Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Harry Pearson Interview

“The Far Corner” by Harry Pearson is in my top ten favourite football books, a very funny affectionate look at North East football from the Premiership to the non league minnows. The lower league chapters are a real joy and Harry as a wonderful eye for the characters that punctuate these little grounds.
It was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award in 1995 and is still a popular choice for the discerning reader today. Harry Pearson is a columnist for the Guardian newspaper and has contributed to the magazine When Saturday Comes for 20yrs. He has written six books “Achtung Schweinehund”, “Dribble”, Racing Pigs and Giant Marrows” A Tall Man in a Low Land”, “Around the World by Mouse” and of course “The Far Corner”
His hobbies include supporting Middlesborough, collecting board games and war gaming.
I managed to get in touch with Harry and he very kindly agreed to be interviewed despite being snowed under with work. Still what’s the Beijing Olympics when you have an exclusive with the world famous Mudhutter?

How old were you when you first starting watching Middlesbrough?
I was six. My Uncle Les took me to see Boro v Carlisle. It was Boxing Day and all the seats were sold so we had to stand in the Holgate End. I was a truly appalling whinger as a child and by half-time my complaints that my legs were aching and that I couldn’t see and was cold were so pitiful and irritating that my uncle took me home.

Do you miss Ayresome Park?
Yes. It’s an odd thing that having spent most of the late-1980s campaigning for better grounds and facilities for fans I now miss a ramshackle shed and a chance to wade through ankle deep urine. Oh and the bloody PA at the Riverside is too loud an’ all.

Who was your favourite player?
When I was a child Big John Hickton the Boro centre-forward. His penalty run up started from the centre circle.

Have you ever been to Wigan ?
Well, yes, because my partner Catherine’s family – the Gaskells - are all from Ince or thereabouts. They’re more rugby league though, and any time a stranger turns up immediately start haranguing them about how much better Wigan are than St Helens.

What are your thoughts on the current Premier League, do you think that eventually one of the bigger teams will go bust?
Like pretty much everybody else over 40 I think its bloated and over-hyped and pompous and arrogant and full of its own importance and (continues on page 94). It’s got out of control really. As to a big club going bust I can’t see that happening. Let’s hope I’m wrong, eh?

Do you still go to watch non league football?
Yes, I try and go to a couple of matches a season at least. It always restores my faith in football. Last season I took a German friend of mine to watch Blyth Spartans. He’s a doctor and at halftime said, “These guys are incredible. There were four times in the first fifteen minutes when I thought, “After that tackle that man will never walk again” and yet 30 seconds later he was running around as if nothing had happened. They are the true heroes not the superstars.” And I agree with that. Plus the abuse is generally of a more eccentric standard. And there’s a raffle for meat.

Did your writing career start off with the club fanzine?
No, I started off writing for When Saturday Comes in about 1988.

Were you approached by the Guardian or did you apply to them?
They approached me. It was when Juninho and Ravanelli were at Boro and they wanted an article about the effect it had had on Teesside. That was actually a very busy time for Boro fans mediawise. I remember I even got phoned up for an interview by a bloke from the Wall Street Journal – not something that would have happened in the days of Stuart Boam.

The Far Corner is one of my favourite football books, did it take long to write?

It was written over the course of the season and I think had to be delivered on something like 30th May, so all told it was about ten months from start to finish. In those days I still wrote on an automatic typewriter, so I used to write it all out in pencil first and then type it.

How many copies has it sold?
I’m not sure. I guess around 30,000. It’s been in print now for 13 years and it still sells about 5-600 copies a year.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Once I realised my dreams of being a footballer, racing driver and astronaut were not going to come to anything, yes.

When did you first become interested in wargaming?
I guess when I was about thirteen. About the time I should have been taking my first tentative steps towards romance. Airfix was less scary.

How many soldiers etc do you have?
Oh, not many. Certainly no more than 10,000.

Do you have huge battlefields as well?
You have to have, otherwise you wouldn’t fit them all on. Last Christmas we fought the Battle of the Granicus which was Alexander the Great’s first encounter with the Persians. We had a table that was thirteen feet long and the Persian army stretched from one end of it all the way to the other. Sadly, it’s the only area of my life where I’ve actually realised all my youthful dreams.

Do you have any favourite troops?
I like the ancient world. The Carthaginians are my favourites. Who doesn’t like Hannibal?

How often do you take part in the games?
Once a month. Wargaming is like cricket. It takes a lot of organising and it goes on for a long time (and most people find it incredibly boring/pointless).

How long have you been collecting football board games?
Only for about five or six years. Unfortunately eBay makes collecting anything rather too easy…

What’s the most you have paid for one?
I paid £48 for a copy of TAF 4-2-4 which is a bit like Subutteo only the players are mounted on wedge shaped bases and the tackling is done with dice. It came out in the sixties and I remember the adverts in Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.

Do you have any favourites?
I like the German game Tipp Kick quite a lot and Tomy Supercup is brilliant if a bit noisy. In terms of genuine boardgames –a opposed to dexterity games – all the best known ones are pretty useless. Wembley and Soccerboss have nice graphics but the games are just dice rolling. There’s no skill and not much decision making either.

Which one do you consider to be the best?The best actual boardgame is probably a game from Holland called Street Soccer. It has a chess like quality as you might expect from the Dutch. There’s a rugby game from South Africa called Crash Tackle, which is the best boardgame about a non-racing sport I’ve played.

Do you play the games with your friends/family?
We have a board game group that meets once a month and we play various games. Our favourite is Blood Feud In New York, which is a bit like Risk only with the Mafia. There’s something uplifting about watching a local GP battling for control of the drug trade in Queens with a piano teacher.

What does your wife think of your collection?
As long as it never comes out of my office she doesn’t mind. Actually she can see the practical side of it. A couple of years ago when we needed a new car I sold 3,000 Napoleonic soldiers and – hey presto - we had enough to buy a VW Golf.

Any more books in the pipeline?
I’ve got a book about taking the dog for a walk – Hound Dog Days – coming out on September 4th.

Thanks to Harry Pearson for agreeing to the interview, top bloke and a great writer. As for me I’m off to buy “Tipp Kick” and “Blood Feud in New York” anyone up for a game?

Tony Topping

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