‘Canny for a lass’. Football, Dylan and me

Let this be the first of many articles from Hilary Fawcett. The comment sections of Salut! Sunderland invariably look more elegant when our female readers weigh in with opinion on all things Sunderland AFC. As a huge fan of Bob Dylan as well as the club, Hilary would be furious if I were to say his songs sound more elegant when performed by others. Here, then, is the first in a new series of The Fawcett Saga …

Those of you who have read my posted comments might have picked up that alongside my keen support for SAFC, I also have a passion for Bob Dylan. Among many of my female friends, my twin obsessions are greeted with sighs and eye-rolling.

Often isolated in my enthusiasms, I have attempted to connect with fellow obsessives, attending Bob Dylan fan meetings only to find myself a lonely female surrounded by men waving endless lists of songs and competing over ownership of bootleg vinyl.

If I wanted spread sheets and lists I could return to my job in education; my love of Bob isn’t about statistics, it is about feeling.

My love of SAFC isn’t about statistics either; it is about all kinds of things. Of course it’s about the football itself, but it is also represents a fixed point in my life. It reminds me of my growing up and the values of the community of which I was a part.

It is about warmth, passion: a sense of belonging. My son, who was born and grew up in Newcastle, always knew where his allegiance must lie. He and I share our love of Sunderland and our lengthy post-match conversations are part of a family football continuum-my granddad, my dad and me; now me and my son.

It took me a while to become a Sunderland supporter. My mum’s family had come to Middlesbrough in the late 19th century, via County Cork. My dad had moved to Middlesbrough in his teens, still supporting his mother’s local team, West Ham United.

When newly married, my parents settled in Hartlepool. I suppose my connection with football started on the day of my birth; while I was being born my dad was watching Hartlepool FC. I don’t know if they won or not, but I suspect that they lost. Albert King might have said that I was “born under a bad sign”, but I prefer to think of myself as going onwards and upwards, up that North-east coast to football pastures greener. We moved to Sunderland when I was three.

However it was my maternal grandfather who introduced me to the game of football. My granddad was a wonderful, stoical man, the youngest of 20 children, who had survived the entire period of the First World War as a stretcher bearer. He was a Middlesbrough supporter, where his stoicism came in handy, and when I was five he started taking me to Ayresome Park.

I don’t know how many other small girls were bundled up on wintry Saturday afternoons to stand on those terraces. I can’t remember having seen any others, but I always loved the excitement and atmosphere. I saw Brian Clough play as well as many journeymen, whose names now desert me.

When Middlesbrough were playing away, Saturday afternoons were spent helping my granddad check his football pools and loving the sound of the poetry of those wonderful team names – Stenhousemuir, Queen of the South, Queens Park Rangers, Leyton Orient, Preston North End …

As I got older and was at school in Sunderland, the fact that I regularly visited Ayresome Park became as embarrassing as the fact that my dad was a Bevan Boy and didn’t fight in the War. I had to switch allegiances and persuaded my dad to take me to watch Sunderland.

So began my attachment to the club. I loved Roker Park, even the cold wind coming off the sea. We usually had seats where my dad believed that as someone who was being brought up as a “young lady”, I would be safe from swearing and rough behaviour. My dad had finally found his football identity and we watched Charlie Hurley, Johnny Crossan, Len Ashurst et al.

Some of my happiest memories as a girl are of watching “the lads” and eating what still seem to me to have been the best fish and chips in England.

When I came to attend St Anthony’s School the nuns endorsed my passion for football. The Irish
diaspora at SAFC were always welcome at the convent in Thornhill and Sister Mary de Lourdes would have loved Martin O’Neill.

The only time my loyalty to SAFC wavered was when I left my home town to study fine art in the late 1960s.

For a while my enthusiasm for football was odds with my desire to be “cool”. However, it soon became clear that I could never be cool and that cool was a dead place to be anyway. Nearly 40 years in Newcastle have only reinforced my commitment to my team and to Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan and Sunderland, Ha’way the Lads!

* * Buy Dylan music as the usual knockdown prices at Salut! Sunderland’s Amazon link. Click anywhere on this footnote.

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21 thoughts on “‘Canny for a lass’. Football, Dylan and me”

  1. Great piece Hilary. ‘Til I fell in love with you’ would fit the story well. A couple of weeks ago for us it might have been ‘Beyond here lies nothin’ but maybe now under MON ‘Step it up and go’! haway the lads

  2. Suarez; if the accusations turn out to hold water on Suarez I would nominate “Neighbourhood Bully”

    His defence might be “It ain’t me babe.”

  3. I am trying so hard to think of a riposte-nearest I can get is something about Martinez or Suarez and ‘boots of Spanish Leather’. Lame.

  4. My all time favourite is the one about Jose Mourinho; “The man in the long black coat.”

    I’ll get my……………………..doh! Jose’s already got it!

  5. Jonathan Wilson (a Sunderland supporter) has written a very well recieved biography of the Great Man. The Book People are selling it for £4.99 in hardback – an absolute bargain.
    Hurricane is my favourite Dylan song – what a story, what a song. I also like the one he wroye about Newcastle United fans – Jokerman.
    I’ll get my coat.

  6. Just wanted to clear a misunderstanding. I was never a devotee to Ayresome Park. I was referring to a lad that used to live next to me who is still a ST holder at the SoL having switched in the Clough era.

    Brian Clough was my biggest hero though, as man and boy.

  7. Alan,
    Brian Clough still evokes such passion, and to hear how you and Jeremy followed him to Sunderland reaffirms his talent as a player, as well as a manager.

    Lovely that took your girls to ‘the match’. It is great that so many women are now engaged with football. We were in a relatively small minority in the 1960s. I would have loved to have played football at school, rather than hockey or netball. I hope more girls do play it at school now, but I am not sure if this is the case.

  8. Dear Hilary,
    May I add my congratulations on a wonderful piece and the memories it evoked. I too moved from Ayresome to Roker – like Jeremy, because Brian Clough moved – and I can add the names of DerekMcLean, Ian Gibson, Billy Day and Edwin Holliday to Pete’s list – how I’d love to see the last two on Sunderland’s wings today! Your reasons for your commitment to SFC struck a chord, exactly what I would want to say but wouldn’t be able to find the words! And finally, in later years there were other girls bundled up and taken to the match on wintry afternoons…. my daughters….

  9. I’m at heart a Sunderland supporter but not really interested in football or any other sport, come to that. Dylan, now, I LOVE , even if his voice has gone. As for covers, listen to Meat Loaf doing Forever Young (I Couldn’t Have Said It Better album).

  10. I loved his earlier stuff Colin, it was the soundtrack to my teens. However, it is Blood on the Tracks and Desire which are my favourite albums. This is where I feel his writing had reached its most refined point.

    I couldn’t disagree more about ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. It is The Band as well as Dylan, that make his version utterly definitive for me.

    I liked Baez at one time, but find her voice oversweet now. It is Emmy Lou Harris who has at times covered Dylan in a way that I prefer. She does a great duet with Bob of The Water is Wide.

  11. I exaggerated my point about the voice, Hilary. As an old folkie, though one who enjoys folk-rock and would not therefore have tossed sell-out coins at him when he went electric, I tend to like his early rather than later stuff anyway. And on much of that, his voice was absolutely right. No one could have sung Mr Tambourine Man, Times They Are A-changing, Positively 4th Street (post-acoustic but still counting as early?) or The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and more effect, but I just prefer Baez’s Don’t Think Twice and Hard Rain, the Stones’ Like a Rolling Stone (though Jagger is hardly “more elegant”) and Sandy Denny’s Percy’s Song , among many others. But then, if a cover cannot improve (at least in the view of some listeners), it probably has no artistic point.

  12. Thank you all for your kind words.

    Bill, wonderful that you met Garth Hudson. I loved The Band. I watch and rewatch the elegaic ‘The Last Waltz’, one of the finest music films ever. My other favourite Canadian performer is Neil Young, who just gets better I think.

    I go to see Bob every time he tours. Sometimes in the more recent past it has been a mixed experience, but I pay my respects all the same. Unlike Colin, I find his voice particularly moving. There is something so direct and powerful about it.

    My hope now is that next time he tours Bob will appear at the SoL.

  13. Hilary, wonderful stuff. I can’t wait to read more as you fill in the gaps. Interested in how your son did growing up in Newcastle. I was born there, too, raised in Shields (the good one) but went to school in Newcastle. It wasn’t easy in the late 60s/early 70s. Glad you’ve climbed aboard the Salut train. Cheers.

  14. This thread just sums up what Salut is really about; life and how to live it.

    Cracking story about Garth Hudson btw Bill.

    I used to laugh at Dylan (shameful I know!), in my youth until one day a mate of mine who was a dyed in the wool fan played me something I’d not heard. That was it for me. I’ve been a fan ever since that fateful day probably 30 years ago. He also said something very memorable which was ” You know, people say he can’t sing, but if he sounded like Harry Secombe, nobody would want to listen to him!” Never a truer word, and it’s made me smile many a time since.

    What are you on about Pete? I always though you were the coolest bloke in the Clock Stand Paddock. Willie Donnachie could testify to that. 🙂

  15. Great stuff, Hilary. Lovely reminiscence but boy, you had it tough growing up – Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool… thank god for the sea air at Roker Park to blow all that nastiness away. And yes, I think it’s a safe bet that Hartlepool lost that day!
    I share your love of Dylan – though I’m not an anorak with a collection of bootleg vinyl, honest! But I was at his concert in Newcastle City Hall on the tour where he moved (after the intermission) from accoustic to electric and people were booing and walking out. I loved every minute. The Band, of course, who backed him were Canadian.
    One of them, Garth Hudson, who plays keyboards, is a friend of a musician friend of mine here and sat in with him at a little bar gig he did a couple of years ago. It was a Tuesday night and only about a dozen people in the audience and I doubt if even half of them realized they were in the presence of someone who not only played at Woodstock but was in Dylan’s backing band. Forgive me for going on at this length but you, I know, will appreciate what it meant to me.

  16. Pete, I do remember Stonehouse and Alan Peacock, but someone who stood out for me, mainly because he was bald and I couldnt understand how someone that old could be playing, was Yeoman. He probably wasn’t that old. I was really too young to understand what was going on, when my grandfather first used to take me. In retrospect it seems an odd thing to do, although my poor grandfather was surrounded by women, there were no boys in the family so I was a surrogate boy I suppose.

  17. Here are some names you may remember from the ‘Boro, Hilary;
    Arthur Lightening; Bill Harris; Arthur Kaye; Derek Stonehouse;Alan Peacock; Gordon Jones, Esmond Million; all there when you were dragged off to Ayresome Park.
    I was brought up on Rugby League and adopted Sunderland because Colin supported them and he was the coolest kid in our street – not that the likes of me, Dennis Robinson or Johnnie Taylor offered much in the way of competition.
    I could have gone to Newcastle because the Harkers at the bottom of the street followed them or ‘Boro as a mate of my dads had a season ticket. Indeed, my first game at Roker was with him to watch Sunderland v Middlesbrough. It was a 2-0 home win and Arthur Kaye was sent off. I realised then that Middlesbrough were perpetual losers!!
    I still have my Rugby League allegiance to Leeds. As for United – my maternal grandad took me once in 1958 and I was bored stiff. He always called them “The Mugs”.

  18. This is a frankly wonderful debut Hilary. What a lovely read.

    The switch from Ayresome Park to Roker, is entirely understandable, but at the same time rather unusual. When I moved to the East Midlands some 20 years ago I went to visit the new house that we’d bought and was taking a walk round the back garden, To my complete amazement there was a “Stan Cummmins strip” (as my mate always used to call it) in the back window of the adjoining house. The lad who lived there was originally from Skinningrove in what must have been Yorkshire at one point in time.

    He had been brought up as a Boro supporter in his youth, but switched allegiances to SAFC when the late and great Mr Clough signed for us. I still see Arthur and his wife at games on what have become those few occasions since moving to Canada. They’ve had season tickets for years. Every game is an away game for them.

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