I always had a love of football - my father took me to my first football match in Budapest when I was a child, and he took me to my first English football match when we came to England. 'Preston North End' the poem describes the first match I ever went to which was Spurs versus Preston North End. It's a poem about belonging, about belonging in a crowd, about belonging to a nation, about belonging to a nation with a specific history to which you may become attached in some way, of which you may become a part.
Preston North End
Tottenham Hotspur versus Preston North End.
Finney’s last season: my first. And my dad
with me. How surprisingly well we blend
with these others. Then the English had
the advantage, but today we feel
their fury, sadness and pity. There were some bad
years in between, a lot of down-at-heel
meandering. For me though, the deep blue
of Preston was ravishment of a more genteel,
poetic kind. They were thrashed five-one, it’s true,
and Finney was crocked by Mackay. Preston went down,
hardly to rise again. But something got through
about Finney the plumber, Lancashire, the Crown,
and those new days a-coming. The crowd dissolves,
but we are of the crowd, heading into town
under sodium street lights. This year Wolves
will win the title. Then Burnley. I will see
Charlton, Law and George Best. The world revolves
around them and those voices on TV
reading the results. I’m being bedded in –
to what kind of soil remains a mystery,
but I sense it in my marrow like a thin
drift of salt blown off the strand. I am
an Englishman, wanting England to win.
I pass the Tebbitt test. I am Alan Lamb,
Greg Rusedski, Viv Anderson, the boy
from the corner shop, Solskjaer and Jaap Stam.
I feel no sense of distance when the tannoy
plays Jerusalem, Rule Britannia or the National Anthem.
I know King Priam. I have lived in Troy.
from An English Apocalypse (Bloodaxe, 2001), © George Szirtes 2001, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books Ltd.