to you.

He shows me the piece of paper. “Have you seen a Black Ford, mate?” I have not the heart to tell him that I couldn’t tell a Ford from a motorbike, that cars have long eluded me, but I settle for what I hope is a sympathetic shake of the head. In front of us, a man in shades performs an Irish jig around a ginger-haired bloke who looks like he wants to cry. Drivers toot and gesticulate at one another, their arms like the branches of some demented tree in the wind. My fatherly lift arrives and we leave the man looking for his Black Ford. It is way after 11.30am.

Wembley

Football brings me to the Deep South. This is not just any football. This is Middlesbrough. For 27 of my 33 years they have tormented and delighted me. They are my curse and my family. If – and millions are like me here – I put the toil into another pursuit that I do following this football club, I would be useful and perhaps even beautiful. We are going to Wembley, rhythmic, magic-fuelled words when you are lost to this game like I am. Me and 40,000 others, all convincing ourselves that getting the upstairs front seat on the bus or finding 20p on the floor are lucky omens. Not only are we going to Wembley: we are going to win.

On the morning of the game, we travel to 1957. A relative has brought mementoes of his footballing career to show us. There are prim matchday programmes and newspaper clippings gone brittle. He played in the Spartan League, a fair level if you happened to be in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire or beyond in the 1950s. In fonts that take me far away, I read about Boreham Wood and Ruislip FCs, Tring Town and Sandy Albion. ‘Brown’s Brilliant Goalkeeping Prevented an Utter Rout’, a headline shouts at me. Another tells of ‘The Massacre of Stonecross Road’ (Hatfield Town 8 v 3 Baldock Town).

Old adverts take your hand and lead you gently down the high street. J. Hartrop Tobacconist (‘Dutch and English Whiffs’), Days’ Off Licence (‘For all your drink in the home’) and Hollier’s Tuberculin Tested Milk. How about we look in on EC Careless, Ironmonger or Peter Goodfellow with his Distinctive Menswear? And let us not forget that Boreham Wood Cage Bird Society meets on the first Wednesday of every month.

I am still thinking of Bob the Barber and the Hankin Drapery as we jolt and grind through Metroland and into London. The old beast fascinates me. As ever, it is not the parts or buildings I am supposed to be interested in, but the housing estates and scruffy shop parades. All those lives, all those stories, piled together like chaotic toys on a jumble sale table.

This, though, is a football day, and therefore one for the heart rather than the head. My fellow reds swarm around King’s Cross. Half of Middlesbrough is here, the old with steel in their blood and the young who may well have to take their chances elsewhere. Work for the latter has vanished since the days when ‘Made on Teesside’ was chiselled into bridges straddling Sydney Harbour and the Tyne. Here is a town and team whose identities are interspersed. Hope is pinned on shirts with lions on the crest, and hope is important.

The escalators down into the earth are caked red too. I feel wildly, hypnotically optimistic. What is the point of going to football if you don’t? I look across the Tube carriage at my Dad. We were first here to see our team in 1990. I remember flashes of the game, and more about the riot afterwards – Police horses bolting and me picking up a Middlesbrough flag with Doc Marten prints across it, a spoil of war. I still have it. I ask him if he thinks we will win. “Of course we will.” He looks as petrified as I am beginning to feel. Somewhere between Kilburn and Dollis Hill, I am remembering that we actually have to play another team to win, and not a bad one at that. Wembley Way feels like the centre of the world. This is an occasion. We sing our way in. We are going up.

Norwich City score two early goals and the game is over, really, by half-time.

Again and again, I look around our half of the ground, up and down, up and down. We needed this. Our town needed this. All those hopes and stories turned to sadness and thoughts of work tomorrow. The final whistle goes. Other people’s joy is hell. We trudge and dredge away. “I bloody hate Wembley,” says my Dad. … More Postcard #8: Wembley

People’s History Show episodes 10 to 14

Despite being the very model of ruthless efficiency, I forgot to keep posting links to the People’s History Show. In all, there were fourteen episodes in the first series.

Someone must’ve been watching because I got recognised by a taxi driver and in the Gents toilets of a pub. It’s an incredibly glamourous world, That telly. We’ve filmed the first couple of Series Two already, and my own wee films are still appearing on the Fountainbridge Show too. The People’s History Show continues to be screened every Monday at 20:30 on STV Edinburgh and STV Glasgow.

It’s been a braw six months, telly-wise: from calling myself a People’s Historian by accident to co-presenting a new show with a similar title. Next stop: a long-awaited sponsorship deal with Lion’s Midget Gems. A boy can dream, can’t he?

ep 9 stillMore People’s History Show episodes 10 to 14

A film and some words about Britain’s worst rail disaster

Napoleon Bonaparte Kerr. What a name. What a man. A boy, really, like
so many of them were: 21-years-old. He´d probably rarely left
Edinburgh, his name the only piece of escapism living on Parsons Green
Terrace in Meadowbank brought.

The names get you first. Then the addresses. Then finally the ages
punch you in the stomach. Williams, Johns, Georges and Roberts.
Canongate, Commercial Street, Market Street and Leith Walk. 16s, 17s,
18s and 21s.

What could they have done, what mountains could they have conquered,
were their lives not purged by heinous fate? Gallant enough to sign up
for war in some alien hell, and so surely bold enough to make lives
worthy, and even great.

They would have become husbands and fathers, too. Loved by more people
than just the heartsore Mums and Dads and sisters they left behind.
One Mum wore black for the rest of her days, every minute and hour
itself a trawl and a trauma.

There is, too, an odd sadness that they never got to war. Afterall,
the vile odds were stacked against them – they were bound for
Gallipoli, another hellpot which killed its own generation of young
people. But they had set out with purpose and – let´s not tint this
with romance, for it is all black – to escape. These were lads who
shared beds with siblings, who scrapped for work at the docks. Food
was sometimes a privilege.

On that May day – a sunny one, and isn´t our little country the
brawest place on earth when the sun remembers to smile? – 500 of them
set out. What did they talk about aboard those old, wizened carriages?
Lassies they´d miss and bosses they wouldn´t? “Ah ken you, do I not?”
How hot will it be out there? Are you Hibs or Hearts?

The train pelted south. Imagine the countryside tripping by like a
film. Fond looks at familiar lands? Then lads laughing as wheels
bumped and jolted them. Somewhere ahead, railwaymen, railwaymen in a
casual mood, set their fate. Signals were not sent out. The troop
train struck another. An express engine clattered in.

The rest was hell and fire. Over 200 lives became names upon a list.
The parents of Napoleon Bonaparte Kerr wept rivers. It was all
Edinburgh could do.

Gretna processionMore A film and some words about Britain’s worst rail disaster

Postcard #7: Strathpeffer

The taxi driver was in the army. Eighteen years in the army. He tells me about some of the places he went to, some of the things he saw. I decide not to moan about my leaking shoes. When I mention the rain, he recalls the sound Afghan raindrops make on the roof of a British Army tent. I try to steer the conversation away from Helmand and towards the Highlands, but the driver is not for turning. “I lost my best mate out there. Blown to bits. That’ll be £7.60 please.” It’s an unconventional sign-off, I’ll give him that much.

At the hotel reception, there is a queue. Leading it is an American lady in a hotel-issue dressing gown. “Is my shower supposed to be cold, is that, like, a Scottish thing?” she asks the Spanish man behind the desk. He telephones someone called Stevie and says “the water has gone again”. I check in and squelch to my room. There is no milk for my cup of tea. I phone reception and get the Spaniard. “My apologies, sir. I’ll get  Stevie to bring you some.” Stevie never materialises. He has a lot on, I decide, and head out.

Strathpeffer

Strathpeffer has a calm beauty. It is solidly, reassuringly Victorian, all titan houses with frilly doorways fit for parasols and bulky skirts. Gardens are roomy, many with monkey puzzle trees, lush souvenirs of Victoriana. Decorative iron streetlamps line the main road, a dainty sentry guard. The Grand Spa Pavilion entices my eyes, suddenly the only girl in the room. Its crescent window is like a sad eye offering you a look into another time, but there is nothing morose about the place. It is a work of art, on the one hand evocatively Rule Britannia, on the other like a New England town hall. White and wooden, it is a portal taking the viewer somewhere pleasing. Here once tourists danced, here once locals fell in love. It was a place of learning and fiery oratory too: the walls whisper of the night Emmeline Pankhurst dropped in, of George Bernard Shaw holding court.

Strathpeffer’s setting adds to the feeling of being in another place, in another time. It sits beneath hills, onto which are lodged houses and hotels in cream and stone. It means a content feeling of being cut off from the rest of time and the world, hidden away, ghosting around. The wild west wooden shops are set back from the road and I feel cheated that they don’t have a balcony and a lone rocking chair swaying in the wind.

Inside the mini-market, a lazy store cat refuses to move away from the crisps section. Not even an ear flickers as I climb over it. Two women in their thirties are talking about a mutual acquaintance. “She gives me the boak, that woman. Ties my stomach in knots when she speaks.” The store noticeboard advertises a Snail Race.

Back outside the shop, a boy in that purgatory cusp between happy boyhood and intense teenagedom is on his bike. He is not riding anywhere, just circling, occasionally performing a wheelie. Growing up somewhere like this gives you a permanent sense of waiting for something, even if you never quite know what. In my village, it was waiting to leave. A dog tied to a lamppost looks on, an indifferent audience. It feels like both of them wish they had been raised not here but beneath the bright lights of Dingwall.

I walk down to the old railway station, last train departed 1946. Its autumn-red wooden plank walls have been kept exquisite, shops and things to look at or eat sold from within. The platform is intact too, but look down for tracks and all you see is long grass; listen out for steam rising and all you hear is a waterfall and happy birds. Occasionally railway station aromas waft by, scented ghosts hanging in the air – nothing specific, just tar or mucky steam water.  It’s all nice enough, this Little House on the Prairie end of the line, but a shame. Why not trains fizzing here from Inverness, bringing us to this glad timewarp of a town? Screw the sums and the feasibility studies. Give us life and railways.

Back by the shops, the bike boy is still prowling. My bus to Inverness pulls up 15 minutes late. The driver doesn’t take a fare, instead ushering me on. I am the only passenger and he turns up the radio during a news story about a murder in rural Scotland. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing when we stop to pick up a school-age lad. Another couple of kids get on elsewhere, one carrying a trumpet. At least we can use it to bludgeon the murderous driver, I think. Somehow we arrive at Inverness unscathed. “Is this bus always free?” I ask trumpet boy. “Aye, it’s the school bus mate.” The driver gives me a friendly goodbye. … More Postcard #7: Strathpeffer

People’s History Show – trailer

Here’s the trailer for a brand new history programme I am co-presenting. The People’s History Show will be on STV Edinburgh and STV Glasgow every Monday night at 8.30. It will include my People’s Historian films about St Bernard’s FC, the Portobello Human Zoo, Edinburgh’s Closes, Edinburgh’s riots and many more (if it goes well, that is).

More People’s History Show – trailer