Archive for the ‘Liberation Footbology’ Category

I’ve started a blog because I’m involved with some great stuff and a great network of football people, and I’ve realised that we don’t tell the world enough about what we do, on and off the pitch. So if you see something on here that you think would interest friends somewhere else, please do send them a link.

I’m not particularly interested in publicity myself, but it was only once the dust had settled after the year of hard work that we put into organising “Yorkshire’s Alternative World Cup 2010” ,  that I began to realise  it was a pity that hardly anyone else outside of  a  limited network of  like-minded amateur football clubs had ever even heard about this brilliant event. So I started with the report about that amazing weekend in summer 2010, published below, dated August 6th-9th 2010. Those were the first posts on this blog, and if there are any articles with earlier dates, they  have been gathered in since then from other websites where I’d previously posted them.

But another reason for starting a blog is that it’s not my, errm … “novel”. The novel-writing project I’ve been trying to concentrate on recently is a slow, lonely affair. Meanwhile I found that the shorter reports and verses that I published on various football websites got  a much more immediate response, and those responses helped to motivate me for more novel-writing. So another request: if you have time, please try not to leave this site without  leaving a comment on something you’ve read.

Clearly I can’t put too much of the novel itself on here or nobody will want to buy it when it’s finally ready for publication, but  I’m going to put the occasional draft section on here to show the world that the book does exist in a half-baked form at least, and hopefully that will get some of you to nag me about getting it finished.

My book won’t exactly be “The Great American Novel” that a mate of mine at college promised me he’d be writing one day. I used to tell him that I’d be more than satisfied if  I could ever write “a half-decent English football book”. I probably said “book” or story” because “novel” still seems to claim to be something way more literary than I can probably manage.  I could never have imagined back then that I’d write a story set largely in North America (albeit  in Mexico, which most people think of as Central America), but once I’d been there and  once the story had happened to me, well it just had to be written.

The events, actions, thoughts and feelings described in the novel all happened between 1999 and 2003, when I was part of  three very special  tours of  the rebel Zapatista territories  in Mexico by groups of amateur footballers from the UK and Belgium. The book will be dedicated in large part to the seventy or so people who participated in those tours and many others who helped make them possible. Above all, though, it will be  dedicated to the indigenous Maya people of the communities where we stayed and experienced so much. For the sake of those who support the cause of these Zapatista rebels, names of people and places, as well as dates, had to be changed. Then, because I could not easily cover 70-odd  characters and a 4-year period within the scope of this story, it soon became obvious that I would need to ‘fictionalise’ the whole thing and condense the events into one composite tour, with around 20 characters. So while the participants may inevitably recognise the events, and even elements of their own actions in  some of the episodes described, the characters are fictional and no resemblance between the characters and real personages is intended.

So here goes, then.  I don’t even have  a title yet – maybe something like “Freedom Games”, maybe  “The International Brigade”.  But without further ado I’ll throw you right into the middle of my story….

Unpublished work © 2010  Nigel Shaw



‘Football had made a lovely voyage : first organised in the colleges and universities of England, it brought joy to Latin Americans who had never set foot in a school. The Esperanto of the ball connected them with the emigrant working classes who had crossed the sea  from Europe’. Eduardo Galeano

A human pyramid of Mexican, Belgian, Irish and English footballers had just collapsed painfully on my head. The Mexicans were masked rebels; one of the Irish lads was a wanted fugitive. As we picked ourselves up there were grazes and bruises, yet again, but I was laughing. We were all laughing.

When British pub football teams go away on an end-of-season tour, the rebel-held mountains of south-eastern Mexico might not be the first destination on their list, but this was no ordinary tour. Our team had so far taken part in three full-blown tournaments in these rebel villages; we were also due to play one-off games in a jungle village and a high-security prison – hopefully as visitors rather than inmates. It was only the tenth day of the tour, but the pyramid-building was yet another unique and unforgettable experience to add to an already incredible catalogue.

Back home, my weekly Leeds Sunday league football is prefaced by the 8am alarm and a struggle to raise myself from under the duvet, to go and do battle in the muddy local park with an 11am kick off. On this Sunday morning our first match was due to start at exactly that same time, but we had been woken up by sirens at dawn and called to the dusty parade ground by officials from our hosts – the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. This is the Mayan Indian movement which  rose  up in 1994 to demand ‘Land and Freedom’ for their people and fight for the basic rights they had been denied since the first Europeans invaded 500 years before.

To their credit, the Zapatistas don’t seem to have any grudge against present-day European visitors, and on this occasion nobody was actually forcing us to get out of bed. But most of us thought the invitation being shouted and whistled outside our wooden dorm block at half past six in the morning was a huge honour and an unmissable experience. Some of my other  team-mates came along out of sheer curiosity to see what would happen.

Of course, every pub team has a few less reliable souls who, when the Sunday alarm sounds, just roll over and go back to sleep, and some of my English team-mates did likewise here when the sirens sounded. We shouted and we shook them, but  we didn’t have the energy to insist or to tell them how stupid we thought they were not to seize this once-in-a lifetime opportunity. If the aim of our trip had been to show solidarity with the Mayan people’s struggle, then this was the moment when that solidarity was at its closest.

It’s hard not to feel solidarity with your fellow man when you’re all still pulling on  your clothes as you run to the dawn parade. The sensible ones were gulping in some water along the way and some of us gobbled down a couple of biscuits which we’d kept beside our bunks. The energy they gave was to come in very handy.

We were divided into groups of six as we arrived at the parade ground, but only sixteen of us gringos, as fair-skinned foreigners are always known in Latin America, had made it out of our bunks. So our International Brigade, as we had come to be known, formed two sixes while two young local men were allocated to make up a group together with the remaining four – our Belgian midfielders Robbie and Marco, our Irish guide Luke, and myself. We were called to attention, marched around in a circle, and instructed to jog once around this dusty open space, before the call to ‘stand at ease’ was given. Our sixes were then ordered to split into sub-groups of three and form …yes, mini human pyramids.

‘What ?’ muttered Marco. ‘I can’t do that. Even if I could, it’s against my human rights before seven o’clock in the morning. Anyway, I get vertigo.’

‘Me too,’ I whispered out of the side of my mouth. ‘But look, we’ll be the big guys at the bottom.’ The locals were clearly more accustomed to this type of team-building exercise, and immediately set about the task, with the smallest and/or most agile person in each sub-group of three standing on the shoulders of two others.

‘We just have to stand here. Me and you are the same height, and so are Luke and Robbie, more or less, so come on, us three and you three’, I  said, deliberately choosing the smallest guy, the Mexican Ramon, to be with us. ‘Me and you at the bottom, with Ramon here at the top.’ Ramon was already poised to climb, and was gesticulating to show us how to lean over and link arms, allowing him to get up on our shoulders. He was up before we even realised, as was his friend on the shoulders of Luke and Robbie next to us. We stood up straight and to our amazement saw that somehow every single group  had achieved the task. Even our  distinctly un-sporty Texan  guide Marisa had been hoisted onto the shoulders of our defensive giants from Bristol, Simon and Phil, and was tottering, smiling nervously but elatedly two metres in the air.

‘Bravo, comrades, good discipline. At ease.’ Said the officer, but  soon as the little guys had clambered down he was ordering ‘Now pyramids of six.’  I’m sure I saw him smirk.

So we joined up again, for the attempt to form a more challenging pyramid with three levels. There was much gesticulating and counter-gesticulating during which everybody in our team seemed to insist on being at the bottom. By the time Marco, Robbie and I had persuaded  the two reluctant Mexicans to climb up on or shoulders, most of the all-Mexican pyramids were already successfully formed, which put more pressure on us to work quickly. This was always going to be far more of a challenge for our motley band of European Sunday league footballers than it was for the stocky Zapatista men, with their military training and highly-tuned team ethic. By the time Luke’s attempts to clamber up over two levels of bodies had brought us all crashing down, the parade ground looked like a human re-creation of some ancient Mayan city-state; the locals had built the 40-odd pyramids of an impressive city; we’d just collapsed in a state.

We dusted ourselves down. Our grazes would need cleaning up again before the quarter final of the latest football tournament on our tour of these rebel-held highlands. But the second-in-command called us to attention over the P.A.:

‘Good team work, compañeros. This is the Zapatista spirit. Team work, fitness, discipline, alertness, mental and physical agility  are all  vital in our struggle, and these qualities will help us to the final victory.’

‘Good job they’re not quite so vital in our struggle’, I thought, as the speaker’s voice boomed out:

‘Today we have the second day of the Rebel Olympics. Quarter finals in  football, basketball and volleyball will take place this morning. Athletics and tug-of-war before and after lunch.  Finally the semi-finals and finals of the ball games this afternoon, and a great fiesta with music and theatre tonight. Good luck to everyone ! May the best men and women win ! The fight goes on !’

‘The fight goes on !’ echoed around 300 voices in a ritualistic  response.

‘At ease.  Parade dismissed.’

‘Good. Now I wonder what’s for breakfast ?’  asked Geordie, who as his name suggests, was a Manchester United fan wearing a Celtic shirt. He was being sarcastic of course – on this trip, breakfast was always scrambled eggs, beans and tortillas. Except when there were no eggs. He gesticulated towards the communal cook-house and asked us what we were waiting for,  but the rest of us  just stood there  looking at each other, shaking our heads and smiling dumbly for what seemed like ages, but was probably only seconds. Apart from the hungry Geordie, we had been stunned into silence.

Luke finally broke the spell. ‘That was unbelievable,’ he blurted out. This small, lively  Irishman had been in this part of Mexico for over a year and was acting as one of our guides. He knew that he would probably be deported from Mexico within weeks, because he’d decided to stay with us on this tour rather than attend an immigration interview in the city. Technically, this made him a wanted man, and for the past couple of days he’d had a preoccupied air, but his enthusiasm now showed that moments like this made his decision worthwhile. ‘I’ve talked to loads of people who’ve been coming to these communities for a few years now, but I’ve never heard of any foreigners invited on parade with the EZLN like that. You guys don’t know how lucky you are.’ He said the last phrase really slowly for emphasis.

‘Yep that was quite something’ agreed Martin, glowing with pride. This trip had been his and Helen’s brainchild, and after all the hard work of bringing it together, every new communion with the rebel spirit of the locals was his vindication. ‘I’m feeling very privileged right now.’

‘Dunno, I’m feeling very sore myself. I think I’ve pulled something in my neck there,’ Geordie moaned. ‘Tell you what, I was watching you lot and you almost got Luke up on top of your pyramid there, before his arse landed on your head, Nige. Could have been a very nasty impalement, that.’

‘Maybe we should have had the locals at the bottom, I mean, they’re built like little weightlifters, aren’t they? I think they were trying to tell us it would be better like that, but it just didn’t seem right somehow for us six-footers to be standing on top of them. What happened to you lot ?’

‘Well, I reckon we would have got Kat up on top of ours OK, but we should never have had Kenny on the bottom row,’ said Geordie. ‘He collapsed first, then we all went.’ Our accident-prone veteran Scouse goalkeeper Kenny had been a walking disaster zone throughout the tour – when he could walk that is. So far he’d been attacked with a machete, fallen from a hammock onto a concrete floor, electrocuted himself, given himself amoebic dysentery, been stung by hornets and cracked a couple of ribs. Oh and his wrist had probably been fractured too but we weren’t sure yet.

‘Why the fuck did you let him get into that with cracked ribs and his dodgy  wrist ?’

‘Well I told him not to, but you know what he’s like.’

‘I’m not surprised, dosed up on those mega-strength painkillers of his. Where the hell is he, by the way ?’

‘Oh he’s fallen in that ditch,’ reported Jamie matter-of-factly, pointing to an overgrown  trench behind him..

We’d got so used to Kenny’s accidents that the novelty had worn off. ‘Some of the Zap lads have gone to get him a stretcher.’

‘I’m OK’, groaned Kenny as I bent to offer him some water. ‘I just can’t move that’s all. I felt  the  cracked ribs sort of cross over when I fell just then.’

‘Can you still breathe OK though mate ?’

‘Well, not OK, no, but I can breathe.’

‘I told you last night it’s a punctured lung you’ll have if you don’t friggin’ take it easy,  you idiot. You’ve not coughed up any blood, have you mate ?’

‘Do I look daft, soft lad ?’ exclaimed this grey haired 55 year-old Liverpudlian builder. ‘Am I going to be doing any coughing with me ribs in this state ?’ He paused. ‘And if you make me laugh I’ll  batter you.’

‘What are we going to do with you , Kenny ? You’ve just got to lie still all day today and; we’ll get you back to the town tonight and you can just put your feet up in a nice hotel for a while to let those bones start knitting. There’s a few people going back tonight. Lizzie and Marisa will look after you.’ Lizzie was another casualty who needed to rest an injured leg. Most of us were to continue the football tour for 4 more days, but for various reasons a handful of the squad had to return to the nearest city, San Cristobal, that night.

‘So the crocked oldies are packed off to town while you lot go down to the jungle for more footy ?’


‘No way. I’m coming with you.’

‘You’re not mate.’

‘I bloodywell am.’

‘Knowing your luck if you came down to the jungle with us you’ll just get friggin’ malaria. Listen, if you go back to San Cristobal we’ll all club together to get you a room with a telly and you can find out the Liverpool results.’ Kenny and I were both match-going Liverpool fanatics, and for the last week we’d been cut off from  any news of our beloved team – no internet, no phones, no texts. None of that up here in these mountains.

‘What time is it in Liverpool now anyway Nige ?’ Kenny was suddenly animated by this thought. He never said ‘England’, only ‘Liverpool’. It was his country.

I knew why he was asking. ‘About one o’clock Kenny. Your mates will be in the pub by Anfield right now. The game kicks off at two I think.’ During  the whole tour we’d shared this obsession; we simply weren’t used to being separated from the English football results. Liverpool had played a UEFA Cup tie in Rome on the Thursday night, so they would kick off their FA Cup tie against Manchester City today, Sunday. Kenny and I had a lot of friends who would have been at both games with us if we weren’t here in Mexico.

Geordie had overheard the last part of what I’d been saying to Kenny. He was originally from Newcastle, hence the nickname. His dad was Glaswegian, he said, hence the Celtic sympathies, but had always been a Man United fan. He had moved to Bristol as teenager, where he started to play for the Pirates, but the previous year had moved to Manchester for work, and so that he could see more games at Old Trafford, he said. He called himself a ‘Manchester United, Celtic and Bristol Rovers fan, in that order’, so he couldn’t resist a jibe:

‘Yeah if you go back to San Cristobal all the FA Cup highlights will be on that US satellite channel on Monday night. You can see Liverpool get beat by the Shitty.’

‘Typical of an out-of-town United fan, that is. You’d rather Man City won than Liverpool,’ I teased.

‘Of course. City are no threat to them these days,’ said Kenny.

‘Liverpool aren’t much threat either,’ quipped Geordie.

It’s strange to think that just minutes earlier we at the summit of international solidarity, but here we were again with our childish tribal bickering between our various English football allegiances – there had been a lot of that on this trip. The two Belgians, Marco and Robbie, were mad  Liverpool fans too, so the number of keen Reds on this trip was  second only to the number of fans of that great other English sea-port team – yes, Bristol Rovers. The trip had originally been organised by Geordie’s friends’ Sunday League team from Bristol, a punky pub team called the Pirates – the same as Bristol Rovers’ nickname, but also a name which reflected their off-beat spirit. They formed the core of this squad, and numbers were made up by members of other like-minded pub teams who the Pirates had  got to know at various tournaments over the years: like my team, called Red Star Leeds, and the Belgians, called Radikals FC from Antwerp.

I’ve always loved exploring far-flung corners of the world, but travelling away from Western Europe in the football season has always had its heartaches for anyone obsessed with their local team. It had to be done this time though. As soon as this trip was mooted, I knew I had to be part of a unique happening that would combine my love of independent travel, wild places, fighting for good causes and  playing this beautiful, crazy, global game.

Four Zapatistas brought a wooden door to use as a stretcher, and several of us helped carry Kenny back to the dorm block. It was lucky, at least, that he’d cracked his ribs in a community where they had bunk beds – in the last two villages we’d visited we’d had to sleep in hammocks. Kenny took his painkillers and asked for the umpteenth time ‘are you sure nobody’s smuggled in  a little bottle of booze to wash these down ?’ I reminded him, also for the umpteenth time, that with the alcohol ban in this area  there was more chance of seeing a flying pig.

‘Remember though, I’ve seen the real Flying Pig, Nige.’ It was a feeble joke about an old Liverpool goalkeeper, Tommy Lawrence, who’d been nicknamed the Flying Pig.Meanwhile, when we kicked off our quarter-final later that morning, the replacement for our injured keeper was none other than the Flying Kat – Katherine Tigfield, from my Leeds team, known to her team-mates as Kat. As she flung herself around bravely behind the defence, I knew I was falling for her.


Unpublished work © 2010  Nigel Shaw


By Will (Bristol) and Nigel (Leeds)

At the beginning of May this year a squad of 13 Sunday league footballers ventured out again to the occupied West Bank for another ten days of football, volleyball, fun and falafel in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian communities who hosted us. Most of the squad were from Bristol’s Easton Cowboys FC, accompanied by two of us from Republica  (Leeds). There were also 4 Easton Cowgirls who took part in some of the football as well as some volleyball with Palestinian women’s teams.

The 2010 squad poses at the Israeli apartheid wall, in front of the "Freedom Through Football" mural we painted in 2007

There were a few differences to our last visit in April 2007. This time we mostly played in small villages, as opposed to the large centres of population like Bethlehem, and this time a large part of our visit was organised by The Villages Group, an amazing bunch of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who organise community projects in those oppressed villages. We saw their educational work, as well as projects like well-digging and alternative energy supply for these “shanty-style” refugee and Bedouin villages, where the occupying Israeli authorities will not permit the building of any “permanent” structures. We also played football and basketball   matches in Israel itself, organised by the inspiring “Anarchists Against the Wall” group from Tel Aviv.

Our travel arrangements were complex, with many different permutations,  but everyone met up more-or-less as planned. Even on the football pitch things went rather better than expected, considering that our wafer-thin squad had to play nine games in eight exhausting days. The only game that we played with players as old as us we actually won – something we didn’t achieve at all on our last tour!

The biblical landscape that was our improvised pitch in Susiya

Everyone will have their own personal highlights. Who can forget our game on a rock-strewn ploughed field at Susiya ? My permanently scarred shins will see that I personally will never forget it! Or the match the alongside the fence of a hostile Israeli settlement at Om-El-Khair? What about our surreal “VIP” tour of Palestine’s leading fun fair, Megaland, or our unexpected appearance as guests at  a local wedding dance that same evening?

Then there was our final game in Traffur, the home village of our faithful bus driver Shaheer. As the tour bus wended its way down to the foot of the village where a floodlit stadium was carved out of a disused quarry (the “Old Traffur Stadium”, you might call it), we were besieged by scores of  local kids, and as we went in at half time all we could hear were hundreds of young voices, all chanting in unison ‘EASTON COW-BOYS! EASTON COW-BOYS!’ None of us will ever forget it.

Along the way we learned a hell of a lot about the realities of the occupation. We also donated over £2,000 to the building of a school in the community of Khallet Zakariya, a village that is surrounded on all sides by illegal Israeli settlements. And we confirmed the Easton Cowboys twinning arrangement with Tulkarem Sports Club. There are already discussions about getting a Palestinian side to tour over here next year.

The village school we are helping complete.

On top of this, there is also a cinematic masterpiece in the offing. Our camera-man and director, Jesse,  is currently working on a film of the tour that will hopefully see light of day before too long. More news on that soon (if you’d like a showing of this film, please let us know),

Well done to everyone who contributed to making this happen. Hopefully we can do it all again at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Check out the work of the villages group at        We can especially recommend the articles by the inspiring Israeli peace activist David Shulman, who has dedicated his life to the villages of South Hebron where we were privileged to spend time with him.