Bradford City supporters. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Meet John, the accountant with 3,000 Bradford City programmes

Hunter Davies's "The Fan".

You tend to think that you’re alone when you’re a collector, that nobody could possibly be as daft, which is what your family constantly tells you. I don’t think this – I think that, around the world, there are thousands of people doing equally dopey things. So I was well pleased to receive from Santa a book called A History of Bradford City AFC in Objects. I have no interest or connection with Bradford City but I do love football memorabilia, the older the better, on any old club, anywhere.

The other thing collectors think is: “Goodness, my treasures, they are just so amazing that one day I will turn them into a book, oh, yes.” That way madness lies, if not bankruptcy. Yet the author of this Bradford book, John Dewhirst, aged 52, is an accountant who read PPE at Corpus Christi, Oxford, the same college as the Milibands (“Not that I am a fan of Ed’s . . . ”), so you’d think he’d have more sense. He has been collecting Bradford City stuff for over three decades, much to the despair of his wife, who is a GP, and their four children.

Dewhirst has 3,000 programmes and reckons that he now needs four times as much space to store a full season of Bradford’s programmes as he did 30 years ago. As all regular attenders know, football programmes everywhere, even in the lower leagues, are whoppers: not much more to read than in the old days but loads of glossy colour photos, acres of adverts and arse-licking about the awful sponsors.

Dewhirst reckons that at the rate he is collecting, by 2017 he will have to get rid of all his treasures. It was thinking about this that made him decide to do a book, illustrated with his collection, and then pack it in. This, anyway, is what he told his wife – that his book would, in a sense, be his swansong.

Dewhirst’s speciality as an accountant is restructuring companies and a lot of his work has taken him abroad for long periods. “I worked in Saudi [Arabia] in 2012 in a listed construction business – 15,000 employees – that was bust as f***,” he told me. “I started writing out of boredom and stress relief and by the time I came home I had the draft completed. It was probably easier to write the book from a distance. It has been as much a journey of discovery for me about the club’s history as about my own emotional attachment with the football club. Muhammad reflected similarly when he was in the desert. The heat obviously has an effect on you. When I need a shrink, I can give him the book to save the cost of the first few get-to-know-you appointments.”

On his return, Dewhirst approached several mainstream publishers and got polite refusals. So he decided to self-publish, doing it his way, inviting subscribers to put in money upfront and get their name in the hardback edition. The book is richly illustrated, the best football memorabilia book I’ve seen devoted to just one club, with 344 pages and 1,050 images, which made Dewhirst have to price it at £30.

“A lot of money for a place like Bradford,” he went on. “Ultimately those who will chunter about paying £30 will also chunter about paying £15, so I decided not even to waste my time trying to appeal to people who are not going to recognise value.”

He was a bit coy about what it cost him to produce but from various clues I guess about £20,000. He had a good Christmas and is well on the way to selling 1,000 copies. If he reaches that, he’ll be in profit – all of which he intends to give to the Bradford Burns Unit.

“It has been a gamble, a cock-on-the-block moment in my life,” he said. “But I am a firm believer that products with passion tend to be more appealing than those without. Football is about passion. So, too, are football memories.

“People in Bradford have forgotten the city’s proud history and that pisses me off. As soon as you forget your past, you lose your self-respect and identity and that applies to football as much as anything else.” 

“The Beatles Lyrics: the Unseen Story Behind Their Music” is out now through Ebury Press

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Jihadis Among Us

Photo: Getty
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Boris Johnson “will resign before weekend” if Theresa May defies his Brexit wishes

The Foreign Secretary is against paying permanently for single market access.

It turns out Boris Johnson’s 4,000 word piece in the Telegraph on Friday on his post-Brexit “vision” is exactly what we thought it was: a threat cushioned by patriotic fluff. Which is a good way of describing the man himself, really.

Because the same paper has just published an exclusive story that the Foreign Secretary will resign from cabinet before the weekend if Theresa May doesn’t follow his desired plan for Brexit.

He wants to put pressure on May not to follow the “EEA minus” option, which would see the UK paying the EU permanently for access to the single market and other benefits. The Telegraph reports that he “could not live with” that arrangement and would quit.

Johnson is trying to distance himself from the story, which allies are calling “nonsense” and blaming on his enemies, suggesting they’re spreading it as revenge against his Telegraph essay.

This is the problem for Johnson. His intervention was co-ordinated with the same paper, which now has an exclusive on his resignation threat. Anyone watching his mischief-making over the weekend would assume it had come from him. Then again, his enemies would know that, too.

But the Prime Minister has a bigger problem. She is about to make a set-piece speech in Florence on Friday, outlining the government’s approach to Brexit. She was planning on showing a draft to cabinet on Thursday.

Up against a Tory party and cabinet divided over how hard or soft Brexit should be, it was always going to be a difficult task. With the threat of a high-profile cabinet resignation, it will be even harder. It shines the light on ideological divisions that she hoped to push out of the way of conference season. With Brexit addressed in the Florence speech, she could have used Tory party conference to focus on domestic policy (ie. looking like a Prime Minister in control for a bit). Now, it’ll be all about the party’s divides – and leadership challengers.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.