Sing when we're fishing: the poetry of Grimsby Town F.C.
I’m a Grimsby Town fan born and bred. Although, technically, I was born some forty miles inland in Lincoln, which is not a good combination: your birthplace and football team being so at odds with one another. Your innermost being marked by rivalry from the off. It doesn’t bode well for mental health. There was, of course, never any chance of me supporting anyone other than Town, which is where my Mum and Dad and all their families are from. They’re not the sort of team you choose to support. Even when I was momentarily captain of the Lincoln City under 12s, I still bled black and white. But it made the junior school playground a bit tasty. And Grimsby versus Lincoln games ― Lincolnshire’s premier derby day ― became a big deal.
I don’t care about Lincoln getting magnanimously thrashed by Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the 2017 FA Cup. I care more about when we beat them 4-1 away on Boxing Day in 2012. And I care even more about the time we played them at home in 1989, when I was the Grimsby mascot and Dave ‘Diddy’ Gilbert, our tiny left winger ― another one who was well-travelled along the Grimsby-Lincoln axis and who, according to my Dad, would do time years later for nicking slate off the roof of our local church ― scored the most important penalty that anyone has or will ever score, to give us a 1-0 home win. In my childhood mind, it was the crowning event of an overrated decade.
I wrote this poem and made this video in homage to those times and also to our rickety ground, Blundell Park, which may not be our ground much longer. I feel sorry for kids growing up these days supporting teams like Arsenal or Manchester City in their soulless airline stadia. It must be like dreaming in plastic. Give me ‘Diddy’ Gilbert and Blundell Park any day.
Coney's Loft has asked me to select a few more of my favourite videos of poems, so the first comes from another Grimsby rival: Hull. I don’t imagine that Philip Larkin was a great football fan, but that’s not the point; this video of John Betjeman reading ‘Church Going’ is Hull at its best, with Larkin cycling round rural Lincolnshire and seeming to stumble upon profundity almost in spite of himself. It comes from an old Monitor documentary called ‘Down Cemetery Road’ which is a real joy and available in full on YouTube. My highlight is the bit where Larkin and Betjeman sit in an overgrown Victorian graveyard ― ‘a bit of wild country in the middle of Hull’ ― dressed in suits and ties, discussing the inevitability of death.
To continue the theme of antagonism, Larkin’s bitter poetic rival was Ted Hughes. It’s said that Larkin kept a photograph of Hughes in his downstairs toilet. ‘Never trust a poet in a leather jacket’ is another one of his memorable Hughes put-downs. But I’ve always had a soft spot for Ted: he always played the pantomime villain so well. Crow is one of my favourite Hughes collections, and this video captures its primordial, savage spirit, although the soundtrack could go down a notch or two. There’s drama enough in Hughes’s gruff Yorkshire drawl.
One last face off. My pal, the writer Austin Collings, won’t thank me for this, but Nick Cave once sung ‘Bukowski was a jerk/ Berryman was best’ ― throwing in a sly Berryman reference while he was at it ― and I’m with Cave, knowing that Bukowski would take it in the pissed-up, rib-bashing manner intended. So, calm down, Austin: Rilke was the real jerk.
Berryman is one of my favourite poets ever: irreverent, bold and extremely funny. If you haven’t read his crazed, sprawling collection Dream Songs then you really should. Trust me. As Sam Leith wrote in a lovely article to mark Berryman’s 100th birthday, ‘people who like Berryman really like him’. Recordings of him are rare and those that remain are like relics from a lost world: one where poets were full-blooded, singing precariously on the edge of reason. If you ever wanted an object lesson in how to read a poem, then this is it.