Ode to Football

A tongue in cheek post, by Sarah Doyle.
It’s not uncommon for those who love football to talk about ‘the beautiful game’, the romance found in many a match.  But what of the Romantics themselves?  Although pre-dating Association Football as we know it today, might the great Romantic poets have made compelling football figures?  Would Byron have been mad, bad and dangerous to tackle?  Could Wordsworth have wandered lonely as solitary striker?  What follows is a (tongue-in-cheek) exploration of that notion: our very own five-a-side football team, Romantics Rovers…
Selfish, arrogant, prodigiously gifted and with arrow-sharp instincts, there is no question that you would have to play Lord Byron up front, marauding where’er he pleases and banging in the goals (or just banging) for fun.  With those smouldering good looks, he’d be the poster-boy for myriad sponsorships, from parchment to pipe-smoking.  Think Christiano Ronaldo, mixed with George Best, mixed with Eric Cantona, and that’s our super-striker.  Altogether now:  He scores – at will.  He’s handy with a quill.  By-ron, By-ron…
Bossing the midfield, we’ll play John Keats.  His (admittedly somewhat heavily veiled) football reference at the start of Endymion, when he assures us he will “never // Pass into nothingness”, makes him perfect for the role.  And surely, any man who writes a poem entitled “Give Me Women, Wine and Snuff” is always going to be something of a footballing Bright Star.
Out wide, our friends at Keats-Shelley House suggested most wittily on Twitter that William Wordsworth would have started his career playing on the left wing, only to end it playing on the right.  There are actually some genuine footballing conversions of this nature, so we will forgive Wordsworth his political waverings and allow him to play down either flank in the creative wide role that he was surely made for.  Whether pondering the view from Westminster Bridge or playmaking at Stamford Bridge, Willie Wordsworth is our winger extraordinaire.
Guarding the rear, we’ll have Percy Shelley doing the Bysshe-ness in defence.  If he’s hard enough to write his essay, “A Defense of Poetry”, then our literary lion-heart is hard enough to hold the back line.  Enough said.
And so, protecting the onion bag, this leaves Samuel Taylor Coleridge – or should that be Goalie-ridge?  (Didja see what I did there?)  Some football devotees favour a dependable, steady, well-disciplined goalkeeper – but not me.  I’m more a fan of the maverick nutty sticksman: your Grobbelaars, Lehmans, Higuitas et al.  And that’s certainly our Coleridge: visionary, dreamer, superstar ’keeper.  Just don’t ask to inspect his taxes.
Of course, we need a manager to organise and galvanise our stellar soccerati.  Would you choose the bonkers brilliance displayed in The Rime of the Ancient Mourinho?  The bitter-sweet disappointment of love turned sour in Wenger We Two Parted?  Or perhaps you favour the direct approach of La Belle Dame Sans Moyesie?
Finally, we have to have a strip.  There is no doubt in my mind: our team’s colour is daffodil yellow.  Head to toe.  Get knitting that scarf.  You’ll need it for waving when Wordsworth scores a goal, so he can look up to see “a crowd, // A host of golden daffodils,”.
You may or may not agree with my team selection; the great thing about football is that it engenders debate, making armchair experts of us all.  But what is certain is this: Romantic poetry and the romance of football are two aspects of our cultural heritage that continue to inspire great passions in many of us today.  As Coleridge (almost) wrote:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alf, the sacred Ramsey, ran
Through caverns measureless to man …
At least, I’m pretty sure he would have done, if only he’d had the fore(four-two)sight to do so.  Up the Romantics!
Sarah Doyle, April 2014
A native north Londoner, Sarah is among the third of five generations of Arsenal-supporting Doyles.  During the 1990s she wrote regular columns for an Arsenal fanzine; and from 1993 until 2000 she previewed Arsenal’s home games and wrote the occasional football feature for the London listings magazine Time Out. 
These days, she is known mostly as a poet, her poems having appeared in various anthologies and in publications such as Orbis, Poetry News, Prole and The Dawntreader.  Recent competition placings include The Poetry Kit, Poetry on the Lake, Perform Poetry’s Revisited Poetry Competition and Save As Writers’ Shakespeare-themed competition (Prose category).  In 2012, Sarah was appointed as the first ever Poet-in-Residence to the Pre-Raphaelite Society – a post which she still holds.  She reads regularly at poetry events in and around London, and co-hosts Rhyme and Rhythm Jazz-Poetry Club at the Dugdale Theatre in Enfield.