D.H. Lawrence made an unlikely appearance at the City Ground on 26 February as Forest hosted arch rivals Derby County. Lawrence was one of five local ‘rebels’ celebrated in large banners alongside suffragette Helen Watts, fictitious leader of the luddites Ned Ludd, author Alan Sillitoe, Eric Irons – the first Black magistrate, and ode Big Head, Brian Clough. The banners were organised by Forest supporters’ group Forza Garibaldi. In the previous outing with Derby, Forza organised a large flag depicting Guiseppe Garibaldi as well as opening the previous season with a ‘Rise of the Garibaldi’ banner. The spectacles have caused great excitement for fans as well as evoking a sense of civic pride, and it’s had an impact on the players with some of them coughing up to fund the banners.
After years of mouthing off at the rest of the world, Nottingham has slowly started to stand up for itself and think about its own identity. There’s been a bit of a rebranding exercise of late, with the idea of the ‘Rebel City’ starting to take shape, creating more pride than the £120,000 spent on the ‘Slanty N’ in 2005. Part of the ‘Rebel City’ idea is coming from the £29.4 million investment into the Castle which is using the Hood legend to link out to wider examples of rebellion within the city. Rebellion (or to use the more UNESCO friendly alternative – ‘contrarian’) was a feature of the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature bid. Rebel writers were also featured in our previous project Dawn of the Unread, as well as a large banner on Station Street organised by Rob Howie Smith and others.
Writing on their blog, Forza explained: “The city’s rebel heritage runs deep; it has passed through the centuries and across various forms. While certainly not an exclusive trait of Nottingham it has developed a reputation for being a place where the locals will stand up for what they believe and support each other. It is that underdog spirit that has been a bedrock of Nottingham and one that has seeped into the consciousness of many of its residents.”
I think the Forza campaign is superb as it’s got fans discussing things they would perhaps not have discussed otherwise. Hearing people say, ‘Who’s she?’ and ‘I’ve heard of him, didn’t he write that dotteh book?’ is a great way of capturing the imagination of the city and creating a sense of identity and place. Forest are in the top 20 of best attended clubs in the UK so these messages are reaching a large audience.
However, if Lawrence or Sillitoe had ever attended a football match it would most likely be at Meadow Lane. Arthur Seaton wears a Notts County scarf in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the pit strikers in Lawrence’s short story ‘Strike Pay’ have just returned from a match between County and Villa.
As far as I am aware, neither author was a fan of football. I wrote to Sillitoe many years ago asking him what he thought would have happened to Arthur Seaton if his father had been Brian Clough (at the time I had been asked to write a book about Clough, spent three years researching it, then decided not to go ahead with it because there were so many being churned out I felt like I was capitalising on his death). Sillitoe wrote back and said he didn’t have much interest in football.
Sillitoe’s only story to feature football is ‘The Match’ which appears in the short story collection The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It opens with a game between County and Bristol City on a cold winter’s day, a game which County lose. The match is watched by forty year-old Lennox, a mechanic who knew County would lose ‘because he himself, a spectator, hadn’t been feeling in top form’ and Fred, recently married and much younger, who wears his ‘best sports coat’ rather than the tribal colours of his team. After seeing his team defeated, Lennox returns home and takes it out on his wife, she eventually leaves him. Fred, who lives next door, overhears the argument. His 19 year-old wife is “plump like a pear, not round like a pudding, already pregnant though they’d only been married a month”. They are young and full of hope, but a couple of decades down the line…
Lawrence wrote three strike-inspired stories, ‘Strike Pay’, ‘The Miner at Home’ and ‘Her Turn’ during March 1912. This was a reaction to the first National coal strike which aimed to secure a minimum wage. It started at the end of February in Alfreton, Derbyshire and spread nationally. It ended on 6 April after 37 days and resulted in over one million striking miners. Strike Pay (I and II) was published in the Westminster Gazette on 6 and 13 September 1913.
Like Sillitoe’s ‘The Match’, Lawrence’s reference to football acts as a backdrop to wider social issues. At eleven o’clock, a gang of striking miners set off on a nine mile walk to Nottingham.
“The road was crowded with colliers travelling on foot to see the match between Notts and Aston Villa… It was a good match between Notts and Villa — no goals at half-time, two-none for Notts at the finish. The colliers were hugely delighted, especially as Flint, the forward for Notts, who was an Underwood man well known to the four comrades, did some handsome work, putting the two goals through.”
Interestingly, Lawrence does reference a real footballer and a real match. Notts County played Aston Villa on Wednesday March 13, 1912. According to the Gottfried Fuchs blogging site Billy Flint, who went on to represent County 408 times (1908-26), is credited as scoring both goals but this is factually incorrect. He scored one, the other was by Billy Matthews.
Lawrence’s short story was turned into an ITV Play of the Week and was aired on 6 June 1967 staring Angela Morant, John Ronane and Bill Kenwright. The director was Richard Everitt.
Forza Garibaldi have done a fantastic job in creating a real sense of civic pride through football. On their website they explain that Lawrence’s inclusion on their banners isn’t for all of the usual reasons we might associate with Lawrence but because he spoke out on behalf of black writers and that he was ’… a rebel and unrelenting enemy of oppression and repression in whatever form he encountered them.’’ Their source was a 1990 article by Leo Hamalian in the Journal of Modern Literature. I’d never heard about this before myself, and now, thanks to a banner at a football match, have tracked down the article and am about to learn more. Molto buona, Forza. Grazie.
In the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across Lawrence’s short stories about the miners strike of 1912? Is there space for one of the banners by Forza Garibaldi? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here