Jackie Kay on reading out an anti-racist poem at a football ground

Jackie Kay on reading out an anti-racist poem at a football ground

The Guardian

Jackie Kay, Professor of Creative Writing
Newcastle University

Jackie Kay readies for an experiment – being a poet on Sheffield United’s pitch and helping to kick racism out of football

On Monday I’m going to be pitching my anti-racist poem to fans of the Blades and Pompey at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium, the oldest major football stadium in the world still hosting matches.

I’m an experiment – a poet on the pitch, but not a pitch-perfect poet. I might even be a botched experiment. As far as I know, I’m the first poet to read to a whole stadium just before kick-off – but certainly the first woman poet. The two women behind this initiative are Sue Beeley, head of community at Sheffield United, and Su Walker from Off the Shelf Literature Festival. They came up with the idea of commissioning a poet to write an anti-racist poem, read it at a match, and paint the poem on the stadium walls. They picked me because they’d read I was sporty! Beeley said: ”If it works, it will go down a storm, if it doesn’t we’ll let you know.” Off the Shelf has commissioned poets for years; slowly, deftly, they’ve been creating a poetic map of the city of steel. In Sheffield, Andrew Motion has a poem on the side of one student building, Jarvis Cocker is on another, Benjamin Zephaniah on the railings of another, and Roger McGough can be found in the Winter Garden…

…When I was researching my poem, I came across Arthur Wharton, the first professional black footballer to play in the Football League. He was born in Ghana; his father was half-Scottish and half-Grenadian. He came to England in 1882 and by 1894 was playing for Sheffield United. He died in 1930. Wharton was my talisman. I imagined him coming back from the dead and hearing the news. I imagined his reaction to the monkey chanting. Just thinking about him made me think about the extra time on racism’s clock; how racism is society’s own goal. Shaming….

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