‘Football and the Reading Classes’ is a collection (now out of print) of essays by Greg ‘Stan’ Bowles composed over a number of years and originally published in various peer-reviewed journals on his subject of study: football as an index of connectedness, the term he famously coined to signify those members of the intelligentsia who were truly in tune with both popular culture, typified by media reporting on Premier League football (where, for example ‘Match of the Day’ producers have started using lurid tabloid-style punning headlines superimposed on images of players, and crude caricatures, with pop music accompaniment, when introducing the next match on the programme), but who were also at the cutting edge (a cliché he shunned in his own work) of high culture, unashamedly elitist, highbrow and academically rigorous.
You could not, in Stan’s view, be properly considered sage if you were not well-versed in critical theory as well as possessed of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the assist rates and goal averages of the Premier League strikers, or did not hold strong opinions on the (de)merits of the foreign oligarchs who now ran, to his dismay, all the top clubs.
Stan kept a database of all the written texts by mass-media football reporters, and updated every week his corpus of transcripts of all the broadcast media commentators. These he subjected to sociolinguistic analysis, the synthesis of which he published in his blog; the cream of these became his published academic articles.
One of his most successful essays (judging by Google hits) he’d developed from an undergraduate dissertation years earlier, in which he assessed the linguistic characteristics of five successive football commentaries on the Liverpool-Man Utd game broadcast on Radio 5 Live and ‘Match of the Day’ over five seasons, with particular attention to metapragmatic markers and metaphors from the lexical field of warfare.
His tone in such pieces was academically lofty and objective; he never condescended to the football fan, player or reporter, and was therefore flattered when he was quoted by Gaby Logan on the Saturday early-evening football results programme on BBC 1. As she introduced a full-time report on a top match, she made reference to his paper ‘Moneyball: statistics and the decline of the Premier League’s football empire’; it was a theme he’d revisited several times since, paying particular attention to the transfer policies of Liverpool FC.
He had been an indifferent player himself. Stan’s proudest moment came during a five-a-side match when he’d received the ball directly from his goalie, his back to the opposition goal, spun as he allowed the ball to bounce off the side wall, and hit a looping, rasping shot with his wrong foot – the left – that flew into the net unseen by the custodian.
This feat was never repeated in any subsequent game. But he liked to tell anyone who’d listen that he had invented the now fashionable practice of playing right-footed players on the left wing, and vice versa.
Stan did not have many friends; he was unmarried, and sometimes wondered if he might be missing something in life. He was considering acquiring a cat, which he would call Rooney…