In the first of a new series on Under The League, Scott Knowles looks at a classic matchday programme.
I have never met Sam Hulse, the programme editor for Winsford United circa 1994, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like to go for a pint or two with him. I’d imagine the evening would start out fairly politely and respectably – with chatter about the state of lower league football and the order in which we would have mutually agreed sexual encounters with the members of Little Mix.. but as the hours and the drinks drew on I have a feeling his opinions would take a sharp right turn. The truth-serum-like cogency of the alcohol would let slip his begrudgingly held mask of political correctness and let loose the raging reactionary beneath. By the end of the evening I imagine he would be spitting abuse at anyone a shade darker in skin tone than Mr Muscle and loudly bemoaning the destructive influence on society of Tony ‘Bolshevik’ Blair.
The mid 1990′s were a strange time. Suddenly every publication that existed was convincing us that it wasn’t just okay to be British, but pretty much compulsory. Britpop had arrived and suddenly our music scene was clogged up with white boys wielding guitars and fringes and lyrics about “Oh eck, lager and girls and riding bikes and stuff” and the likes of Chris Evans and Ray Cokes (remember him?) were like the weird pedophile uncles grooming these groups and inflicting them upon us.
For anyone playing the quiz game Pictionary and asked to describe via drawing skills the years 1994-1996 it could be accurately summed up with a pencil sketch of a skeletal Brett Anderson in bed with Kate Moss whilst Danny Baker sheepishly dragged a Union Jack beneath them between his arse cheeks.
On Saturday the 17th of December 1994, a little over a month after Blur released ‘End of a Century’ the last single to be extracted from Britpop era defining album ‘Parklife’, Winsford United played a game in the Unibond Premier Division against Gainsborough Trinity at the Barton Stadium. The front cover of the programme for this titanic clash depicted, in a line drawing style, an anonymously teamed number 8 tackling a rotund player with large thighs and an expression of amused indifference. It cost 90 pence.
Going against the grain of other programmes there were no manager notes – instead there was a section boldly titled ‘Sam Says’ (the aforementioned Sam Hulse) which was dedicated entirely to a rant about Tottenham Hotspur and their reinstatement to the FA Cup and successful appeal against a points deduction that had been imposed due to their ‘financial irregularities’. Quite what impact this story had on Winsford was unclear but it at least provided a showcase for Sam’s writing style (excessive use of question/exclamation marks, randomly capitalised letters, attempts at being funny). He managed to end the piece with a zinger about the ‘Appeal Committee’ being led by the likes of Terry Venables, Jimmy Greaves, and Gary Linaker (misspelled names is a repeating occurrence for Sam much like J.G Ballard and pilots).
Within a page Sam’s influence was obvious again. In a piece entitled ‘Blue’s Opponents’ he struggled manfully with both grammar and spelling (“.. but, nothing, personaly chaps, I hope that aim is’t back today..”) whilst also managing to display his salt-of-the-earth humour (“I hope that the Referee and Linesmen participate in the “Jovialities and supping” also but AFTER the game, please!”). Reading it feels a bit like witnessing the slow, desperate breakdown of the guy at the match wearing the four thousand badges on his hat that you sort of respect and feel sorry for in equal measures but never actually speak to.
There are further occurrences of Sam’s influence throughout the programme (in a section entitled ‘Away Travel’ he advises fans wanting directions for Witton Albion to see him personally for advise for “where to go.. literally!”) but it’s his column on the last page that is the most interesting to me. It is here that the patriotism chest-beating that Britpop inspired rears its head. In the early days of the Premiership the larger influx of mysterious overseas players that Murdoch tainted Sky money helped bring over was rather thrilling. However by 1994 the sense of national pride that had been instilled via Gaz Coombes comedy sideburns cast a sudden suspicion over these bloody-foreigners-coming-over-here-taking-Carlton-Palmer’s-job and it led to sudden spurt in articles such as this.
The title itself – “It’s A Foreign Affair” – suggests that Sam might well align himself with the views of the Daily Mail and he doesn’t disappoint. Aside from his basic shock tactics (“At the end of October the number of ‘foreign’ players in England reached a record 124 – more than half of which are registered to FA Carling Premiership clubs”) it’s his examples that, in retrospect, seem the most humorous. He mentions Marc Hottiger in the same breath as Jurgen Klinsmann, and speaks highly of the contributions of foreign goalkeepers such as “Schmeichel, Miklosko, Kharin and Thorstvedt” (Who can ever forget the mighty Erik Thorstvedt and those.. saves he made.. that one time). Despite his, at times begrudging, praise for overseas players there is a consistent undercurrent that suggests he is one sentence away from a BNP meeting outburst (“too many second stream ‘fair to middling’ players are arriving”.. the headline – “Keeping Out The British”) and the whole thrust of what is written seems bizarrely out of place within the programme of a side whose players at the time consisted of the likes of Wayne Murphy and Dave Maynard and were never in any danger of mixing with the cosmopolitan likes of the Premier League.
Best of all, perhaps, is his mention of then newly arrived Newcastle defender “Philippa Albert”.
Philippa Albert? Is she not the blonde one in Little Mix? I’d definitely do her second. Definitely.
Many thanks to Scott for this article. You can follow him on twitter: @FragileGang