>Sarah Wardle, poet in residence at Tottenham Hotspur FC, has written two poems for and inspired by England, ahead of our first festival of Englishness

'England' was inspired by international sports photographer Peter Robinson's wonderful work. I hope the sonnets capture the different perspectives and changing registers of viewpoints on English football from the dyed-in-the-wool fan and the groundsman through the crowd of spectators to the players and the images of effort football provides for working people.


Years before Bradford merged with Leeds
this town was the centre of my earth.
I made wool for carpets, suits, jerseys,
manning the looms for all I was worth,
my life dictated by a mill's whistle,
like the one that blew at half time
on Sunday afternoons, when I'd stroll
out of that gate to stand in line
and cheer the home team on its turf,
which seemed to me all to be one,
ground, yard, factory, common,
even our graves, our fires, our hearths,
Bradford-raised and Bradford-born,
a Bradford life under a Bradford sun.

The view from here is not all glitz and glory.
Sure match days are packed with entertainment.
But there's a mundane side too to the story.
Most days the stands and the pitch are vacant.
I am the club's caretaker. There is duty
also in rolling grass and sowing seed,
in painting white lines. Yes, there is beauty
in setting up for those who do the deed,
not just work that those who are defending
put in before a striker takes the credit.
No, I mean the quiet and patient tending
of sacred ground out of love, not profit.
Team players on my wall may come and go,
but I remain an old hand in the show.

They tell us what to vote, tell us what to think,
tell us when to cheer, when to frown, when to blink,
tell us when to wake and when to go to bed
from the second we're born till the minute we're dead.
They teach us to be good, not to answer back,
send us off to war, tell us whom to attack.
They make us work for the car, the wife, the house,
force us to pay taxes and shut our mouths.
They manipulate us with advertising
for booze and season tickets to keep us smiling
on nights out and days off, keep us policed.
We're on CCTV. We have no choice.
When the uprising comes, we stand as one,
but we do as we're told and soon sit down.

This is what the true game's all about,
the strategy, the team, the badge, the players,
not the advertising, not the loot,
not the fame and girls that crept in with the years,
but the intelligence, thinking, tactics, skill,
white shirts bearing scars of mud and sweat.
This is what makes football beautiful.
O the athleticism and the effort,
even when all hope seems to be dashed,
even when it's gone to extra time,
when you most need that adrenalin rush
to carry ball and country over the line,
even when it's gone to penalties!
No, not the money, but the energy!

Ground, yard, factory, common!
Most days the stand and the pitch are vacant.
When the uprising comes, we stand as one.
O the athleticism and the effort!

'Under an English Heaven' is a lighthearted look at English attitudes and takes its title from the closing line of Rupert Brooke's sonnet, 'The Soldier', which begins, 'If I should die, think only this of me: / That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England'. That corner still exists for many, whether abroad or in English cities, if only in the imagination.

Under an English Heaven

Englishness is a state of mind,
memories of oak trees, haystacks, hillsides,
bull rings, market towns and squares,
red post boxes, Boots, Marks and Spencer,

having a view on the sliding spectrum
from UKIP through the Queen to devolution,
and a kinship with Americans,
both Democrats and Republicans,

seeing church as births, marriages, deaths,
Christmas tree fairies and jury oaths,
a preference for Scots, Irish, Welsh
over and against the French and Spanish,

a patriotism born of rugby, cricket,
tennis and the Eurovision Song Contest,
a grudge against our German cousins,
fuelled by football, the Blitz and Somme,

yet a feeling we share their taste for beer,
blue-eyed partners and frankfurters,
but the psychogeography of islanders
and a sense the continent is other,

a need for rain, respect for the sea,
lifeboats, animals, a liking for tea,
and a belief deep down the Garden of Eden
was so green and fruitful because it was England.

  • Sarah's fourth collection,'Beyond', will be published by Bloodaxe in January.