By Paul Grech.
One of the questions that I was asked during my Italian ‘O’ Level oral was to locate ‘Lazio’ in Italy. Given that most of my knowledge of Italy was based on what I had read in the various football magazine, it was somewhat obvious that my reply would be “in Rome”. After all, the Rome derby was played between AS Roma and Lazio. Thankfully, I met a somewhat lenient examiner who guided me into providing the right answer (for anyone interested: Lazio is the region in which Rome is located).
Time has afforded me the luxury to learn a bit more about the world but, even so, a lot of my geographical knowledge is linked with my knowledge of football. When I hear the name of a city, my thoughts instinctively turn to that place’s football team and what I know about it.
I know that I’m not the only one who does that which is why it is somewhat surprising that it has taken so long for someone to come up with a book that mashes together travel and football writing in one book.
That someone is Daniel Gray who, in writing his book ‘Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters’, has taken a journey around England looking at a number at football clubs and the cities that host them. In the process, he manages to piece together a picture of England, its beauty and the inherent importance of its most popular sport.
How did the idea of the book come about?
Things collided: Ten years of living away from England in Scotland; turning 30; missing England and its football (to me, it’s greatest export, though not in a Graeme-le-Saux-visits-China-way); not being sure if either matched up to the silhouette I had of them; the feeling that my generation – the one that stood on terraces and grew up in the Sky Sports era, the one that has children with mobile phones and granddads who fought in World War Two – had something to say. And, of course, the itch to write, to entertain and hopefully to craft words which cause laughter, nostalgia and homely sadness.
Have you always been interested in visiting different grounds? Would you consider yourself a groundhopper?
I lack the absolute dedication of a groundhopper, plus I like to get knee-deep in the places I go rather than tick them off. Thus, I’d spend a weekend in Watford then three weeks researching its history and that of the football club, ditto the rest. I want to be immersed in them, to try and do them proud where others do them down. And yes, I’ve had that desire to visit grounds since my teens, though not just for the match – for the journey, the town, the architecture – which is reflected now in this book. Less and less do the grounds appeal to me given modern design, but the gems are still there…
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