November 04, 2007

Away At West Brom - Languages of Football Workshop

I don't get out much these days. But when I do, it's very exciting. My languages of football workshop in West Bromwich. West Bromwich - a big busy friendly deadpan town in between the more glamorous cities of Birmingham and Wolverhampton, but usually with a better football team - was completely new territory for me as is the Midlands generally. I got the usual mixed messages in advance: a school with phenomenal results from ordinary kids, serious community education, but 'quite disaffected' boys in the lower sets, inspectors watching and needing to be impressed, the kids will love it - we think - etc. I got some of these boys (and girls) chanting and it was the loudest I've ever heard. One powerfully built lad who I installed as chorus leader I would like to have at my side on any football terrace or indeed at any of my future workshops but I'm not sure I could deal with his stentorian delivery in an ordinary English lesson four times a week! And after a few false starts there was a real John Lennon live in the hotel room moment when the Give Peace A Chance (adapted to the football terrace Give Us A Goal) percussion and voice audio veritee actually shambled into sync and we felt the power of that joyous collective noise and indeed the brilliance and honesty of Lennon's original project. (Queen did a spin off, We Will Rock You, but in the studio and with a more conventional guitar break to lift it to a climax - Lennon's version was a genuine community 'happening' with a much more original and subtle dynamic - the improvised rhyming lyric is rap at its high energy and agit prop politicking best - and it really can work in a school hall with a few percussion items loaned by the music department.) Other Year Elevens were writing about moments in life they are still happy/angry/ frustrated about (football and otherwise), commentating on their own activities as they did them - one featured a girl's breathtaking gymnastic sequence and another a simulated football match when simply walking across the room would have done for the activity but nowhere near as well! Others were given 40 seconds simulated air time for a Five Live report on a game (action-packed last 10 minutes of Mansfield v Bristol City big screened without commentary) as per real time BBC journalists. I was impressed as always by the energy, commitment and prevailing youth of the English department and also the particular support of one of the only two males teaching the subject there. Being male, of course, he also had to set me anoraky questions all day about obscure links between his team , Sunderland, and my own, assuming I think that I had leisure to think about this and run the five hours of workshops in my 'spare' time! My own face (in a BBC Points West feature related to my work as Bristol City Poet In Residence) on a giant screen behind me as he introduced me to ranks of multiracial teenage faces from an entirely different community was a moment I'll remember with some amusement forever. I felt like a comedy dictator standing in front of potentially the least impressed audience in the world - teenagers. But Monty Python's 'Novel Writing From Dorchester' satire on the languages of commentary and expert summarising was funnier - and almost as funny as the recording I'd made of Alan Green of Five Live doing it for real in his screaming commentary on Beckham's World Cup qualifying equaliser against Greece. I left the school (in my Bristol City hat) on a real high, meeting a group of Asian lads, whom I'd worked with in the morning, outside Dudley Road tram station. Like most teenage groups, they seemed to fill the pavement with explosive energy as I passed, mobile phones and other techno-stuff whirring away, elbows and feet in everybody's way including their own. But this 'gang' offered handshakes, high fives and generous wins for Bristol against Wolves ('we 'ate the Wolves') the next day. (One, more thoughtfully, predicted a 1-1 draw - these things matter) But for me, whatever happened at Molineux the next day (I was there and it was indeed an exciting 1-1 draw), this for me was a big victory - away at West Brom and very much at home.

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