The real Escape to Victory

fftsept2014In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, several of Britain’s most famous footballers were imprisoned at the Ruhleben internment camp, near Berlin. Marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the War, my feature in the latest issue of FourFourTwo tells the true story of how the prisoners – including the great Steve Bloomer – used the game of football to survive, and how two of them used it to achieve an amazing escape.

“‘An epic story of the triumph of the British spirit of sportsmanship in a German prison camp!’ Not a tagline for Bank Holiday film favourite Escape to Victory, but a 100-year-old newspaper headline reporting the true-life exploits of a group of footballing prisoners of war. It was 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, and several of Britain’s most famous footballers were imprisoned in the brutal Ruhleben internment camp, on the outskirts of Berlin. Surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, living in squalor and on meagre rations, and with their families and freedom far out of reach, they sought salvation in the thing they knew best: football.”

Read the full story in the September 2014 issue of FourFourTwo.


Also in this issue of FourFourTwo is a feature on goal celebrations, which includes my piece on the early history of celebrations, or ‘the Handshake Years’.

goal celebrations

Burgers with Muhammad Ali


Russ Routledge is a former amateur boxer from Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1984, he spent a week living with Muhammad Ali, the greatest fighter of all time. Russ was down on his luck and far from home, and Ali was attempting to deal with retirement and the onset of Parkinson’s. The story of their unlikely friendship has been published by The Cauldron at Medium.

“Muhammad Ali is a fast driver. He guns his Stutz Bearcat along Wilshire Boulevard, swinging in and out of busy traffic, and throws a hard left onto Rossmore Avenue. Pedestrians point and wave, and Ali lifts his hands from the wheel to throw shadow punches in their directions. Stopped at a red, a driver leans from his car window and shouts, “Hey Ali — you’re the greatest!” Ali bites down on his Louisville lip and offers the driver a comic grimace. Then, as the light turns, the man they call the Champ hits the gas and races toward Hollywood Boulevard.”

Read the full story at The Cauldron, the sports collection of Medium.


All With Smiling Faces website

All With Smiling FacesMy next book is All With Smiling Faces, an early history of Newcastle United. It’s published in September 2014, but the website is online now, featuring content and images from the book, plus a pre-order offer for a special limited edition. The book cover features a painting by Paine Proffitt.

“How did Newcastle become United? When was the club formed, and where did it play before moving to St James’ Park? Who were the men who built the club, and how did they turn it into the most successful club in the country? What was it like to support Newcastle in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and why has the bond between the club and its fans remained so strong?

All With Smiling Faces takes a wander through Newcastle’s early history to discover how the club came to mean so much to so many. Covering the first 30 years, from its foundation as Stanley FC in 1881 to the triumphant FA Cup win in 1910, the book visits the grounds, meets the players, mingles with the fans, and relives the matches that made Newcastle United.”

Find out more and pre-order at the website

Cafe Calcio

Cafe CalcioI was on the Resonance FM radio show Cafe Calcio last week, talking with hosts Chris Dixon and David Stubbs about Victorian football. The chat focussed on the Goal-Post: Victorian Football anthologies, and also mentioned my Victorian Football Miscellany. Areas covered included early football journalism, the evolution of the Laws of the Game, and Victorian attitudes to women’s football. The show is available to stream via Soundcloud. More Victorian football content and information can be found at the Goal-Post website.