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Features > Interviews >

Steve Goddard, co-editor of Ship of Fools, PR consultant, author

'Some people have moments of doubt. I have moments of faith'

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Forget the World Cup:  the most emotive international ever played was between England and Germany in no man's land on Christmas Day 1914. The recorded score was 3-2 to Germany (it didn't go to penalties).

Wondering what it must have been like to play in that match:  started the ball rolling for my novel. I've waited years for Nick Hornby to write Fever Pitch 2, documenting the effect on fans of the creation of the Premier League in 1992. He's shown no signs; so I decided to have a go myself, and compared modern and ancient football.

Rattles and Rosettes  is about two fictitious football fans a century apart.  Tom sees Burnley lift the FA Cup in 1914 before joining one of Lord Kitchener's Lads' Brigades. Disillusioned by Crystal Palace's financial predicament in 2010, 23-year-old Dan looks back nostalgically to a golden age of football and music he has never known. He sets out on a one-man mission against modern football, a devotion that comes between him and girlfriend Sally, lead singer in his '60s covers band, Born Too Late.

I read a fantastic book on the history of the old Crystal Palace,  and that 20 FA Cup Finals had taken place there before it burned down. And I read about the northern fans who came down for these matches, and about how they got down from Burnley, Barnsley, Bury - pawning their pianos, beds, and sideboards to get the train fare. That's when the comparison began in my head: fans fly round the world to matches now, whereas these men were having to give up so much to make the one trip of a lifetime.

It's not just a novel for football fans:  I've had so many people say to me already: "I'm going to give this to my wife because she'd really understand." The women in it drive the plot. The two lads have to deal with their obsession in relation to the people around them; so it's about obsession, and where that might take you. It touches on religious observance, the social situation, everything that goes into culture just at the turn of the world in 1914.

Truly, it was a different world.  In researching the culture of football fans in 2010, I was surprised how many hate the way football has gone. The game was originally developed by men with a deep spirituality and sense of community.

I also became intrigued by the legacy of Fr Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy,  better known as Woodbine Willie, an army chaplain during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The discovery of Bob Holman's biography of him was an inspiration to me. Some of the top ranks looked down on him socially, disapproved of the friendships he made with men who were not officers, and criticised some of the bawdy language in his sermons. One general, a devout Christian, reported him to a senior officer as a heretic. Kennedy was just the kind of character I needed for the story's dénouement.

The Football League pre-1992 survived two world wars,  the Great Depression, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and six albums by the Partridge Family. My novel is a work of social history, but it also laments our commercially obsessed culture. It's written from passion: we've really abrogated our responsibility to our past. The Football League was the inspiration of a Christian of great renown, and now the Premiership has taken on the mantle, and we've lost decades of well-worked-through traditions for the sake of commercial gain.

I don't think the Church could control the explosion of interest in football.  Barnsley was originally Barnsley St Peter's (I think) because it was created by the parish church to help the locals. But within a matter of years the club had become too big. I don't think the Church was negligent - just too successful: football became a massive international sport too quickly.

At the moment there are official club chaplains who are almost part of the boardroom.  I think there's room for fans' chaplains, who could travel to away games with the fans, wear a replica kit with "Fans' Chaplain" on it, and be part of the terracing. I think the Church could do more from that point of view. People I've mentioned it to say that's a ridiculously good idea. When you think of Street Pastors and other work at street-level. . .

Why Crystal Palace?  I was born within a mile of the ground, and I'm old-fashioned enough to support the local team. That's just the way it is.

I started as a musician,  and recorded an album of my own songs called Waiting for Goddard. It was moderately successful for a couple of years, but then I sent an article to Buzz magazine [published 1965-87] about my disenchantment with the music scene, and the editor offered me a job. I ended up as editor within a year. I didn't plan to go into journalism or PR.

I'm a freelance PR consultant.  I work for a range of clients that currently include a chocolate maker, a dating agency, an exhibition organiser, and a Middle East charity.

In my spare time I'm co-editor of Ship of Fools  - "the magazine of Christian unrest", the brainchild of Simon Jenkins. Ship of Fools is deliberately iconoclastic, but also committed to the ultimate value of faith. I love the opportunity to be playful and creative within a theological framework.

I met Simon at London Bible College in the '70s.  I did a degree in theology and then worked as editor as Buzz magazine, which morphed into Christianity magazine.

We ask readers of Ship of Fools to visit churches,  and report on the comfort of pews, length of sermon, style of music, and whether the after-service coffee has been fairly traded. Most church guides are about architecture. Our Mystery Worshippers are more interested in friendly welcomes than flying buttresses. We've now published more than 2700 reports, from churches as far apart as Bethlehem and Bangkok, Kampala and Copenhagen.

My first experience of God?  Guilt at Sunday school. We had to process to the front and put our money in a velvet bag, singing "Hear those pennies dropping, dropping. . ." One day, I only pretended to. Then later, at primary school, I remember singing the hymn "It Is a Thing Most Wonderful" accompanied by a 60-something teacher pedalling hard on the harmonium. I loved that hymn. Still do. It was a very emotional thing. The teacher had a slipper on the top of the harmonium. If you didn't behave, you got slippered on your backside; so there were mixed feelings: how he could play these wonderful songs, and then have 10 or 12 lads in a queue getting slippered - hard.

Some people have moments of doubt.  I have moments of faith. I cling to these. I've stopped expecting answers this side of eternity and, as a result, I think my questions are becoming deeper and more meaningful.

If Rattles and Rosettes is well received,  I doubt I will be able to resist writing another novel.

If I could change one thing in the Church with a fairy wand,  it would be being forced to "share the peace".

I'm delighted to have come from a family of God-botherers.  I may have had a little too much religion as a child, but I would rather that than the bleak nihilism of most secular culture.

In 1961, my uncle, the late Canon Sydney Goddard,  bought a dilapidated farmhouse above the ruined goldmines of Gwynfynydd, near Dolgellau. It's been my spiritual home ever since. It's been partof my life since I was nine, andit's hardly changed in all thattime.

My favourite music  is the live version of Mark Knopfler's theme from my all-time favourite film, Local Hero. Thank you, Bill Forsyth and Lord Puttnam - and especially for that ending.

Most influential people to me?  Arlo Guthrie, Woody Allen, Tony Campolo, Oswald Chambers, David Lodge, Willy Russell, and Auntie Betty.

I've really enjoyed Therapy by David LodgeJuliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, and Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald.

I pray for the ability to understand and come to terms with the situation I'm in  rather than trying to change it.

I'd choose to be locked in a church for a few hours with the late Steve Fairnie.  He was a man of so many parts, it's difficult to describe him, but he was the frontman of a band called Writz. I never had time to thank him for helping me cut loose, creatively. The decks of Ship of Fools resound to his influence. Unrest in peace, Steve.

Steve Goddard was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Rattles and Rosettes is published by Ship of Fools Ltd. Print: £7.99; Kindle: £3.56. www.rattlesandrosettes.com

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