South Scotland

Poetry in motion: Football club appoints poet-in-residence

Thomas Clark Image copyright SANDY NEIL

Football is often described as poetry in motion - but one Scottish club is taking the idea literally.

Selkirk Football Club has appointed a school librarian - who translates 12th Century Chinese into Scots - as its poet-in-residence.

The Souters hit the headlines in recent years for a string of ambitious signings such as former Hibernian and Scotland striker Garry O'Connor.

But writer Thomas Clark could be the club's most eccentric yet.

'Fascinating history'

"There are a few clubs down south which have poets-in-residence," the Hawick High School librarian said.

"But Selkirk will be the only club north of the border to have one. It's a brilliant opportunity. It really demonstrates what a forward-thinking club Selkirk are, on and off the pitch.

"Selkirk are the oldest football club in the Borders, one of the oldest in the country, and I'm looking forward to delving into that fascinating history through my poems."

The 35-year-old former footballer, who has played for clubs in his hometown Hamilton and new local side Hawick Royal Albert, is penning a series of poems celebrating the Lowland League side's glory days in the 1970s, when their trophy cabinet was filled with 10 titles in five years.

In his unpaid role he will also turn his eye to more recent developments at Yarrow Park such as the new spectator stand and floodlights and the club's promising start this season.

"The quality of football they aspire to at Selkirk is fantastic and things like the recent win against Spartans are literally history in the making," he said.

"I'm sure it's going to be a great year to be involved with the club and I'm delighted to be playing a part in recording it."

'Thomas the Rhymer'

Mr Clark's poems and short stories will be published in Selkirk match-day programmes and an end-of-season anthology, to sit on a bookshelf beside his Glaswegian retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and "Intae the Snaw" - a collection of medieval Chinese poetry rendered into Scots.

"The Borders has a wonderful tradition of written and oral poetry," he explained.

"Scots is a thriving, living language here, more than anywhere else in Scotland."

Selkirk's ball games have inspired other Scottish poets in the past.

Sir Walter Scott and "the Ettrick Shepherd" James Hogg wrote songs for each side in the 1815 Carterhaugh Ba' Game - an ancestor of rugby in which 600 men from Selkirk and the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys competed without rules to "hail" the ba' (pronounced baw) into the opposing team's goal - the Ettrick or Yarrow Rivers - 1,000m apart.

This year, on the Scottish hand ball game's 200th anniversary on 4 December, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch will officiate a re-enactment just as his predecessor, the 4th Duke, did exactly two centuries ago, on the same field made famous by the ancient fairy ballad Tamlane.

Locals have already nicknamed the new Selkirk poet-in-residence "Thomas the Rhymer" after Earlston's legendary 13th Century poet who was given the gift of prophesy by "the Queen of Elfland" under the Eildon Tree.

Selkirk Football Club's newest signing is loath to make predictions, but he has high hopes of silverware this season.

"Cup runs are the real stuff of poetry," he said.

"It would be great if Selkirk could go on a wee run in the Scottish Cup this year. But the Lowland League is never short of drama and I'm sure that, whatever happens, there'll be plenty to write home about."

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