Archive for Poetry

My poem on the African Cup of Nations 2013

Here’s a new poem I wrote for the BBC World Service to mark the opening of the African Cup of Nations, hosted this year by South Africa and defended by Zambia, last year’s unlikely winners. Hope you enjoy it.


The African Cup of Nations
Is boxing disguised as football
Every year there’s a rematch.
Last time, after jabbing their way through the early rounds,
Humble Zambia uppercut everyone;
Now, they are the punch each country sees coming.
Ding, ding:
A whole ring of sixteen continental contenders in South Africa
Who all want their belt back.
The World Cup was only a warm-up;
Yes, that tournament was global
But these rivalries are personal,
More bitter than Tottenham
Versus Arsenal.
So let’s go, Togo;
Let’s go Ghana, Cape Verde, Niger,
Nigeria, Algeria,
Ethiopia, Tunisia,
Let’s swing our limbs till the referee tells us it’s time to give it up;
Let’s go Burkina Faso,
Mali and Morocco,
DR Congo, Angola, Ivory Coast –
Let’s go up against the hosts
And the reigning champions
For this is the African Cup of Nations
And only one will get to stand in the sun,
Arms raised,
To a standing ovation.

For Leo Messi, a tribute: “Just Another”

Tonight, Leo Messi broke the record for the number of goals scored in a calendar year, reaching the total of 86 in a 2-1 win for Barcelona over Real Betis.  In doing so, he passed the scarcely-believable mark of 85, set decades ago by Germany’s Gerd Muller.  I’ve written a tribute to his goalscoring feats, “Just Another”, which you can read below.

“Just Another”    

I guess that, for Messi,
Each goal is just another –
They come to him
As sun does to summer;
Just another low drive with the right or left
Or the odd lob, or deft touch with head or chest;
Just another night making his rival number
Drift past like a ship with a busted rudder;
Just another soul left in his slipstream
By his light-speed shift up from nought to sixty;
Just another free-kick from thirty yards
That will swerve like the letters of his autograph,
Or another free-kick sneaked beneath a wall
Or a handball that gives our praise the briefest pause…
Just another hat-trick scored
Just another home crowd’s ecstatic roar
Just another dribble that will dazzle all –
Watch this juggernaut
Clutch another Ballon d’Or.

“West Midlands Police Report”, for Ryan Giggs


The following text is the transcript of a telephone call to the West Midlands police.  The communication was made on the evening of the fourteenth of April 1999, at approximately 10pm, from an area known as Villa Park.

The witness had just seen a bank robber, who the police have subsequently identified only as “Giggs”, breaking into one of the most secure vaults in Europe.  Additional witnesses are urged to come forward.  Here is what the witness had to say.

“I spy a Welshman on the loose
With a tall dark Frenchman in hot pursuit;
As if by the spell of some ancient druid
His left foot has a ball attached to it –
Oh, look, now the Frenchman’s lost him
So two of his friends try to accost him
But he slips between them at such speed
That one of them sits down in disbelief! –
(This criminal’s moving at the speed of warp
But still, it is his balance which makes me gawp –
Fill two wine glasses, place them on his shoulders –
He’ll not have spilled a drop till this sprint is over) –
Mayday, all the guards are waylaid,
Just one of them’s left to protect the stalemate –
But undaunted is this rampaging thief:
The ball explodes from his toes and the safe is breached –
Mission done, he hits and runs,
For some strange reason he tears his shirt off,
He has the chest hair of a lion
At least that’s a means to identify him –
Thus in his theft he revels
As he celebrates with some other devils
They flee before the dust has settled:
Suspected destination?

A poem, “Mortal”, for footballers who know their time’s up

Many footballers, like many athletes or other performers, reach a point in a career when they just don’t want to do it anymore. This poem, “Mortal”, is for them; there is a Soundcloud link below, where you can download my reading of it.


You cannot go back out there
So all of them return to the light but you.
There was a time when you would have been the first to surge out from that dressing-room
But that was before you grew to fear what’s out there,
Those tens of thousands of waiting mouths.
Above their hunger, beyond the stadium,
The night sky is so cruel.
Long after its stars have died,
It will leave them out there
for all to view.
Wretched you.
There is nothing worse
Than to be an ambition who has lost its thirst.
Two streams darken your shirt,
Which was first handed you by one as hunched as you.
That day, you thought glory
Was all that you would inherit:
Not also a suit
In which you’d perish.
Performers die two deaths:
The second, like all humans, is when our hearts’ rhythm is stayed
But the first is when we hear no more
The call of the stage.
You’ll be found mortal now. And
Three times, you will cry:
When you look your friends,
Then yourself,
And then your future in the eye.
Your coach returns to search for you,
To complete the group.
“Time!” he yells; and then he looks at you, silent in sweat and salt.
“Time”, he says. And you say,
“I know”.

A round-up of my writing this week

It’s been a busy week so I thought I would post a round-up of my writing, so that anyone interested can find it all in one place.

1. Football Writing

I am very happy to announce that this week I have begun a Manchester United blog for ESPN.  I am very excited about this opportunity – I will be posting for them three times a week, and my first post for them, “Sir Alex Ferguson and the Jack Welch approach”, can be found here.

I have also made my debut for the BT Life’s a Pitch website, with an article called “Nani in limbo at Old Trafford”.  Very many thanks to Matt Furniss at Opta Statistics for all the great Nani stats.

2. Poetry

I’ve been writing a fair bit of poetry recently, and in the last few days I’ve posted up five pieces.  One of them, “College”, is a couple of years old, but given that it was Suicide Awareness Day recently I felt that I had to share it.  This week, I also recorded it as a track with my group The King’s Will, thanks to Giles for providing the fantastic instrumental.

The other four pieces are all fresh.  One of them, “Delay”, was me thinking about the times I have procrastinated in my life, and why that might have been.  Then there’s “Gamesmakers”, celebrating the work of our amazing volunteers during the Olympics – the Gamesmakers are the kindest, humblest bunch of people I’ve had the pleasure to meet in a while, and I hope that they enjoy my tribute to them.

The last two pieces are very brief.  One is so short, but it had to be – it was a nod to Andy Murray’s magnificent US Open triumph, where he put the final touches on an incredible sporting summer for “Team GB”. It’s called “Full Stop”.  And last of all, there’s my ode to Eric Cantona’s most famous article of clothing, “Cantona’s Collar”.  I gave this to the fantastic 7 Cantonas website, it seemed only right.

Thanks for reading my work as ever, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.



“Delay”, a poem


Years ago,
I was never late.
Give me a diary date and time,
And I’d be there one Americano in advance.
But now, I delay
Whenever I can.
For a while I didn’t know why.
It could be first dates,
Appointments, whatever;
Never punctual.
And then I realised
That I was afraid to arrive.
After all,
Why rush anywhere you want to go
When at your journey’s end
There is someone saying

“College”, a poem for Suicide Awareness Day

Sitting in my bedroom refuge, thinking if
I am diligent with penicillin, I can finish this –
Pessimism is a prison not worth living in –
As for the note, yes, I’ve already written it;
Line of apology to each of my relatives:
Got an alcoholic drink to mix with the medicine:
Second year of college, and I feel bleak as anything –
So I reach for a darkness less menacing;
Need a tune to tune out thoughts of my closest:
Music I choose is “Umi Says” by Mos Def…
…In truth, it’s a soothing process
Since this room’s as humid as I feel hopeless;
Peering in the mirror now, looking in my eyes –
It’s a miracle their light has so long survived –
Once they had such intense urgency,
Now all they have is one slow certainty…
Slightly I open my mouth for the dosage;
Take the first pill of lots more, then I close it;
Then I’m not sure; and, as I handle these
Pills, look to mantlepiece where my note’s propped up;
Think of the things I’ll have lost, once
I’ve popped some more; yes, at once I’ll have locked all doors;
Caused bitter choruses of “it’s your fault”;
Left this talent untouched in its vault,
This gift I’d been given so I could deliver warmth:
So I did the right thing, saved me, my writing;
Threw back the door latch, and soon I was charging through
College grounds, to the room of this girl I hardly knew –
There I made my confession:
I nearly said goodbye to a life I was better off getting;
After she’d wept with me, she’d made me promise:
“Not to take way of the coffin, or the comet,
Not to aim to soar through life, or run from it,
But just to buckle up, bust a gut,
Put one foot before another, that’s enough;
Even if the path’s dark as swimming in Guinness, it
Matters not, all that you can do is continue it.”

“Full Stop”, a poem for Andy Murray and the British summer

This British sporting summer

Was a stunning sentence,

But it needed a full stop:

Something fitting; small, and round, that would bring an end to all.

High up in the New York night, we found it:

It was Murray’s match-point ball.

“Gamesmakers”, a poem on London 2012


Where did they come from?

London just went and bubbled up with kindness
And suddenly on every corner you could find them;
Gamesmakers, with smiles the width of the Mall
Paid in nothing but uniforms and the promise of memories.
Yet every day they came,
To several sites for several weeks
And in the end we were envious of they 
Who gave and gave;
Who endlessly welcomed all
Who never stepped into the stadium, even when glory called;
When each athlete leaped, threw or came round
Their final bends, 
They were the cement 
In the wall of sound.

“Berti”, a guest football poem by Sheridan Bird

Recently I wrote a poem on Dimitar Berbatov’s departure from Manchester United.  Sheridan Bird, a European football expert who’s written for Champions Magazine and FourFourTwo, then sent me a piece he’d penned about a hero of his, Italy and Internazionale’s Nicola Berti.  His fulsome homage to the man nicknamed “Crazy Horse” is below:



Northern Italy
Early 1980s
Big framed boy with quiff ‘n’ grin
Stretches his long legs
Pounds the turf

Nicola likes the feeling
Strides clear of the wreckage
Limbs propel furiously
Thundering away from stragglers

Parma like it
Fiorentina like it
Inter like it
Italia too

The big lad’s technique is humble
His energy, timing and power conquer calcio
Clumpy, honest hybrid of Nedved, Boniek and Bryan Robson
From the left
From the right
Bounding into the box

A missile with a spiv’s haircut
Fizz the ball in
Berti smashes a path
Heads it past the keeper and into next week
Tour de force
Two-one to Inter

He had a girl’s first name
And an endless supply of girls’ numbers
Playboy in bars
Pumped-up puppy on the pitch
Not even London nightspots survived flirty Berti
Crazy Horse ran with the Hotspur

Nicolino gave his vibrant all in 11 World Cup matches
Won’t see him on a legends list
Unlike gutsy gliding assassin Baggio
Tight-lipped frumpy-faced shot-stopping  God Zoff

Berti didn’t sign his operas with skill
He was a steamroller with accelerators
Controlled chronological chaos
Spindly-legged action splash

Cheeky champ of Serie A 1989
Goal getter and trophy taker in ’91 and ’94 UEFA Cup finals
Gangly midfield funpack
Marquis of goals and girls