Thursday, August 18, 2011

Football on the Fringe: Stuart Donald & Daniel Gray

Not technically the Fringe this one. Rather the Edinburgh International Book Festival in the capital's posh Charlotte Square.

The stars: Stuart Donald, author of On Fire with Fergie, and Daniel Gray, writer of Stramash: Tackling Scotland's Towns and Teams.

The format will be familiar with anyone who has visited the annual orgy of literature before. Readings from respective tomes and then a question and answer session allowing the audience to quiz the writers, with journalist Steven Godden in the chair.

A genial but effective hour. (Normally genial: I once heard a character straight from Pseud's Corner attempt to hijack Norman Mailer with a question so dull I thought at one point Mailer had fallen asleep. He hadn't. Appearing over a video link the great man proved something of the pugilist remained as he smacked the questioner down to widespread applause).

A refreshing hour as well. I often feel the Book Festival gives sports writing something of a wide berth (a handful of events this year, including John Hartson and cricket's Jonathan Agnew) which always strikes me as a missed opportunity. It's a diverse genre that continues to flourish, as Gray mentioned at the start of this event, and will surely continue to do so as big sporting events in London and Glasgow draw ever nearer.

Stramash is a journey of footballing and historical discovery through Scotland's lower league towns while On Fire with Fergie delves back to Aberdeen's Alex Ferguson inspired glory days. Little room for Glasgow's twin behemoths in this discussion. And plenty of reminders that, while pockets of European football buckle under the weight of their financial excess, Scottish football apparently withers in poverty. "The free hand of football capitalism" offers many paths to Armageddon.

Yet it remained a positive night. The communities explored by Gray, the family bonds fondly revisited by Donald can find a way to survive, perhaps even flourish, through football.

We shoot football down a lot, it gives us ample ammunition, but it has played a role in our society that we should recognise and embrace.

A celebration made easier by engaging authors with enjoyable tales to tell and an audience determined to let optimism reign in a tent in Charlotte Square Gardens.

I have read and enjoyed Stramash - a review here and the eagle eyed among you might even spot a quote from this blog on the cover of the latest edition - but I knew less about On Fire With Fergie.

That I plan to start reading it immediately is probably the most effective gauge of a night when fitba' took centre stage at this "unique forum in which audience and author meet to exchange thoughts and opinions on some of the world's most pressing issues."

Few would have guessed that anecdotes concerning Arbroath's award winning public toilets, Cowdenbeath's less decorated Central Park and an Aberdeen draw at Portman Road would be appear so naturally amid such grandeur.

On Fire with Fergie by Stuart Donald

Stramash: Tackling Scotland's Towns and Teams by Daniel Gray

> The Edinburgh International Book Festival - and, sporting imbalance aside, it really does offer something for anyone who has ever read a book - runs until 29th August.

(Photo: Edinburgh International Book Festival)