Unfortunately I made it along to see “Diary of a Football Nobody” only last night during the last week of its run at Nottingham Playhouse. As a result there are only five more performances which I can urge you to go and see before the curtain comes down for the last time – at least for now.
Although this is a play based on the diaries of former Notts County footballer Dave McVay you do not need to have an interest in football, and you certainly do not need to be a County fan, to enjoy it. This is a play that is fundamentally about humanity with football providing the backdrop.
You do need to be comfortable with a liberal use of swearing – this is 1970’s football – and your enjoyment will be increased if you are familiar with the regular nods to Nottingham life. Iconic record shop Selectadisc, world renowned designer Paul Smith, Clifton, Beeston Rylands and more are mentioned but are essentially proxies for your own childhood landmarks.
Local lad Perry Fitzpatrick plays the part of McVay with natural charm and holds the play together with this narration of events. Eric Richard is outstanding in his lyrical rendition of Notts’ legendary manager Jimmy Sirrel and Sophia Di Martino brings a much needed feminine perspective that elevates the piece from football to more universal themes.
After the performance we were treated to a Q&A session with writer William Ivory, director Matt Aston and the cast, which demonstrated the strength of feeling that they all clearly have for the work. One question from the audience was whether the play was aimed to be uplifting despite its themes being quite depressing – pointing largely to the illness of McVay’s grandfather – but for me this suggestion was misplaced.
The closing speech in which McVay sums up his coming of age in the minutiae of his experience is wonderfully uplifting and perfectly captures the essence of both football and life. Football is not more important than life and death but for many of us it is one of the prisms through which we experience them.
I don’t have many memories of my granddad but one that is imprinted in my mind is the old pre-match tradition. Initially it was my dad and brother who drove to Ilkeston to visit him before a home match. Having outlived his wife he would fall back on his staple hospitality – proper, homemade chips fried in a small pan on his stove.
My first interest in watching football as a youngster was really my desire to join this male ritual (and eat those chips) which created such bonds and memories and continues to do so as the predominant vehicle for the men of the family to spend time together and our major topic for discussion.
Billy talked about the pivotal scenes in the play being those in which the characters were totally present in the moment and this is also true of times which define a life. It is when we truly live into a moment and are fully present to it that the mundane becomes sacred and we get to share that with McVay and the people around him, as well as recall some of those sacred moments in our own lives.
He also said that he wanted to write a love letter to Nottingham with this play, and he has done that, but it is also a love letter to life and to family in all their messy, painful and mundane brilliance and though the setting is Nottingham and Notts County Football Club the themes encapsulate and chime with all of human life.
*This review originally appeared on my football blog Mist Rolling In From The Trent on October 17th 2012