A normal feature of my teenage years
Was hours spent queuing for football tickets,
But this autumn’s trip down memory lane
Was not through Swindon’s red brick terraces,
But up high to bosky, sylvan Shortwood –
With an 1883 OS map for guidance.
Shortwood United versus Port Vale FC,
Handloom weavers and water powered mills
Against the myth of Arnold Bennett’s ‘Five Towns’ -
A forest of giant kilns and chimneys;
Meadowbank, home of Shortwood United,
Against Vale Park, ‘The Wembley of the North’,
Port Vale of the Potteries, Tunstall and Burslem,
A club not named after town or city
Against a club named after a hamlet,
But both part of our working class heritage;
‘The sedate reddish browns and reds of the composition, all netted in flowing scarves of smoke, harmonised exquisitely with the chill blues of the chequered sky. Beauty was achieved, none saw it’;
Bennett also described a ‘Bursley’ match:
‘Around the field was a wide border of infinitesimal hats and pale faces, rising in tiers, and beyond this border, fences, hoardings, chimneys, furnaces, gasometers, telegraph-poles, houses and dead trees.’
How can Shortwood battle against this heritage?
What chance can this quaint Cotswold backwater have?
Well, remember 1766,
When the esteemed Sheriff of Gloucester,
A master-clothier, wrote of that year’s riots,
The locals, he said, had shown ‘wantoness and excess; and in other instances some acts of courage, prudence, justice, and a consistency towards that which they profess to obtain’
(That consistency was affordable food),
and how ‘On Friday last a Mobb was rais’d in these parts by the blowing of Horns &c consisting entirely of the lowest of the people such as weavers, mecanicks, labourers, prentices and boys &c… cutting open Baggs of Flower and giving it & carrying it away.’
What chance can Port Vale stand against such traditions?