How to beat the winter freeze

442The latest issue of FourFourTwo includes my feature on undersoil heating and various other methods of beating the problem of frozen football pitches, including straw, braziers and a mysterious beer-like liquid.

“First mooted in 1937 yet only mandatory for Premier League clubs since this season, undersoil heating has endured a chequered history – starring frost, flame-throwers and a fuming Fergie.”

The issue also contains my piece on strange football tech, including electronic referee’s assistants, footballer brain stimulators, and robotic goalkeepers. Pleasingly, the latter piece is accompanied by a photo captioned as “quite possibly the strangest photo we’ve ever published”…

Read both articles in the February 2015 issue of FourFourTwo.


1881 and all that

1881_badgeA great myth associated with Newcastle United is that the club was formed in 1892 courtesy of a merger between East End and West End. In fact, the club was formed in 1881, and there was no merger. Contemporary sources and modern histories make this clear, yet the 1892 myth still persists. This article looks at reclaiming Newcastle’s lost history, tied to the release of my new book All With Smiling Faces.

‘Newcastle United Football Club was founded in 1892, by the merger of Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End.’ So says Wikipedia, that font of popular knowledge. But Wikipedia is wrong. Newcastle United Football Club was not formed in 1892, and there was no merger of Newcastle East End and Newcastle West End. The club was formed 11 years earlier, in 1881. Popular knowledge has removed those 11 years of history from the records. Isn’t it about time we put them back? Continue reading

Up There book review

wscMy review of Michael Walker’s new book, Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust, is in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes. The book is a long-overdue social history of North-East football, and is strongly recommended.

“From the game’s earliest years, Walker shows how the industrial North-East established itself as a football powerhouse. Cash-rich Sunderland won the Football League four times by 1902, and innovative Newcastle won the League three times, and the FA Cup, by 1910. There was a seemingly infinite stream of great players, from Colin Veitch, Raich Carter and Wilf Mannion to Stan Mortenson, George Camsell and Stan Anderson (who, uniquely, captained Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough).”

Read the full review in the December 2014 issue of When Saturday Comes.

Up There: The North-East, Football, Boom & Bust is available from Amazon.

Newcastle’s away day heyday


Father and son Newcastle United fans dress up for the FA Cup Final, 1910

Away days adventures are among the many joys of being a football fan, and have been since the Victorian era. But how did fans travel to or follow away matches in the days before cars and buses, or TV and radio? This article, originally for The Popular Side, looks at Newcastle’s earliest away days, tied to the release of my new book All With Smiling Faces.

For many of us, an old-fashioned away trip meant a sweaty Armstrong Galley coach journey to somewhere as exotic as Burnden Park. But football fans have been travelling to away matches for the best part of 150 years, by steam train or horse-drawn carriage – and even by boat, while those who didn’t travel waited at home for the results to arrive by telegraph wire or carrier pigeon.

Newcastle United fans have been travelling away since the 1880s, when the club was still known as East End. A root around the archives while researching my book about Newcastle’s early history revealed that newspapers advertised football special trains, and fans subscribed to ‘brake clubs’ to travel by brake carriages. In those days the furthest journey they had to make was to Darlington, but even that was a decent outing at a time when most folk never ventured outside of their home town. Continue reading