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Sheffield 160: Media Editor Stuart James (Part II)

7:00 AMAleks Vee

by Aleks V |

2017 marks the 160th anniversary of the world's first football club, Sheffield FC. Sheffield 160 is a bi-weekly series that goes behind the scenes of the historic club through interviews with players and staff.

Enjoy the second installment of an interview with Sheffield FC Media Editor Stuart James, in which he chats about the funny side of the beautiful game, football's Shakespeare connection, and his non league adventures.

Read Part I here.

Photo courtesy Stuart James
I've read some of your funny stories on Behind the Flag, the Sheffield FC fan site you helped launch. Do you have any football-related anecdotes you can share?
The one that comes straight to my mind was a game back in our early days at the Coach and Horses, when we were playing Brodsworth Welfare, who were a rough and ready outfit from Doncaster who caused us more problems on the pitch than a club that size really should. At the time, we were finishing in the top five or six every season, Broddy were serial basement dwellers, but somehow every time we played them they pulled off a super-human performance to either beat us or hold us to draw.

This one game we were making no mistake, we were absolutely hammering them 5-0 and Broddy looked shot, so with a load of fixtures coming up at short notice, our manager Dave McCarthy decided to make some substitutions to rest a few pairs of legs. One of these was a midfielder who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassment. He’d had an inspired game, and was coasting to an easy man-of-the-match award winning decision.

With the game being in winter, it was under floodlights, so on a decent dry evening and a five-goal advantage, nothing was going to stop us beating Brodsworth at last. Wrong. Suddenly the whole place had been plunged into darkness, and there were still 20 minutes to play; the floodlights had “failed”. There was a panicked appeal for an electrician, the referee was threatening to cancel the game if nothing could be fixed, then with time running out before an abandonment was decided, the lights just came back on. The game finished and we coasted to a 6-1 win. The floodlight failure couldn’t stop us finally getting that convincing win we’d waited for.

It was only in the bar afterwards the truth emerged. Our genius midfielder who’d been replaced decided he couldn’t wait for the full-time whistle, and decided he wanted a shower there and then. Not knowing which switch turned on the showers, he tried all of them … including the main floodlight switch, until he eventually found the one for hot water. All the time everyone was running around trying to get to the bottom of this, he was busy getting himself washed for a night out on the town, oblivious to the chaos he’d caused.

Another one was an FA Vase game away at Atherton LR. It also coincided with my wedding anniversary, and as many men will empathise with, I was under orders to be home on time. We had a celebration meal booked at a very expensive little restaurant with a fixed sitting service time. You can probably guess the rest, but at half time we were 4-0 down and playing terribly, and I made the quip that at least I’d be at the meal on time.

The manager made three half-time substitutions, and by 85 minutes we were back to 4-3. All the Sheffield support was baying for the equaliser … except me, who was praying for us to fall just short, so I could get to the meal without suffering the wrath of my wife. It ended 4-4 naturally, so it went to extra time, just what I needed. We eventually won 5-4, but I still had to get home.

The drive home was one of complete heroism, caught up in roadworks, post-match traffic from a 60,000 Manchester United crowd, sheep on the road and tractors. I managed to get home, changed and to the meal with a minute to spare.

One year later we were in the same competition, I was under orders not to have a repeat of last year. Guess what? The opponents’ coach broke down on the way to Dronfield and meant the kick off was to be delayed by up to two hours. I’m brave, but not that brave. It was the first game I missed for just over five years.

You write in Behind the Flag, among other things, that you're a fan of Shakespeare. I realized there's a football connection - there was a modern adaptation of Twelfth Night called She's the Man, a 2006 movie starring Amanda Bynes as Viola, who disguises herself as her brother to play football (soccer) after the girls' team gets cut. Have you seen it, and if so, what did you think?
Whenever anyone mentions Twelfth Night, I always start humming New Order’s "Bizarre Love Triangle"; nothing to do with Shakespeare, but I always associate the song’s title with the play. I only saw the film the first time about five years ago; my wife had it on TV when I came home from work one day. I was cynical at first, but it was an entertaining little take on the play. A bit more slapstick than it should have been to be honest, but I took the view if it inspired girls to take up football – and the sport does need to take women’s football more seriously – then it served its purpose. Initially on its release I was swayed by the Rotten Tomatoes feedback. I tend to find myself influenced by that and the likes of Metacritic and IMDB, and the fact Vinnie Jones (the coach) is the worst actor I’ve ever come across made me say “avoid”. Anyway, it was better than some other football based films… Oh, and I’ve just remembered - the Duke in the film was played by Channing Tatum (Magic Mike), but he also played a character called Duke in the GI Joe film … now that was garbage!

(Editor's Note: Two of Shakespeare's works reference football: The Comedy of Errors and King Lear.)

As a non-league fan/groundhopper of many years, what has been your most interesting trip, and who were the most unexpected people you've met on your travels?
Wow! So many to tell. I’ve never seen myself as a groundhopper as such. Those guys visit a ground, tick it, never return, all with the aim of completion in some form or other. I’ve nothing against them personally, I know several who pursue the hobby, and they can be a crucial fount of knowledge with regards to visiting new grounds.

Several of my most memorable trips have been on the continent, but nothing compares to the Non-League trips to Scotland; the “Junior” football scene up there is unbelievable. Despite the tag, it is very much adult football, with some of the clashes on the pitch (and the comments from the crowds) up there in the XXX kind of adult category.

The fans up there always make me laugh with the sarcastic comments, to opposition players and the referees, and no-one holds back. The stadiums are by and large falling to pieces, but they still get attendances that several Scottish Pro teams would envy, and the football is hyper-competitive.

One of the most interesting people I’ve met on my travels was Hans Kramer, a gentleman who is an archivist at HVSV Quick in Den Haag, one of the teams myself and Ben Webster visited last month. Quick were former national champions in the Netherlands, and toured the UK in 1909, beating SFC 3-1 on their trip. We contacted them in the hope they had some details, they did, and they made us guests of honour for the day. I spent hours after the game chatting with Hans about football, cricket and all kinds of sport. There was also beer. Lots of beer. We need to arrange a revenge game against them.

As for unexpected – that would be the late great Brian Clough, someone I’d have loved to have had a conversation with – at Burton Albion’s old ground, I was sat in the stand waiting for the game to kick off, when who should turn up in the row in front but Mr Clough. I’d love to say I had a great chat, but he just said “get your f***ing feet off my seat!” And that was that.

Tell me about your favorite adventure as part of Sheffield FC's Veterans SC.
Playing at the San Siro in Milan will take some beating … anyone with the VSC will attest to that. In fact, the Milan trip in general was unforgettable, from start to finish there were so many highlights. Prior to that trip I’d made a commitment to myself that I would be as fit as possible to ensure I’d enjoy my time on the pitch – I’m normally a goalkeeper, but I wanted to have a run out as a full-back – so I underwent my old tried and tested 10km run every other day routine; I never felt better. The week before we travelled I slipped on one of these runs and gave myself a nasty groin injury. I kept that to myself so no-one would talk me out of playing, so travelled and played injured.

The games were an absolute struggle for me, the heat didn’t help, and I was glad that I never cost us anything on the pitch.

Afterwards we headed out for a night out, I took it on myself to locate a decent enough football-themed bar, and persuaded most of the squad to join me. Naturally that didn’t go smoothly, and we ended up getting lost, eventually finding the bar after much ridiculing of the Media Editor and having to resort to asking local cabbies. Turns out the bar was a ten-minute walk in a straight line from our hotel.

Sadly, I’m not going to be able to repeat any of that on the pitch. A few years ago, the VSC were playing at Oakwell, Barnsley FC, and I destroyed my knee ligaments. Shame really, but at least I still have the memories.

Your most memorable season at the club thus far?
The 2007-08 season was probably the best. It was a time when everything came together; the 150th anniversary, our first time at our current level having been promoted the season before, winning the Sheffield Senior Cup and reaching the play-off final.

That team was one of the best in recent years, every game was an enjoyable and new experience, and we just fell short of making it a perfect season by losing to Nantwich Town in the Final on penalties.

Not forgetting the games against Inter Milan and Ajax, both of whom sent fantastic sides, and we beat Ajax!
The award-winning Sheffield FC match programme. Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about your job as Media Editor?
The number of hours you work. I think that took me by surprise too.

Every waking moment away from my day job is taken up by doing something on either the website or programme, and my usual position is behind a laptop. I watch TV in the evening from behind a laptop, I tend to be eating with one hand and typing with the other, so the job never stops.

The other thing is the job is completely voluntary, so anyone thinking that I must be very rich having two full-time jobs would be very mistaken. It is a labour of love, and like all things you love, it causes happiness, heartache and headaches.

What's one piece of advice you wish you were given in your youth?
“Don’t get involved with football, it will take over your life!”

Seriously from a playing perspective it would be something along the lines of “play every minute as if it were your last, that last minute will come eventually and you won’t realise it was your last, until it has been and gone.” As a kid I was a lazy footballer, so that would have probably helped me a little bit.


Stuart James is the Media Editor at Sheffield FC.

Read Part I of his interview here.

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Read more on Sheffield 160 here.
Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #Sheffield160.

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