The book Give My Regards To Queen Street is republished this summer after two decades out of print. It dates from my time as a freelance journalist for the Birmingham Sunday Mercury’s non-League spinoff, GrassRoots. My patch was the West Midlands circuit – Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and the Metropolitan County itself. I spent endless happy hours touring small football clubs and interviewing players, managers, chairmen and other club officials. A lot of my experiences found their way – thanks to my friend Julian Pugh – into Worcester City’s match programme. Julian was one of three people who helped this, the raw material of many a match day, into book form. GrassRoots editor Teresa Phillips was another. But the inspiration was my friend Lez Dean.
I had the rare honour of reviewing my own book for GrassRoots. That piece has stood the test of time pretty well, and is reproduced here in full.
Back in 1993 general disillusionment with professional football and the onset of all-seater stadia led me to pass up my West Brom season ticket and start visiting the likes of Bilston, Willenhall and Stourbridge. It was the start of a long journey that culminated the season before last, when I decided to take in a game at 30-odd local grounds and describe what happened.
I was no stranger to non-League because I’d been watching Telford for many years. I saw all the Lilywhites’ great Cup games in the Eighties, and hundreds of Conference matches. But other teams were an unknown quantity. I knew very little about their history, and I suppose it was then I first began to think someone should write a guide for the benefit of travellers. Later, when I became a regular contributor to GrassRoots, I felt more and more this was a story that needed to be told.
A lot of people deserve credit that the project has come so far. But the one man who really made it happen was Meuryn Hughes at Aureus Publishing, who took a chance on an unknown author and commissioned me to write Give My Regards To Queen Street. Sadly Meuryn was taken seriously ill as the publication date approached and was unable to finish what he’d started. By then, though, the book had been written and this was largely due to him and his reply to my initial synopsis. “I don’t know much about non-League football”, he wrote. “But I’m fed up with the moneybags Premiership and I think a lot of others are too.”
So, what’s it all about? Well (deep breath) – Halesowen Harriers, Boldmere, Alvechurch, Shifnal, Nuneaton, Worcester, Sutton Coldfield, Burton, Racing Club Warwick, Paget, Hednesford, Wolverhampton Casuals, Bridgnorth, Mile Oak, Stafford, Halesowen Town, Willenhall, Bilston, West Midlands Police, Bedworth, Bromsgrove, Stourbridge, Telford, Polesworth, Tamworth, Kidderminster, Tipton, Redditch, Rugby, Moor Green, Tividale, Solihull, Wednesfield, Atherstone, Handsworth Continental Star and Leamington. It’s history by stealth because it deals extensively with the region’s footballing past. And it concentrates most on the debt owed by big clubs to the small.
There’s a lot of fun in there too, as you might expect. We (my wife Jean was with me every step of the way) spent a lot of time getting lost in a Peugeot that notched its second time around the clock somewhere between Aggborough and Amos Lane, Wednesfield. Looking back it’s clear the poor old car was on its last legs (it finally gave up the ghost shortly after the season ended). We saw more comedy goalkeepers than we could count, met a man-sized deer in a football strip and heard the most obscene team talk ever in the genteel surroundings of St George’s Lane, Worcester. And we came across hundreds of humorous, kind and dedicated people who were keeping football alive and making very little fuss about it.
The actual games veered between the sublime and X-rated with every possible variation in between. At Halesowen just before Christmas we questioned the value of late substitutions just as Matty Hall and Gary Smith came off the bench to score three goals in the final two minutes. That one finished 6-0, unlike an early match at Alvechurch that would still be goalless if the ref hadn’t put us all out of our misery. We witnessed Chippenham clinching promotion at Atherstone, the return of goalkeeper Ryan Price to Stafford (he let in three against Vauxhall Motors) and Captain Crazy’s comeback. And, as the world threatened to collapse around Dudley Town, we wondered (as we did at intervals all the way through) just what sort of future non-League football has to look forward to.
For the sad side to this book is that just 18 months on at least three of the featured clubs have folded and others (including Bilston Town, who inspired its name) have fallen on very hard times indeed. Although I wanted to record many things an epitaph wasn’t one of them. But at the same time the history I’ve written about tells us football clubs are survivors – and, that there’s always hope. I deliberately left Leamington until last so I could end on a note of optimism and rebirth. The good people at the New Windmill didn’t let me down.
I hope you enjoy reading about our journey as much as we did making it.
So why now? The reason is Lez, the “man-sized deer in a football shirt”. Stalybridge was where I first met Lez. On the second Saturday of the 1994-95 season my girlfriend and I had gone there to watch Telford in a Conference match. We were ambling in the approximate direction of Bower Fold when a campervan pulled over in front of us and a man in the passenger seat asked for directions to the ground. He was wearing a Telford shirt, as was his mate behind the wheel, and so were four or five other passengers in the kitchen/dining part. We didn’t know, we said, but give us a lift and we’d try and help – and so started a friendship, not just with Lez but with his friend Mac and both their families.
Lez and I had been in touch only intermittently since I moved to Lancashire in 2002. It was a shock when his daughter Emma contacted me in November to tell me he had a terminal brain tumour. This news took me back to a difficult period in my life, a time when Lez – and Telford United – were among the things that kept me going. I wrote Give My Regards To Queen Street in the years that followed, and Lez was a big part of the book’s landscape. Lez it was who encouraged me to write in the first place, and got me the slot in Telford’s match programme that set me going. He also introduced me to GrassRoots. I wanted to do something to celebrate his memory, and I wanted the proceeds to go somewhere he would have chosen. Severn Hospice in Telford is that place.
Give My Regards To Queen Street is available from June, on Amazon or directly from this website. You can choose from hardback, paperback or Kindle download. Prices start at £9.99 and all profits will be donated to Severn Hospice.
If you would like to be contacted when copies go on sale please email firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also contact us for pre-order on Twitter at @jslovechild and Facebook at @jimmysirrelslovechild .
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Thank you for helping us remember a genuine football man who always made time for others.