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

EXCLUSIVE: Hatters Tour Dates Announced

It’s the one Heat wanted, the one the 3AM Girls stayed up till 3.05am for: exclusive details of my World Tour. In these places at these times, I’ll be telling stories from the book and trying to make two or three people (I can dream can’t I?) laugh. The words are non-football-fan-friendly, too.

October: The ‘Well I’ve Never Bloody `eard of `im’ World Tour.

24/10/13
1pm CHESTER Chester Literature Festival, Chester Town Hall. Tales from Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters.

25/10/13
5.45pm MIDDLESBROUGH Dr Brown’s pub, Middlesbrough. A homecoming gig before the Doncaster match. Tales from Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters.

26/10/13
11am BRADFORD Waterstones, Bradford Wool Exchange. Reading from and signing copies of Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters.

12.30pm BRADFORD One in a Million Cafe, Valley Parade, Bradford. The Bradford launch of Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters. Tales from the book and signing copies.

30/10/13
6.30pm SHEFFIELD Sheffield Library. Tales from Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters. 
More EXCLUSIVE: Hatters Tour Dates Announced

Headers and Volleys

I’m staring out of my window today. Out of my window and at the street. I hardly see the two men arguing about a car parking space, or the boy delivering Pizza Hut leaflets featuring images of hot dog crusts.

I see a different street. My childhood street. The one I scuffed my shoes and grew up on, the one where the lamp-posts were wickets and the conifers goals. The one where games of kerbie stopped only for sausage and chips or cars.

In the summer: cricket, one-hand-one-bounce cricket. In the winter, spring, autumn and summer: football, and our games within it. Wembley Singles or Doubles – that unique combination of attacking and defending the same goal. ‘Smash the ball at Father Stonehouse’s door and leg it’. ‘Arthur Fowler Zone’ (the garden of an empty house where any act of violence was permitted). Actually, those two were probably unique to us. And Headers and Volleys, glorious Headers and Volleys.

Some knew this as ’60 Seconds’; even within our village there was a clear, controversial split. In South Yorkshire they had the miners’ strike, where stay-outs didn’t speak to scabs. In the North Riding we had H&Vers and 60ers. Brutal.

Both games were essentially the same: score by only a header or a volley while the keeper counts to 60. With each goal, the time reduces by five seconds, the keeper stays in. If he makes the 60 (or 55, 50 etc) not out, then it’s ‘Last Touch’; whoever dares to shoot and is caught goes in goal. The shame. I remember a rumour that someone had got hapless custodian Sammy Chapman ‘down to five seconds in the third 60’. If only we’d shown as much interest in classroom maths.

It’s Friday afternoon. Who’s first in nets? … More Headers and Volleys

A Fife Less Ordinary

I have a thing for Fife. Its coastline, industry, people, politics and football endear it to me. In short, it reminds me a bit of home, of Yorkshire. Stramash meant engrossing visits there. Last Saturday meant a welcome return.

I went to watch Raith Rovers versus Dunfermline Athletic, The Pars. Those Pars are weighed down by a gloopy syrup of turmoil. They can barely pay their players. Saturday, in gloomier readings of the facts, could have been their last game. I wanted to find out if I could smell death on them. Just what does a club look like, how do its fans behave and sing, as it seems to slip away? Their defiance, their optimism, filled my heart.

Promises promises turn to dust

In Kirkcaldy, I detour to raise a saluting fist. The memorial to Fife’s International Brigaders is hidden away by a roadside, but it is a thing of poised beauty. It has been updated and enlarged three times; as the years pass they find more and more volunteers for liberty who left these parts. I was here a few months back when we sang in the rain about loss and Jarama. Death everywhere today.

Still in the rain, Kirkcaldy seems more depressed than when last I looked properly at it for Stramash. Now, even the pound shops are struggling. Hardly anyone is about. Grannies, mainstays of smalltown Scotland, have stayed indoors, stayed dry, instead of gathering to talk on corners. At least the Harbour Bar remains as it always was, still purveying exotic ales, if you consider Bolton and Wylam as provenance divine like I do. Four regulars stand at the bar, a gallery of empty tables behind them. ‘Naw, it’s more of a bottom-dwelling fish’, says one. ‘Of course, Sainsbury’s will cut your sole for you,’ replies his friend, not really listening. 

Along the wet and wild concrete plain of the Esplanade, the one or two people I pass raise their eyebrows at the weather. The Firth of Forth double double toil and troubles, spitting over the wall like a Buckfasting teenager. Hot dog smells hang around, succeeded halfway along by curry. In this air in this old town I feel unmistakably alive.

To the ground, late. Always a thrill to hear the sounds from outside a ground. Baying Pars and singing Rovers. Public Address muffled waffle and a whistle that may just be signalling the beginning of the end for Dunfermline. Heave the away end turnstile, scale the steps and file sideways along a full row. Late for the funeral?

Ten minutes in and The Pars are playing how you might expect. You pay peanuts you get monkeys. You don’t pay at all you get aimless hoofs that trickle out of play. ‘Ah was nearly greetin’ thinking this might be the last time ah watch Dunfermline,’ says a man behind me, ‘now ah’m here I hope it fucking well is.’ His neighbour picks up the theme: ‘Imagine all the things you could do in your life without having to watch this pish every week.’ Having to watch. I like that. This is a duty alright, one you’ll never shake off. Such gallows humour comes so well to football fans, of course, but it also indicates a defiance and a disbelief – we won’t really die, not my boys. We can’t.

Raith score. ‘Linoleum twats’ shouts someone. Those behind me settle into the regular chat of away games in 1995 where ‘Stevie got thrown oot that bar in Greenock’. Not for the first time it strikes me just how much football is about building a past to belong to. They can take our clubs today, but they will never take what we saw and where we drank and how we laughed. ‘Short sleeves and gloves. I never get that’, says a voice shaking the dreams out of me.

Dunfermline equalise in the second-half. The roars could be funeral hymns or they could be cries for help, but again I look around and see faces which simply don’t believe their club will die. They are the besotted grandchild, staring at Granddad in his hospital bed. As we leave the game I see two fans in their seventies with the slight look of being lost, then I see two grinning toddlers in Pars shirts. Maybe everything will be alright.

At the wake?More A Fife Less Ordinary

Never down in Albion

What simple times they were. Kicking a tennis ball on the walk to the bus, a game on the tarmac at first and last breaks, sixteen aside on the big field at dinnertime. We only went to school so we could play football or occasionally stop in our tracks to gawp at unobtainable sixth form girls. Lessons were merely fillers.

Then there were the organised matches after school and on Saturday mornings. Every season meant a tussle with our rivals for the league championship and various trophies named after people we’d never heard of. Usually my team would come off second best.

This was not the case when Sunday came. For on Sundays I played for Tadcaster Albion and we were invincible, despite the fact we looked like this:

Tadcaster Albion Under 14s

I recently came across a few sheets of paper on which I’d noted our results and vital statistics for the 1995/96 Under 14s season. The scorelines tell our story:

Railway 0 v 5 Albion
Albion 8 v 0 Knaresborough Rangers
Pateley Bridge 0 v 8 Albion
Albion 7 v 0 Wetherby Athletic
Albion 8 v 1 Knaresborough Town
Albion 9 v 1 Boroughbridge
Albion 3 v 1 Railway
Albion 12 v 0 Pateley Bridge
Wetherby Athletic 1 v 5 Albion
Knaresborough Town 1 v 6 Albion
Boroughbridge 1 v 6 Albion
Pannal Ash 1 v 1 Albion
Albion 1 v 0 Tinshill
Albion 5 v 1 Kirk Deighton
Knaresborough Rangers 1 v 2 Albion
Adel 0 v 8 Albion
Tinshill 2 v 4 Albion
Albion 6 v 1 Adel
Kirk Deighton 1 v Albion 4
Albion 5 v 0 Pannal Ash. 

That’s 111 goals for, 13 against. The solitary draw still hurts. We won a couple of cups too, the piece of paper reminds me, and beat the sponsor’s work team of lorry drivers 8-4.

Even now I can remember most of the nicknames and even some real names. In the back four alongside me at left-back, Willy, PJ and Pittsy, and behind us Big Richie Cattle. Ahead of me on the left, Gav, in the centre of midfield Hunty and Browny, on the right wee Pete Marshall. Up front, Beardmore and Moorhouse, the latter my best mate and inexplicably known as ‘Grunt’ to most folk.

An aside, but for a long time I wondered why Grunt and I went to different schools. It took until my mid-teens for me to realise that this was a Protestant/Catholic thing. On the occasions when I’d gone around to his house during what turned out to be Ash Wednesday, I’d just presumed his Mum had been cleaning the chimney and got soot on her face. I must have missed that R.E lesson. I was probably playing football.

Now, I think back to what fine players some of those lads were, in particular Hunty, Browny, Beardmore and Grunt. Yet none of them, beyond the odd trial, got a sniff even at Conference level. This was an era when you knew the names of lads from surrounding towns and villages who were being ‘watched by Leeds’, and those four were those lads. When I stumble across a teenage game on the local park now, it’s sad to think that the very best young schemers, the ones worth talking about, will already have been carted off, life and exuberance coached out of them in some academy or other.

Who said that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be? … More Never down in Albion

Rooms with a view

Like a million other fathers and sons, football has always been the thing that connects me and my Dad as much as our surname or clickey toes. We’re united by the feeling that life should never get in the way of the game. Still today if there’s an important adult matter or bad news to talk about on the phone, it’s best done after 20 minutes of transfer tittle-tattle.

Dad recently unearthed this photo of his childhood bedroom. Underneath it is one of mine, circa sometime in 1991 at 7.31. Do kids still clad their rooms in this way? I hope so.

Room with a view

 

Bedroom 1990

  … More Rooms with a view