Second Qualifying Round report

The Vegetarian Option

September 17th, 2022, Emirates FACup Second Qualifying Round, Trade Tyres Community Stadium, Brownfields Road, Lichfield.

Lichfield City 0 – Boston United 4. Att 704

Pies: 7.59

A few years ago I read somewhere (can’t remember where), that being a writer is the most sought-after job there is. I gave my hollow laugh, and when I’ve told fellow writers this little nugget, they have given me theirs.

Don’t get me wrong; being a writer is loads better than most imaginable gigs; but it comes at a price, where the price is never right because it’s always low. Unsurprising really, given that everyone wants to be a writer; the competition is fierce, and the game means that you need to get published well before you get a living.

If you are thinking of writing, ask yourself these questions – a) do you read a very great deal in your chosen genre?, b) do you enjoy your own company so much that you are prepared to spend years of your life alone in a garret peering at a screen and wondering if ‘if’ is doing any work in a sentence, or would ‘or’ be better? and c) do you fancy never having any money? If ‘yes’ to all three, then maybe writing is for you – I take it for granted that if you want to write a book, you also have a will of iron, and the patience of St Patience, patron saint of patience.

Of course there are rich writers. I met a few in my time as co-Centre Director at Totleigh Barton, the Arvon house in North Devon. Household names. And they all share one thing; utter bemusement that they have become rich through writing. There are also writers, often genre writers, who pull down a living wage. One very well known and succesful crime writer told me he earned about as much as an early career primary school teacher.

I can only dream of such riches. I pick up various gigs here and there, and now I too earn about as much as an early career primary school teacher would, if they were teaching in 1975. I used to imagine that a column would solve all my problems. I imagined a quid a word like Julie Burchill used to get. Well, although I don’t ‘have’ a column, I do write the ‘Diary’ for the Church Times five or six times a year, for 11p a word. I’m not complaining – this adds up to enough to buy me three and a half cups of coffee a week in Elda’s Colombian Coffee House, High Street, Presteigne.

Bring your own chair.

As you might hope, my Diary pieces for the Church Times are very much Christian in temper. Sixty four years ago, when I was born, it would have been daring for a writer to announce that they were an atheist. Now it seems similarly daring to announce that I go to church, like my forebears did for at least a thousand years. The night before the Lichfield City/Boston United game, I had to finish and file my latest effort. In this piece, I told the Church Times readers about Ian’s Big Fat FACup Challenge, in which I emphasised Macmillan’s Christian roots.

This is part of what I wrote:

‘I’m currently in the middle of a fund-raising effort for Macmillan Cancer Support. It’s called ‘Ian’s Big Fat FA Cup Challenge’, and you can find links on my website, The idea is this – starting at the Extra-Preliminary Round of the FA Cup at the beginning of August, I follow the winners of each game through all fourteen rounds, hopefully all the way to Wembley in June next year; and to eat a pie at all the grounds we get to. This week we’re off to see game four, Lichfield City vs Boston United, in the Second Qualifying Round, hoping very much for a City win, because otherwise we might have to drive four hours to Boston for the next match. A pal of mine pointed out that essentially what I’m doing is asking people to sponsor me to go to the football, and to eat pies when I’m there. And why not?

From the moment of my cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago, Macmillan have been by my side. I won’t detail all that they have done for me, but this idea of walking alongside patients made me certain that Macmillan had Christian origins. Douglas Macmillan founded the ‘Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer’ in 1911, and he was indeed a Christian – a Somerset Baptist (like Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis), but one with Quaker sympathies. Above all, he was a Christian Vegetarian. Douglas Macmillan was convinced that cancer could be prevented by following a non-meat diet. Nobody seriously believes that anymore, although, of course, many cancer patients think it worth trying. So I reckon the least I can do is to make sure that all my football pies in future are vegetarian. If that doesn’t get me sponsors, I don’t know what will.’

And so it came to pass. My need for income, my galloping Anglicanism, and my big fucking mouth mean that I have backed myself into a corner. And as I arrived at the food hatch at the Trade Tyre Community Stadium, I said something I never thought I’d hear myself say; ‘What are your vegetarian pies?’ And they were cheese and onion, or cheese leek and potato, and they were good. I’m feeling great about my new health regime!

This time, there were three participants; m’self, Glenn Duggan and Bernardo Canas, my most excellent son-in-law. Glenn and I drove over from Presteigne, and Bernardo came by train from Coventry.

Holding a mirror to reality

Glenn and I both went veggie on the pie front, but Bernardo is a red-blooded Spanish lad, so he opted for the delicious looking steak and ale. As I ate my (very nice) pie, I watched him eating his, and felt a twist of regret. What have I done? But there, you can’t say one thing in the Church Times and then do another.

And what, you ask, of the football?

It felt as though everything had stepped up a gear. For the first time, there were a significant number of away fans, who sung on the terrace opposite the grandstand where we were sitting. The Boston United players were noticably bigger than most of the Lichfield City lads. And noticably more skillful; and fitter. As Boston are in the National League North, this was the first round they’d had to play a tie in this year’s competition. For Lichfield City of the Midland League, this was the fourth, as they had started in the Extra-Preliminary Round. Boston were always favourites; they scored two before half-time, and another two shortly after. But City never gave up, and deserved a goal for their efforts.

This was Lichfield City’s longest ever FACup run, a big deal for an excellent club. If a Championship side (who don’t come in till the Third Round Proper in January) had won three ties, and lost the fourth, they would have been knocked out in the quarter finals; and most Championship sides would be more than pleased with that. As Ian’s Big Fat FACup challenge moves onto the later rounds, I’ll remember what Lichfield City have achieved.

Glenn is turning out an excellent sports photographer, and as a picture is worth a thousand words, why bother writing? Why not take pictures instead? The less competition, the better, in my view.

Two minutes silence for the Supreme Governer of the Church of England.
The away side, waiting to sing
Boston in the pink
A goal, possibly?
Spot the ball

9 Responses

  1. Em Smith says:

    Elda’s is indeed a good coffee house. 🙂
    Waiting for pay day and I’ll bung a few quid in the fund.
    I like the idea of you going to football AND getting to eat a pie. Life is for living!

  2. Bob says:

    I see it has, and that Boston are away to Basford United, somewhere north of Nottingham. on October 1st, which is – heavens – this Saturday. It sounds like the kind of place where hopes and dreams go to die, but don’t ask me why.

  3. Bob says:

    A splendid read. Has the draw for the next round been made?

  4. Bernie Bell says:

    You’re in m’blog again……

    I’m hoping this will generate some donations for Marchant’s Macmillan Pie Appeal.

    I’ll go away now…for now…

  5. Martin Laux says:

    Another enjoyable read

  6. Bernie Bell says:

    Hello again
    I tell myself that you needn’t post it if you don’t want to.
    I’m reading ‘A Hero for High Times’ – the bit about losing yourself in a place which is familiar, and then re-finding.
    What happened to me & Mike isn’t quite the same as what you write of – we went to a city which was very familiar to both of us and got completely lost as huge areas of it had been flattened and re-built with a completely different lay-out.
    We decided to just follow a road until we came to something familiar and take it from there, which is what we did, and it worked for us. Here’s the tale…

  7. Dave Evans says:

    No mention of Boston’s biggest fan the magnificent JVT!!

  8. Julian de la Motte Harrison says:

    Truly sterling stuff, Ian. You are a man with a mission, one intent to see it out – whatever the cost. In spirit I am eating those pies with you, enjoy the next encounter.

  9. Bernie Bell says:

    The other thing, if you write anything for the public to read – is that you need to have or get a thick skin.

    I’m not a writer – I just jibber-jabber – previously in The Orkney News, now on m’blog – but I can honestly say that writing for TON taught me not to take word-barbs to heart.

    Criticism – fair enough, but often it isn’t clear criticism – it’s just plain naaaasty.

    I learnt to not let it bother me, and to write what I wanted to. Answered the gripers if I felt they were worth answering, if not – not.

    Good to see the veggie pies – I was veggie for decades – Orkney fish ‘turned’ me. Still don’t eat meat though. I know, I know…..

    Husband Mike ate anything that didn’t fight back, until we got a new neighbour who has pigs, which had piglets. Mike got to know the pigs, and as he now says….”You can’t look a pig in the eye and say ‘I’m going to eat you.”

    Keep on keeping on, Ian.

    I have zero interest in football…but I likes pies.

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