Q&A : The Giant Killers
Performed to standing ovations and multiple five-star reviews in 2017, Long Lane Theatre Company’s The Giant Killers – the critically acclaimed, inspiring true story of Football’s greatest underdog, returns to the Edinburgh Fringe. Taking place in Lancashire in the 1870s, amidst the poverty and social unrest in The North resulting from the recent cotton famine, it’s a story about the way Darwen FC rose up against the prevailing social prejudice; a shining beacon of hope for the millions of people left feeling utterly disenfranchised in a society with a chasm of social divides.
We took this opportunity to ask co-writer Andrew Pearson-Wright a few questions, getting deeper into the meaning of the story and the way it manages to inspire us, even after all these years, when football has changed so much compared to the early days.
Why do you think everyone loves an underdog story?
I think we’re all underdogs at some point or feel like the odds are stacked against us and therefore it sometimes feels like our dreams and goals are unattainable; that the mountain is too big to climb. I had a teacher at drama school who insisted we should always be asking ourselves “What is it that the audience require of you?” and for me the answer to that is so that they don’t feel alone, that they share others stories, that they take inspiration from the characters they see, that they feel part of a collective. And there really is nothing more inspiring than an underdog story.
It’s difficult to imagine that football was once an elitist sport. Do you think other sports could in the future follow the same path, becoming much more democratic?
I hope so, but it’s all about accessibility, the reason why football became a sport for the everyman was largely down to the fact that all you needed was a ball and a space to play. I actually fear football is going the other way, I’ve already noticed there is becoming a two-tier system within junior football, lots of great coaches opening academies for children as young as six and the work they do with them are great, but parents have to pay to have them take part, so some children get great coaching at an early age while others make do with an enthusiastic parent. And then of course the ticket prices are so high it’s very difficult for many families to be able to see games, or even watch them on television very often.
Football in its entirety eventually changed from being reserved for the elites to becoming the greatest loved game in the world. Do you think the achievement of Darwen FC was a watershed moment on that path?
Without doubt. From where our play starts to where it ends you’ve seen a huge shift in attitude and opportunity and the boom as a working man’s sport is absolutely inevitable after that moment. With hindsight Darwen FC made a few mistakes at the end of the 19th century and so never became one of the country’s big clubs but their place in history shouldn’t be overlooked. In many ways they are the most important club in the history of British football.
Theatre seemed to have followed the reverse path of football. Once the quintessential mass market entertainment, it later became a much more elitist activity. Do you think that yet another reversal could be possible in the future, bringing theatre back to its wide audiences of yesteryears?
I hope so, I really do but it’s got a long way to go. The biggest criticism I hear is ticket prices, but I’ve been to the theatre four times in the last six weeks and the most I’ve paid was £15 for a ticket (and that was to see Mark Rylance in Jerusalem). There is a lot of affordable theatre out there, it’s certainly more affordable than football (even my local semi-pro club charge £18 a game). I think the biggest problem is the work that is created isn’t enticing or relatable enough for a non-traditional theatre audience. I keep being told that “theatre audiences won’t go and see a show about football”. When we toured, we targeted local football clubs with our advertising, we were trying to get people into the theatre who didn’t normally go but I’m not sure many theatres do enough of that.
These days, Britain doesn’t have too many blue-collar jobs. Do you think this change could have been detrimental to the country’s social fabric?
I think it’s been detrimental to certain towns and communities. There was a time where you could be born in a town, raised there and then get a job and spend your whole life in one place and inevitably that would have made communities have stronger bonds. So many of my friends have had to move from their town be it for work or the search for affordable housing. Back when there were industries that supported a whole town, you’d see waves of workers go to the football together. Now for many people, supporting their hometown club is about making that journey back to the town you grew up in. It’s one of the things I love about football, it can be the glue that keeps you attached to that place you called home.
Do you think that football still has a role to play in advancing our society?
Absolutely. It was only a year ago that football was taking the lead in the Black Lives Matter movement, raising awareness in a way that no politician could have managed. Yes, football has a number of problems and at times exposes the problems we have as a society, but I think we are a better, more integrated nation because of the likes of John Barnes and Ian Wright – I think it was extremely important even for me as a white child that I grew up with black heroes like them. I look at the advancement in the women’s game, the brilliant female pundits and the young Blackpool footballer who has just come out and I think these can only be great for us as a community. Yes, football can sometimes seem like it creates division, but it also has the power to bring people together.
The Giant Killers, Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), 12.45pm, 3-29 August (not 16)