ELLA HOPKINS on how a son’s post-match reproach helped inspire Kevin Day to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition
Kevin Day has always enjoyed reading. He dreamed of writing a book of his own one day.
His dad taught him to read when he was four because “it might come in useful”.
But Day never thought he would become an author. “Someone from a south London working-class background wasn’t the sort that would get invited to write books,” says the stand-up, TV comedy writer and Palace fan, interviewed for the latest episode of our Under The Flyover podcast.
Day’s book, the result of nearly 20 years of careful consideration, is Who Are Ya? 92 Football Clubs – And Why You Shouldn’t Support Them, published by Bloomsbury, with a foreword by one of the new author’s many mates off the telly, Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker (Day helped to script MoTD2 for many years, and did a handful of brief filmed pieces for them, too).
Day’s fondness for his class and his roots shines through. Brought up in Streatham, he now lives in Norbury, and is protective of this part of south London. “Our borough gets a rough deal politically, economically and from the media,” says Day.
The idea for his book came from his then eight-year-old son one night after Day returned from a match in a typically grumpy mood after another Palace defeat. “Dad,” the boy asked, sensing the mood. “Can I support Blackburn Rovers? I couldn’t find any other team that you didn’t hate.”
“But in the meantime, get into your Palace pyjamas, get under your Palace duvet and say goodnight to Selhurst the cat.”
But the kernel of an idea had been planted, and Day began to explore the “bizarre” and “illogical” reasons that football fans have for not liking other clubs.
It was originally to have “91 football clubs” in the title, because Day refused to tell readers not to support his beloved Crystal Palace. Bloomsbury didn’t think that was quite inclusive enough. The end result is what Day calls a “left-wing comedy history of every football club”. It was a chance to write about “the things football fans believe”, but also “history that gets ignored”.
“What’s never really been acknowledged is that every single football club comes out of a working-class community,” Day says. He gives the example of his own Crystal Palace, originally nicknamed the Glaziers, after the workers who moved the glass panes for the Victorian glass palace that was moved to south London after the Great Exhibition.
Day was keen to give space in his book to clubs that get less attention. “I wanted the chapter about Mansfield to be just as long as the chapter about Manchester City.”
He feels that football still gets an unfair reputation, with fans subject to “suspicion”, in part because of working-class associations, but he also admits “it can seem aggressive to an outsider”. That’s why he believes women’s football is one of the best things to happen to football in the last decade.
“The fact that I’m obsessed with football doesn’t mean I don’t also love literature, theatre, cinema and music.” He rejects the inverse snobbery that can be applied to football supporters, which implies a lack of sophistication, or worse.
Liking football and Shakespeare, Day says, are not “mutually exclusive”, adding that ex-Palace boss, now West Brom manager, Sam Allardyce is “the biggest fan of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice you could meet”. Current Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson is an “expert in Russian literature”.
Day is best-known as a comedian and scriptwriter for television programmes including Have I Got News For You, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and A League of Their Own. He started out as a plumber and fire brigade clerk before falling into stand-up comedy 30 years ago. He described his career as a “series of happy accidents punctuated by period where there were no happy accidents”.
When he was first asked to write for television, he was reluctant. “I thought I don’t want to be writing comedy for other people. They should be writing their own jokes. I’m perfectly happy being a stand-up.” Then he found out how much he’d be paid working in television. “I said I’ll keep the integrity, but I’ll also do the job.”
On Have I Got News For You, where he has been part of the script team for 20 years, writing the links for the various presenters, he says he finds it easier to write for actors and politicians. Comedians can be “difficult” and some footballers and boxers take themselves too seriously. Star Trek’s William Shatner was his favourite: “He’s mad as a box of frogs but really bright”.
He used to write for friend and football pundit Gary Lineker. “If he does one of his terrible puns on TV, I get loads of tweets saying, ‘Are you still writing Gary’s jokes, because that one was terrible?’” he says.
He has advice for aspiring comedy scriptwriters: “When the pandemic is over, go to as many comedy clubs as possible and make friends with comedians.”
Though he now has many strings to his bow, Day still sees himself first and foremost as a comedian. After a few years off the stage, he went back to do an Edinburgh show in 2014 and again in 2015. His son, the 25-year-old Ed Night (a stage name chosen because “Ed Day” was already taken) is following in his footsteps. “A brilliant comedian,” says his father.
Day is excited to add author to his CV. “When I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, when I’m very old and they say, ‘What did you do?’, I can say, ‘Look, here’s grandad’s book’.”
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