Are these the greatest football poems?
Literature and football may not seen like natural bedfellows, although it’s worth remembering that Albert Camus, the philosopher and author, was a goalkeeper, and that the American football team the Baltimore Ravens are named in honour of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem ‘The Raven’. Robert Frost once said, ‘Poetry is play. I’d even rather have you think of it as a sport. For instance, like football.’ And poets down the ages have put into words the magic and wonder of football. Here are five classic poems about football by Victorian, twentieth-century, and contemporary poets.
A. E. Housman, ‘Twice a week the winter thorough’. ‘Twice a week the winter thorough / Here stood I to keep the goal: / Football then was fighting sorrow / For the young man’s soul.’ So begins this poem from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, which goes on to mention cricket, so we get two sports for the price of one in this classic poem. The power of sport in such situations is the ‘mirth’ it provides the speaker: he can keep his mind from gloomier thoughts by joining his fellow man for a football or cricket match. The power of football as a way of ‘fighting sorrow’ also chimes with the message we find elsewhere in A Shropshire Lad: that male bonding, friendship, and neighbourly solidarity are all features of rural village life.
Edward George Dyson, ‘A Friendly Game of Football’. Dyson (1865-1931) was an Australian poet, and this great football poem is steeped in Australian language and setting, from its opening lines onwards: ‘We were challenged by The Dingoes – they’re the pride of Squatter’s Gap / To a friendly game of football on the flat by Devil’s Trap.’
J. Milton Hayes, ‘My Old Football’. ‘You can keep your antique silver and your statuettes of bronze, / Your curios and tapestries so fine, / But of all your treasures rare there is nothing to compare / With this patched up, worn-out football pal o’ mine.’ Hayes (1884-1940) was an actor as well as a poet, who is best-known for his poem ‘The Green Eye of the Yellow God’. ‘My Old Football’, which was set to music in the early twentieth century, is a fine football song/poem about the singer’s/poet’s close bond to his old football, because of the football’s close associations with the poet’s brother, who is off fighting in the war (see also Duffy’s poem below).
Louis Jenkins, ‘Football’. We switch football, or what is known in the United States as ‘soccer’, for American football with this poem, as we cross the Atlantic for this poem by contemporary US poet Louis Jenkins (b. 1942). Stream-of-consciousness and almost prose poetry in its form, ‘Football’ takes a wry and humorous look at the game.
Carol Ann Duffy, ‘The Christmas Truce’. Perhaps the most famous football match in European history is the Christmas truce of 1914, when the soldiers fighting in No Man’s Land sang songs and carols at each other from their trenches, and played impromptu games of football. The truce wasn’t total, and on Christmas Day 1914 there was some fighting on the western front; but Duffy’s poem homes in on the temporary cessation of hostilities – and those parts of the trenches where the battleground was made into a football pitch.