The book Give My Regards To Queen Street will be republished this summer after two decades out of print. It dates from five years during which I freelanced for the Birmingham Sunday Mercury’s non-League spinoff, GrassRoots. Endless happy hours were spent touring small Midlands football clubs interviewing players, managers, chairmen and other club officials. Worcester City’s programme editor Julian Pugh helped raw match-day observations into written form; GrassRoots editor Teresa Phillips also gave enthusiastic support. My friend Lez Dean provided inspiration.
I had the rare privilege of reviewing my own work for GrassRoots. That 2003 piece has stood the test of time pretty well, and is reproduced here.
Back in 1993 – becoming disillusioned with the professional game and particularly all-seater stadia – I passed up my West Brom season ticket and instead began discovering the hidden world of local football. This long journey culminated last year with a project to watch games at 30-odd small Midlands grounds and write down what happened.
Having supported Telford for twenty years I was no stranger to non-League. But other teams represented unknown territory; it seemed their history had never been comprehensively set out for the benefit of travellers, and this felt a story worth telling.
Many people deserve credit that things have come so far, not least Meuryn Hughes at Aureus Publishing. Meuryn – having gambled on an unknown author – sadly became seriously ill as publication approached. But the book owed much to him and his enthusiastic reception of 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. Expect history by stealth that deals extensively with this region’s rich footballing past – but, crucially, highlights the debt owed by big clubs to their smaller neighbours.
There’s fun too. My wife Jean and I regularly got lost in a M-reg Peugeot that notched its 200,000th mile somewhere between Aggborough and Amos Lane, Wednesfield (the poor old car finally expired shortly afterwards). There are numerous comedy goalkeepers, one man-sized deer in football strip and the most obscene team talk ever. But – most importantly – this book features hundreds of humorous, kind and dedicated people who were keeping football alive while making very little fuss about it.
The actual games encompassed sublime, X-rated and all points between. We debated injury time substitutions just as Matty Hall and Gary Smith came on to score three late Halesowen Town goals; that one finished 6-0, but an earlier match at Alvechurch would still be deadlocked now had the referee not put us out of our misery. Other highlights included Chippenham clinching promotion, goalkeeper Ryan Price’s return to Stafford (he let in three against Vauxhall Motors) and Captain Crazy’s take on organised worship.
We also wondered at intervals precisely what sort of future non-League football might have. The sad side to this book is that (just 18 months later) at least three featured clubs have folded, and others – including Bilston Town, who inspired its name) – are struggling to survive. History fortunately also tells us small football teams are resilient and that there’s always hope. I deliberately left Leamington until last. The good people there didn’t let me down.
I hope you enjoy reading about our journey.
So why now? That’s also because of Lez, the “man-sized deer in football strip”. Our friendship dated from Telford’s Conference match at Stalybridge on the 1994-95 season’s second Saturday. My girlfriend and I were ambling aimlessly about when a campervan pulled over and the front seat passenger asked for directions. He wore Telford colours; so too did the van’s driver and various other passengers occupying its kitchen/dining part. That chance encounter began many good times with Lez, his friend Mac and both their families.
Lez encouraged my writing, organised a slot in Telford’s match programme and nudged me towards GrassRoots. These selfless acts – during some tricky years when our friendship became very important – defined Queen Street’s landscape. Following his last illness I decided to celebrate his role in its creation while also helping some cause of which he would approve. Severn Hospice in Telford is just that.
Give My Regards To Queen Street will be available on Amazon or directly from here. You can choose hardback, paperback or Kindle download. Prices start at £9.99 with all profits donated to Severn Hospice.
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Thank you for helping remember a genuine football man who always made time for others.