Saturday, 11 August 2012

Fred: on friends, family and football (not necessarily in that order)

It feels surreal writing this with only on week left till the fans return en-mass to Loftus Road for the beginning of the 2012/2013 season. It has been a long summer of highs and lows in British sport, finishing with an incredibly exciting Olympic campaign. I am excited, but it will feel strange going back to the routine of football supporting life.

Amidst the flurry and excitement of the wall to wall coverage of sport we have been gifted with, I had the pleasure to speak to Fred Hartman last week. He is the latest QPR fan to pick up a pen and write about his passion for Queens Park Rangers. I was lucky enough to get an early copy of his book 'It's a Game of Two Halves'  back in June and reviewed it in conjunction with another football book 'Manchester City Ruined my Life' (see review here). And I was moved by Fred's simple passion for the club that he supports and how he writes with such fondness about his close friends and family. After ensuring I've got my recorder on and phone on speaker...."Is it Frederick or Fred?" I ask. He  explains that Fred is definitely what people call him with Frederick being used only for the book as it sounded more serious. I knew this was going to be a jovial and fun conversation as he continues on to explain how he started the journey to writing his first book after I tell him how writing my blog suddenly created demand from a select but interested group of people, week in week out:

"That's how I started writing my blog Write Said Fred, it's the same kind of thing...where you do a blog with your rants...and people start saying 'I really enjoyed that, when's the next one?' and you think well I haven't got anything to write about so you end up writing about the fact you haven't got anything to write about," he laughs. I completely understand where he's coming from. Once you start the 'blogging' life, the ball does roll (albeit down a small mound as opposed to some massive mountain). And he clearly enjoys it as much as I do.

But I ask him about the book - and what the catalyst was for him to write it. "I've always wanted to write a book. When I was at school and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it would have been some kind of writer-slash-journalist, but I suppose the catalyst was the amazing high and low that I felt when we were promoted. I've followed QPR for nearly 35 years, so it was the biggest thing I'd ever seen happen to the club. But then my friend Queenie who I had obviously been going to football with for nearly 20 years passed away within a matter of weeks. And I think it was the incredibly high and the incredibly low- if you put those two things together...I blogged about it, but it didn't do it justice. And I thought, there's actually more of a story to tell here than just 'QPR won the Championship'."

Very quickly, I realise that what's really at the heart of the football 'memoir' that Fred has written, is a very personal journey that most humans can relate to. Queenie was the close footballing companion of Fred's and the book is interspersed with fond memories of their time together. And although Fred's parents (who also passed away some time ago) were not as fanatical about QPR or football as he was, there's a real appreciation for them as parents and as really decent human beings who gave all the support they could within their modest means. Personally, I loved hearing about their interesting lives, how his Dad "knew of" the Kray brothers back in the day, and how he "often witnessed acts of gangland violence in the clubs he frequented, and claimed that the only reason he himself didn't end up propping up a flyover somewhere was down to this close connections with the capital's Mafia hierarchy."

I actually think this is a fascinating and unique life-and-family-story, but Fred is so modest about this and about his achievement, as he explains how he used the 'November book month' to write his book in just one month. "It's a funny story actually." He tells me that after a little bit of hesitation, once set on the topic of football, family and the friend that he had lost, he sat down and wrote 4,000 words in one night. "Once you get going, it's a snowball effect, but you have to discipline can't sit there at 1 o'clock in the morning bleary-eyed." He jokes about how he never will write a book again, but as he explains the lessons learned from his experience (being organised, disciplined etc), I have a feeling we'll be seeing a bit more from Fred in the coming years.

In my review of the book, I talk about how Schindler from his slightly 'loftier' academic world (in Manchester City Ruined my Life), finishes, as the title so gloriously tells us, with him losing a lot of love for the club and deciding to no longer support it like he once did. This was largely due to his feeling of disillusionment due to the buyout of the club by the Abu Dhabi clan.While it can't be said that the Rangers are quite as rich, we have had the good fortune to be freed of debts and owned by some pretty rich people. I wanted to know what Fred thought about this and whether he thought that it's 'international-isation' of QPR (with the recent PR-generating tour of Asia and a plane being made in Alan McDonald's honour out in KL):

"I can see both sides. There are people that just want to stay in the past almost, with this feeling that we are a small club. 'Let's stay family-orientated, let's stay in the area, let's keep that intimacy.' I completely see that. But I also see the other side of things, that if you're ever going to be 'successful' i.e. finishing top 6, Europe, possibly winning trophies..challenging for the title, you have got to move with the times and you have to have thirty, forty thousand watching every week and you have got to have the ability to attract the very top players in Europe....and you have got to pay those wages. To do that, you've got to grow. I'm excited and scared at the same time. While I want to stay with the club I grew up with in the 70s and 80s with that family-orientated mentality, I also know that if we're ever going to challenge we do have to move with the times. I think I'd welcome that."

He hits the nail on the head when he says:

"It mirrors society, you know that whole thing about people who don't like change. There's a lot of QPR fans out there that won't welcome the change, while others, perhaps the younger generation will see this as something they will embrace."

It's a Game of Two Halves also ends with Fred deciding to step away from supporting QPR. At the early part of last season, visits to Loftus Road just seem to painful without Queenie. I ask him, given his more positive current outlook, whether this is still the case. And he admits quickly "No." And goes on to explain it was too difficult, especially after Tony Fernandes came on board, not to stick the telly on, watch the games online, even if it wasn't always easy to get down to Loftus Road from his base in Norwich.

I ask him whether his kids have caught the QPR bug yet?  He tells me that trips down to Loftus Road aon a Saturday are a bit of a trek and takes a whole day, so isn't something they can do all the time. Both kids get the QPR shirt at the beginning of the season, but while Jo is older and has been to more games he "prefers to kick a ball about with his friends." And Katie, his younger daughter just "wants to do what her Dad and brother do."

And there it is. We are a sport-loving nation. We go out on droves to watch all manner of sports all year-round. And, when it comes to football supporters sometimes get bad press about a sort of 'herd' mentality. But there's another much more intimate side to sport. And that is about being with friends and being with family, spending precious time together that one day will be taken away from us. I think Fred's got it just about right being open to the fact that maybe his kids aren't going to be as obsessive about QPR as he is, but they sure as hell aren't going to pass up an opportunity for a fun day out with Dad.

Perhaps Queens Park Rangers won't stop being a family club after all.

£1 of every book sold goes to the Tiger Cubs.  It's a Game of Two Halves is out on the 18th August at Foyles in Westfield and the QPR Superstore or on this website: Beaten Track  Follow Fred @writesaidfred68

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