Dannie Abse, 1923-2014.

CoymayCardiff City do not have many celebrity supporters and we have one less now following the death last week of poet Dannie Abse at the age of 91 – many City fans will be aware of this poem, published in 1959;-

The Game

Follow the crowds to where the turnstiles click.
The terraces fill. Hoompa, blares the brassy band.
Saturday afternoon has come to Ninian Park
and, beyond the goalposts, in the Canton Stand
between black spaces, a hundred matches spark.

Waiting, we recall records, legendary scores:
Fred Keenor, Hardy, in a royal blue shirt.
The very names, sad as the old songs, open doors
before our time where someone else was hurt.
Now like an injured beast, the great crowd roars.

The coin is spun. Here all is simplified
and we are partisan who cheer the Good,
hiss at passing Evil. Was Lucifer offside?
A wing falls down when cherubs howl for blood.
Demons have agents: the Referee is bribed.

The white ball smacked the crossbar. Satan rose
higher than the others in the smoked brown gloom
to sink on grass in a ballet dancer’s pose.
Again, it seems, we hear a familiar tune
not quite identifiable. A distant whistle blows.

Memory of faded games, the discarded years;
talk of Aston Villa, Orient and the Swans.
Half-time, the band played the same military airs
as when The Bluebirds once were champions.
Round touchlines the same cripples in their chairs.

Mephistopheles had his joke. The honest team
dribbles ineffectually, no one can be blamed.
Infernal backs tackle, inside forwards scheme,
and if they foul us need we be ashamed?
Heads up! Oh for a Ted Drake, a Dixie Dean.

‘Saved’ or else, discontents, we are transferred
long decades back, like Faust must pay the fee.
The Night is early. Great phantoms in us stir
as coloured jerseys hover, move diagonally
on the damp turf, and our eidetic visions blur.

God sign our souls! Because the obscure Staff of
Hell rule this world, jugular fans have guessed
the result half way through the second half
and those who know the score just seem depressed.
Small boys swarm the field for an autograph.

Silent the Stadium. The crowds have all filed out.
Only the pigeons beneath the roofs remain.
The clean programmes are trampled underfoot
and natural the dark, appropriate the rain
Whilst, under lampposts, threatening newsboys shout.

I never met Dannie, so I’ll leave it to someone who did to deliver a, fitting, tribute – here is regular correspondent Dai Woosnam’s take on the man he calls “the finest writer to ever call himself a Cardiff City fan”;-

“Dannie Abse was a fine poet and a lovely man.
I recall meeting him one evening in Caerphilly Library circa 1989, where he had come to do a reading and a Q&A.  Afterwards, he did not seem in a hurry to get home to Ogmore-by-Sea, and was happy to chat to anyone who was interested.
I had asked him two questions on literary matters in his official presentation, so now with most of the 20 strong audience exited into the night, we were able to talk Cardiff City.
And I was delighted that he had the same Cardiff hero that I had: Danny Malloy.  I think (from my slightly hazy memory) that he said that only Alf Sherwood had a greater place in his affections.
A lovely man, so sorely missed.
Particularly sad that his last decade would be so terribly blighted by that tragic car accident which claimed his wife Joan on the M4 near Pyle in 2005: a crash which he survived.  Ironically he was returning home to Ogmore-By-Sea from another similar poetry reading.
It was no consolation to him that he was deemed blameless, and the other driver involved got heavily fined for careless driving and banned for a year.
He was not a vindictive man.
Pity he should have gone with City at such a low ebb.  I loved the man and his gentle way of speaking.”

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8 Responses to Dannie Abse, 1923-2014.

  1. Graham says:

    Dannie Abse – yes, a Welsh literary giant – a wonderful poet and playwright and, of course, a brilliant physician, but he regarded the fact that he had once played for Cardiff City as one of his greatest achievements – I hope to persuade a friend Peter to tell you about that. Peter played chess with Dannie weekly and knew him well – chess games always were accompanied with the swapping of Bluebirds news and views .. I travel down from London with Peter to our home-city to watch the Bluebirds play – he has his seat in the Grandstand and I’m in the Ninian. As I type this I’m holding ‘Welsh Retrospective’, the book of Dannie’s poems, including ‘The Game’, which I had with me when travelling back after a game in March 2010 – Dannie was at that game too and on the 6.25 train back wrote the score in my book “Cardiff City 1 Middlesborough 0″ .. in his ‘Journals’, Dannie describes “I was nine years of age when I went to Ninian Park for the first time on my own .. we were playing Torquay United and were floundering near the bottom of Division 3 [South] .. no matter, the spruce military band played the Bluebirds’ inappropriate signature ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ as the City team ran from the tunnel .. in 1933, I, a small boy, had been handed down above a mass of friendly faces from the darkness at the back of the Grangetown Stand right to the front, behind the goal-posts. There, breathing in neighbouring pipe and Woodbine or Craven A cigarette smoke I could observe, at acrid eye-level, my blue-shirted heroes display their rare skils and common blunders ..” In other pieces about visits to Ninian Park, Dannie a few times mentioned the Ninian Park pub – he was concerned when it disappeared last season, but delighted when the pub sign re-appeared, then appalled when it was removed again – who’s got it, where is it?
    What a relief to remember today a great City supporter after a game on Friday that is best forgotten!

  2. Peter Gutmann says:

    It’s great that mauve and yellow army should pay this tribute to Dannie. As Graham mentioned I had a weekly meeting at Dannie’s house from 1999 until last month to play chess and chat about Cardiff City. Until the last few years we could be seen on the train from Paddington to Cardiff on match days playing chess en route to Ninian Park.

    The poem you quote was read at Dannie’’s funeral last Thursday by his son David who will be remembered by the 1927 club. I first came across this poem in 1956 when a mutual friend of Graham and me drew my attention to it in the Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse. About a decade later I first met Dannie on a train to Portsmouth, naturally to see the City play at Fratton Park. I subsequently met him several times by chance at various games in London, before getting a seat next to him in the grandstand at Ninian Park.

    So I have lost a doughty chess opponent, a fellow Cardiff City supporter and a valuable friend, and am glad to have this opportunity to pay a tribute to an exceptional poet and man.

  3. Graham says:

    A couple of regular readers of ‘B&YA’, including my brother in South Africa, have asked me what I was on about when I referred to Dannie as having “once played for Cardiff City” .. no, not professionally, and for which team, and whether he actually got on the pitch although selected I’m not altogether sure, but in the hope that Peter – or someone – can clarify .. and does anyone know what DID happen to the Ninian pub sign – did Brains recover and retain it?

  4. Graham says:

    Oh bugger – I meant ‘M&YA’ – but once thinking B for blue ..

  5. Graham says:

    The last word – to finish the Dannie playing for Cardiff story, I’ve heard from Steve who draws attention to a ‘Wales Online’ report on June 7th 2012 – Dannie speaking at the Hay on Wye Literary Festival was asked about his devotion to Cardiff City and recalled the time while still at school his parents hearing that he’d been asked by City manager Cyril Spiers to play for the City Reserves in a trial game against Oswestry .. he duly turned up but sadly Spiers then asked him to play for Oswestry since they’d turned up one short! So Dannie went to London to study medicine instead becoming a chest specialist in a London Clinic, while also publishing over twenty books of poems, plays, and novels .. but never losing his love for the Bluebirds.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning Graham, I’d like to thank you and Peter for your replies which have added greatly to the modest tribute I penned yesterday.

    Here is the Wales Online story which mentions that match at Oswestry.


  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Very interesting contributions from Graham and Peter.
    And I was most struck by that link of yours Paul.
    Just related to it on several levels.
    For instance, I was much moved by his comments about how letters addressed to his deceased wife would cause him distress. I know that feeling well.
    My dad died when I was ten and for a full ten years my mam was still getting letters addressed to him, despite repeatedly telling them all that he had died.
    I genuinely used to see the continuation of such letters as personal insults: although of course I now can see that they were not anything of the sort. It was just serial incompetency of clerical staff.
    By contrast I laughed out loud at his delightful “Mr Solomon” story! Only a man VERY CONFIDENT in his own skin can tell a story like that: a story that is the total antithesis of a self-aggrandising one.
    And perhaps best of all in your link Paul was an answer to a question I have been asking myself the past few days. What did Dannie feel about the colour change?
    The answer does not surprise me. He was never a dogmatic man. As he says, he eventually accepted leaving Ninian, and saw the shirt colour change much the same way.
    Thanks again Paul for your fine tribute.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks Dai. I had exactly the same as you when my parents died. My father passed away in 1991 and the mail we got for him dried up within a year or two, but I was very surprised and quite annoyed to get something addressed to him three or four years ago – as you say though, when this happens it’s almost always down to incompetence rather than any more sinister motive.

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