6 - 20 October 2017

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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: A Passion for Sport at The Green

writers at our passion for sport event during MLF13Jon Parker Lee

  • writers at our passion for sport event during MLF13

It’s not often that the order of a reading is decided by a coin toss. However, fair play seemed appropriate in the context of A Passion for Sport, held in the cavernous downstairs area at The Green on Ducie Street, half-lit by a row of golf simulation booths. Presented as part of the Try Reading project, a scheme by libraries in the North of England to promote reading alongside this year’s Rugby League World Cup, Ian McMillan and Owen Sheers offered an illuminating, entertaining insight into their residencies with Barnsley FC and the Welsh national rugby union team.

Following the mantra ‘Tails for Wales never fails’, Owen Sheers’ superstition proved right and he chose to read first. Sheers’ book Calon: A Journey to the Heart of Welsh Rugby follows the Welsh team through their astounding Grand Slam run in the 2012 Six Nations, and his area of focus here was on Wales’ 19-12 victory over England.

Sheers reflected on the human fascination with sport, paraphrasing Seamus Heaney in noting its unique capacity for moments that ‘catch the heart off guard and blow it open’. The insight he shared from his time with the Welsh players and coaching staff, such as the fear of defeat that motivated the young squad and their subjection to cryotherapy between matches, lent them an unfamiliar fragility. It served to remind us that despite the detached nature of modern sport, with professionalism dislocating players from their communities and causing their every word and movement to be analysed, the human narrative of striving to be remembered endures, as Scott Williams will be for his winning try.

Ian McMillan engaged the audience in a lighter way, a hilarious quick-fire presence on the stage with his warm Yorkshire brogue. Regaling the crowd with his tales of following Barnsley FC during their lone Premier League season, McMillan performed poems from his collection It’s Just Like Watching Brazil. With all the wit that tumbles out of football fans in a chant or heckle, his poems expressed the joyful dizziness that sport can inspire, one where a major historical event fades in comparison with watching one’s lower-league team get promoted:

‘When man landed on the moon, I didn’t really care, But when Barnsley beat Bradford, I was there.’

Once the floor opened to questions at the end of the night, a fascinating discussion began on the complicated relationship between sport and literature, and growing receptiveness towards writing residencies. When the panel were asked how best to enter writing, Sheers advised the importance of learning to read and listen. With so much ground being covered that night at the Green, the world of sport clearly has much it can tell us about ourselves.

About the writer: Chris Ogden was born in Salford where he currently resides. He has a Creative Writing MA from the University of East Anglia and was recently selected for the Cornerhouse's Digital Reporters Scheme. He can be found jabbering about poetry, football, and music at thethumbcompass.wordpress.com or on Twitter @TheThumbCompass.