This interview with Teesside author, Richard Milward was originally published in fmttm’s Boxing Day issue v Blackburn Rovers.
We are very proud here at Fly Me to have made friends with one of the rising stars of the national book scene and even prouder that exciting young novelist Richard Milward is very definitely one of our own.
Richard and myself have chatted briefly before a couple of Boro games this season and I thought you would be as interested as me to get some idea of the fan background of this young Boro lad, born just 2 years before the seminal MFC date, 1986.
Richard cut his teeth and rose to prominence with two novels Apple and Ten Storey Love Song that were dripping in Teesside location, spirit and emotion. They were penned with such powerful sentiment that Richard has become a national hit and his newly published third work, Kimberley’s Capital Punishment is again receiving high praise all over the shop.
I asked Richard to give us a few words about his new book and then posed some Boro questions for him to chew over.
“Kimberly’s Capital Punishment is my third novel, a surrealistic story about a girl from Teesside who moves to the Capital and tries to enforce ‘unadulterated altruism’ upon everybody after feeling responsible for her boyfriend’s death. The novel has six different endings, and features cameos from such settings as Seal Sands, a graveyard in Guisborough, Marton, Bramall Lane, Heaven and Hell. It is published by Faber and Faber.”
Q: Can you remember anything about your first live Boro experience?
RM: Yeah, of all the initiations it was a 4-0 demolition at the hands of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I think I was about eight at the time – my folks took me and my brothers down to London for the weekend. I remember being searched thoroughly by security on the way in. They probably found very little.
Q: How did you get to the match? And did it all make a big impression on you?
RM: Yeah, it’s a bit gutting my first experience was a drubbing, and having to sit in the Chelsea end on top of that. I remember being surrounded by cockneys chanting ‘going dahhhn going dahhhn going dahhhn’ and their sick chant turned out to be right. Didn’t put me off the Boro though.
Q: Were you someone that talked about Boro with your mates at school etc? Or was it a non Boro school?
RM: There was a real mix of different allegiances within my mates and, disgracefully, I tuned out of football a bit during secondary school. Not sure why, though it could be that I’d started writing, getting into music and all sorts else at that time, acting a bit reclusive. I guess teenagers juggle a ton of different interests, but football got sidelined for a few years, before coming back with a vengeance.
Q: Teesside and growing up on Teesside are so important to your writing – do you think of The Boro as playing a part in that cultural make up?
RM: Definitely. I mean it’s mostly down to the pride people have for the town. I think a football team helps bring that into focus. As a fan you’re not just striving for goals, points and trophies – you’re striving for the bragging rights, to say your town is unique, better than other peoples’ towns. I definitely try to milk that uniqueness of the Boro, especially in my first two books.
Q: Do you think you would have enjoyed the Ayresome Park and Holgate terrace culture?
RM: Yeah, I’m gutted I only made it there once, when we played Piacenza in the Anglo-Italian Cup. If I remember right, there was a scuffle in the second half and Wilkinson was sent for an early shower. I’m sure I’d feel even closer to the club if I was more aware of the events of 1986 – I was only two at the time. It’s inspiring to look back at what we went through.
Q: Who were the players that stood out for you as a kid? Who did everyone want to be when they were playing football?
RM: Paul Wilkinson definitely stood out – a class act. That whole era I hold dear – John Hendrie, Jamie Pollock, Kernaghan, Mustoe. That kit in particular, the ICI number, that conjures up a lot of fond memories.
Q: What games do you remember in particular?
RM: After that initial mishap at Chelsea in the early 90s, I’ve seen our boys do the business in London plenty of times – a few that stand out are the 1-1 against Arsenal a few years back where we got to exit the Emirates singing ‘four points from the Arsenal’, the recent-ish 5-1 against QPR, and most recently, 4-1 against Charlton. Back home, I loved the result against Southampton towards the end of last season – to send the Saints fans back to the wrong side of England without their automatic promotion was dead entertaining, even if our own promotion hopes were pretty much dashed by then.
Q: I know it must be frustrating missing games for your work but are you enjoying what you are seeing this season?
RM: Without a doubt. There’s always going to be calamities, missed opportunities etc, but it’s a joy to watch the football Mowbray has us playing when we’re in our element. It’s interesting what Leadbitter pointed out earlier this season, in that we have a handful of captain-like figures across the field –it feels like the most cohesive team we’ve had in a long time.
Q: I am doing this interview for the Xmas issue so can I ask you what you are hoping to get for Xmas – this could be a Boro answer or non Boro answer?
RM: ‘Momentum’ would be hard to wrap, but yeah, if the Boro carry on this spirit and approach well into next year I’ll be happy.
Q: What films/tv do you look forward to or even hide from at Xmas?
RM: There’s bound to be some Hitchcock on – I can’t get enough of Alf. I’ll be steering clear of the soap specials – it’s pretty depressing watching folk act out a synthetic Christmas that was probably filmed months ago.
Q: Do you think we can go up this season – perhaps a wish for New Year?
RM: I hope so. It’s the old adage of this league: anyone’s beatable. In any league the top two spots are so difficult to get into, but if we can string together more runs to rival what we did in October, there’s no reason why we can’t find ourselves there by May. Hopefully we won’t limp out of the playoff spots like the last couple of seasons – I’m hopeful we’ll make the playoffs at least, but I’m always blindly optimistic.
Q: Finally do you think that promotion to the Premier League could make a big difference for Teesside as well as Boro?
RM: Definitely. Aside from the obvious financial gains, I think it comes back to that pride we have up here again. In a way being in the Premier brings the town in the public eye more. It can only be a good thing, but then the Championship has its charm too, with its unpredictability.
Good luck with the book, Richard.