In Wales, Dannie Abse has written a well-known poem called 'The game' which summons up the atmosphere of Ninian Park and also the fans' viewpoint of Good playing against Evil. Roger McGough has a great poem in the children's anthology 'You Tell Me' which describes a very peculiar fan who supports both Liverpool and Everton and when it comes to sex is understandably 'bi-sexual'.
McGough is actually an Everton fan and he appears in one of the anthologies put together by Charlton fan Ted Smith-Orr entitled 'Football: Pure Poetry'. I was amazed to find in them poems by the likes of Seamus Heaney,declaring himself another Everton supporter. Ian McMillan (once poet-in-residence at Barnsley FC) is represented and the late,great Adrian Mitchell comes out for 'Liverpool, Scotland and South Africa'. Even players get a look in , as there's a poem by ex-England striker John Fashanu.
Cardiff City have possibly got more 'poetry fans' than any other team and I say this with no little bias and pride. From Cardiff itself there are Dannie Abse, Herb Williams (also Aberystwyth Town) , Ifor Thomas, Duncan Bush, Lloyd Robson and Nick Fisk. From the Valleys, myself and Kevin Mills.
Poetry is everywhere in football and some of the time it's on the field. If the team are a series of stanzas, then scoring a goal is the dramatic high-point.
With metaphors like this I could be a football manager who tries to get away from the usual cliches of 'At the end of the day.....' and 'We'll take one game at a time....' In fact, CCFC's manager Dave Jones has begun a whole series of metaphors as we head for Wembley this Saturday. After the first leg we had opened the door and were 'taking a peek'. Now we've slammed the door behind us. It remains to be seen whether we're inside or out!
If managers use extended metaphors, then fans apply poetic skills to chants from the terraces. These usually involve a lot of swearing and one famous CCFC chant about Peter Thorne and his 'magic hat' delighted the player but also, as he was a devout Christian, shocked him.
Sometimes the simplest of rhymes can be the most effective and can arise spontaneously from the occasion. Responding to Arsenal fans reserve in an FA Cup tie a few years back, Bluebirds' fans started chanting - 'Highbury is a library, Highbury is a library.......Na na na, na na na...' There is less invention nowadays, though the latest about winger Chris Burke is an exception.
There's also a vital history involved as I discovered recently, thanks to Merthyr actor Jonathan Owen. Jonathan is set to record the whole song from which our chant 'With my little pick 'n' shovel' comes, along with former Catatonia star Owen Powell, drummer Stuart Cable and Super Furries guitarist Guto Pryce. Apparently, the song dates back to the 1926 General Strike and was a rallying cry for the miners at that time.
The fact that we still sing it from the stands at the CCFC Stadium is quite astonishing and illustrates the strong link between the Valleys and Cardiff. Cardiff City have never been just a Cardiff football club and support from the Valleys is as crucial today as it has always been.
Here's my take on the importance of that song -
‘With My Little Pick ’n’ Shovel’
Coal down the Valleys
by barge and then by train,
channels of black to docks and beyond,
all for the engines of steam.
Fans down the Valleys
by car, bus and train,
joining the city throng
with thoughts of beyond.
Miners striking for their rights
to save families from poverty,
educating themselves in the ‘stutes;
orators who’d bring them light.
The bar like a long scarf:
pints to swill away
dust of days’ dole or work,
everyone talking in could be’s.
Miners singing from pits of bodies,
fans voicing from height of stands :
I’ll be there, I’ll be there!
With my little pick ‘n’ shovel I’ll be there!
Black then and blue today:
words dodging and running,
words passing and moving;
dug from the Valleys, shaped in the city.