FURD held a very enjoyable `Football Stories` event as part of Sheffield`s `Off the Shelf`festival of words and the Europe-wide `Football People`action weeks at the U-Mix Centre on 24th October.
The event brought together published writers from across the footballing divide in Sheffield alongside members of the public who responded to the invitation to come and share their stories of what football means to them. Following a workshop held with Year 7 pupils from King Ecgbert School, several of the pupils attended with their families and shared their stories.
Compere for the night was Steven Kay, who read from his book `The Evergreen in Red and White`, a novel based on the true story of Rabbi Howell. Howell was the first Romani professional footballer, who played for Sheffield United, Liverpool, and Preston North End between 1890 and 1903 and made two appearances for England in 1895 and 1899.
Sheffield Star columnist and award-winning blogger (Judges'choice for Best Female Blogger, 2014 Football Blog Awards) Laura Jones shared a moving piece she`d written about her childhood memories of the Hillsborough disaster when her family was involved in helping Liverpool supporters.
Matthew Bell, editor of Sheffield United fanzine Flashing Blade, talked about Jimmy Revill, who helped the Blades win the FA Cup in 1915 before being killed in action in the First World War. Revill featured in Bell`s book `Red White and Khaki: the Story of the Only Wartime FA Cup Final`.
Sarah Choonara talked about the therapeutic joys of taking up football in her mid-forties, and Neville Wheeler shared memories of playing for Darnall Boys Brigade team in the 1940s on a pitch covered in cow pats! David Kirby, aka Hairy Dave, shared Sheffield Wednesday-themed poems from his collection `Blue and White Wizards`, Marc de Caen read from his e-book `Send Off Sir`? and Michael Kerrigan talked about how his Irish father came to support Sheffield United.
Making links between the story of Rabbi Howell and present-day Romani communities was another aim of the event. Steve Kay described prejudice against Roma people as `an acceptable form of racism`, with cries of `gyppo` regularly heard at football grounds and elsewhere, aimed at opposition players of a certain appearance.
Steve and FURD`s Ruth Johnson attended a football tournament organised by members of the Roma Slovak community in Rotherham and filmed several participants talking about what football means to them and about Rabbi Howell. The resulting 11-minute film, `Roma footballers in England: a short film about a long story` can be seen at the link below.
See also Steve`s blog below - `Trying to help these Roma guys look like a team`- for more information and an appeal for spare football kit as the teams did not have matching kit.
FURD is also backing a campaign to raise enough money (around Â£1,000) to buy a headstone for Rabbi Howell`s grave. This ex-England player is buried in an unmarked grave in Preston. See the link to the `Headstone for Rabbi`page below for more details.