The Fan: Wainwright Was Cheering Blackburn on from the Fells Last Sunday

By Davies, Hunter | New Statesman (1996), March 13, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Fan: Wainwright Was Cheering Blackburn on from the Fells Last Sunday


Davies, Hunter, New Statesman (1996)


We all have teams we vaguely follow from a distance, often for pretty dopey reasons. I have a soft spot for Blackburn Rovers, though naturally I went along to watch them at Spurs last Sunday hoping they'd get stuffed. They have been creeping up the table recently, threatening Spur's chance of Europe, which is a fat chance anyway.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As a boy, I liked the Rovers blue-and-white-chequered shirts, most distinctive. The comic papers used to print a page of football strips from every team in England and Scotland, which I would cut out and memorise. Ah, simple pleasures.

I also like them because of Alfred Wainwright, whom I always thought of as a genius. No, he didn't play for them, or anyone else, though he sounds like a pre-war, no-nonsense centre-half.

A Wainwright, as he preferred to be known, was born in Blackburn in 1907 in a two-up, two-down terraced house surrounded by the cotton mills. He left school at 13 and became an office boy at the town hall. After many years of night-school slog, he managed to qualify as an accountant. In 1941, he achieved his lifetime's ambition and moved to Lakeland, eventually becoming borough treasurer of Kendal.

His claim to greatness is his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Over 13 years, in his spare time, he climbed 214 Lakeland fells, getting to each on foot or by public transport, as he couldn't drive, then he wrote up his notes in little home-made books. They were miniature works of art, in that he drew everything by hand, the words and the illustrations.

In 1955, he began publishing them, originally at his own expense, exactly as he had written and drawn them, without an ounce of printer's type. By 1985, despite not a penny being spent on advertising, publicity or promotion, they had sold one million copies. Nor did he do any literary lunches, appearances or signing sessions. If he'd been starting today, no publisher would accept him.

Wainwright loved the fells, loved animals more than humans, and always preferred to be on his own in Lakeland--and yet he also loved football, especially his beloved Rovers. …

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