Brown's new book Above Head Height: A five-a-side life has been likened to Fever Pitch.
When James Brown’s friend, James Kyllo, died, Brown tried to explain their relationship to his girlfriend, who had barely met Kyllo..
But Brown had been playing five-a-side with Kyllo for nearly 20 years.
“None of my words did our friendship justice. How do you approximate the familiarity that comes with seeing someone twice a week at football for 17 years?”
At the funeral, Brown met the other men he’d barely seen in street clothes and reflected more on those curious relationships built around the five-a-side or six-a-side pitch where we get to know people in a completely different way to how we might relate to them in a workplace.
Brown wrote a column about his friend for the Daily Telegraph, part obituary, part love-letter to football, and it proved extraordinarily popular, striking a chord with people of all ages whose hours on the five-a-side pitch are often the most enjoyable of their week.
It persuaded Brown to write a book and Above Head Height: A five-a-side life was born, just published by Quercus.
It has been called the ‘Fever Pitch of five-a-side' by Tony Parsons and will be enjoyed by anybody who has tolerated a smelly bib and a washing machine full of rubber pellets for their weekly fix.
In this week’s Irish Examiner football podcast, Brown talks to Larry Ryan about the game he loves.
He talks about the battle to stay fit to play five-a-side when you’re 51; about the characters you encounter and how people’s personalities change on the pitch.
“The guy that won’t chase back but is happy to sprint if there’s the chance of a glory goal.
“The guy who shows up late every week and apologies like it’s the first time ever.
“The goalie who has great gloves but never stops a shot.
“The furious one, who’s always panicking, like Corporal Jones in Dad’s army….
“And the very calm player, who gradually gets more and more wound up…”
In Above Head Height, Brown writes entertainingly of the frustrations:
“Some days on a big hard AstroTurf pitch where the ball is too hard and the bounce too high and the teams have too few players, and the combination you do have is wrong and passes are too wayward and the shots high and wide and no one is tracking back or tackling, and you think there’s a man on, so you hurriedly hammer the ball into nowhere without any thought, and you’re guilty of all of this and more . . . on these days you just have to hold your hands up and admit that sometimes you’re shit.”
But he knows by now the game will always give something back.
“When you score a goal or make a great pass or have a great night, that is the reason you come back the next night.
“A rare glimpse of what I believe is in there, what keeps me going.”
"And the older you get, the more football gives you that link back to your youth…."
But, by the way, he doesn't agree with the head height rule.
James Brown is a music journalist, entrepreneur and magazine publisher. He founded Loaded magazine, edited British GQ and presents on Talksport.
But at heart he is a footballer.
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