Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Whole Channels Are Devoted to Football, but Books Get Just Two Radio Progs

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Whole Channels Are Devoted to Football, but Books Get Just Two Radio Progs

Article excerpt

This is appalling, said my wife, sounding like Prince Charles. Why oh why, she continued, sounding like the Daily Mail, do we have to have all these acres devoted to football? The literary pages have practically disappeared. Even the Sunday Times doesn't have a separate book section any more.

I've changed our Monday newspaper from the Indy to the Times, purely because of their footer section, The Game, which really is fab, so much for healthy boys and girls to enjoy. In the past ten years, there has been an explosion in football coverage, especially in the broadsheets. Every day, they devote more actual words, as opposed to pics and headlines, to football than the tabloids.

Poor old lit eds. She, for it is usually a she, has to survive on an ever-shrinking space, on her own in a cubbyhole, whereas every sports editor has an army at his command, big budgets, dozens of pages. On radio and TV, it's even more pronounced. I can think of only two radio progs, and not one on TV, solely devoted to books--A Good Read and Open Book on Radio 4. With football, there are whole channels, whole stations.

Football has now muscled in on the books pages, such as they are. There's an esoteric Italian novel by Luther Blissett, remember him? Well, it's not him. They've just used his name, but it shows the influence of football.

In the current bestseller lists, hardback and paperback, there are six football books, something I can't remember happening before. The Becks book we can understand, but look at Nobby Stiles, not kicked a ball in decades, never exactly a pin-up, yet his book is up there with Martin Amis. (Last week's Sunday Times reported 1,190 in the week for Nobby, 1,835 for Mart.)

Writing about football is as old as football. Even before there was a Football League, there were books and annuals written by gentlemen for other gentlemen, often beautifully produced, fit to grace any country-house library. Once the League began, in 1888, a new activity and breed of human appeared--football reporters. …

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