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Gazza Agonistes


The boy could not sit still, could not keep quiet. When told off, he would be contrite, but the itch was plain to see: none of this talk really mattered. And when he took to the field, he played not for the team-plan but for himself, or so it seemed. Sometimes, according to Sexton, he was like a 'chicken with no head', running in all directions, needlessly frantic and aggressive. He hogged the ball, held onto it too long and frequently lost possession in his own half of the field.

But then of course he would do something wonderful - like beat three men, curl a free kick around the wall, split the defence with an outrageously angled pass. At such moments he was indeed a little gem.

Sound familiar? Recent years have seen foreign players vilified for their apparent selfishness - Christiano Ronaldo and, most recently of course, Luis Suárez. It's a legacy handed down from Alf Ramsey's World Cup success and a footballing culture that has always prized dependable work-rate far and above erratic flair.

But Ian Hamilton is writing about Paul Gascoigne here, and we maybe forget how many improbably talented home-grown players have suffered, as much at the hands of their own recklessness, with flying too close to the burning glare of English footy's peculiarly resolute (and resolutely peculiar) attitudes.

So long as it goes on, we will never win another World Cup, or the Euros.

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Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land, to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood the test of time because t…

About the Author

Welcome to the website of the English poet and critic, Ben Wilkinson.
Ben was born in Staffordshire and now lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He received his first degree from the University of Sheffield, and holds an MA and PhD from Sheffield Hallam University. He has won numerous awards for his poetry, including the Poetry Business Competition and a 2014 Northern Writers' Award
His debut full collection of poems, Way More Than Luck, appeared from Seren Books in February 2018.
He is a keen distance runner, lifelong Liverpool Football Club fan, and among other things he works as poetry critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. You can find many of his reviews on this site.
To contact Ben about readings, workshops, or for any other enquiries, you can drop him a line at benwilko(at sign)gmail.com. Unfortunately, I am not able to consider unsolicited requests from authors for book reviews.

You can follow Ben on Twitter - @BenWilko85 - and on Facebook.

You can find B…

Way More Than Luck (Seren Books, 2018)

From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More …