Read Heartland Online

Authors: Anthony Cartwright



‘An impressive novel, glimpsed through the prism of a pair of football matches'

D. J. Taylor,

‘Ambitiously structured. A welcome and timely take on England now, from a talented and thoughtful writer'

Carol Birch,

‘Movingly traverses the territory of the human heart'

Anita Sethi,
Independent on Sunday

‘The real strength of this novel lies in the vivid Black Country vernacular and the framework carefully constructed to fit the football match in Sapporo'

Harry Ritchie,
Daily Mail

‘A thoughtful study of cultural identity'

Melissa McClements,
Financial Times

‘Inspired novel about football and far right politics in the Black Country'

Four Four Two

Praise for

The Afterglow

‘Anthony Cartwright's first novel shines brightly for British regional fiction'

Zadie Smith

‘Combining sharp social observation and compassion with the compelling narrative focus of Jon McGregor's
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
, this is a most impressive debut'


‘The real thing. An excellent read, told with style and pace'

Alan Sillitoe

‘This is a novel you want to let speak for itself, so passionately concerned is it with voice and taboo, with the pressure of the unsaid on the said, with collective and individual utterance. With great tenderness, Cartwright reveals the tentative dreams and aspirations for a better life that underlie the seeming heartlessness of his quiet heroes'

Michèle Roberts,
Independent on Sunday


Anthony Cartwright

First published in 2009
by Tindal Street Press Ltd
217 The Custard Factory, Gibb Street,
Birmingham, B9 4AA

This paperback edition first published in 2010

Copyright © Anthony Cartwright 2009

The moral right of Anthony Cartwright to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

Epigraph from ‘The Burning Graves at Netherton' by Roy Fisher in
The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955–2005

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without either prior permission in writing from the publisher or a licence, permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London

All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library

: 978 1 906994 08 2

Typeset by Country Setting, Kingsdown, Kent Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Cox & Wyman, Reading

For Isabel

Patchy collapses, unsafe ground.

No cataclysm. Rather

a loss of face, a great

untidiness and shame.

Silence. Absence. Fire.

Roy Fisher,

The Burning Graves at Netherton


God save the Queen
. Rob got up from the table and walked behind the bar. He stood next to Stacey, poured a round of drinks and put the money at the side of the till. A few voices started to sing. He looked up across the room, caught his dad's eye at the table. He couldn't put faces to the voices barking out the anthem at the back of the room. Smoke hung blue in front of the big screen and David Beckham's face. Then Rob's Uncle Jim started bloody singing. Glenn joined in. Send her victorious, happy and glorious.

Andre's reading is coming on, though, Stace.

Rob looked away from the singers, back to Stacey, trying to look down her top as she bent to grab a packet of crisps from one of the boxes under the bar, then glancing back at Glenn to check he hadn't caught him looking at his sister.

Yer keep telling me that, she said. A lot of good iss doin him now.

What dyer mean?

It ay gonna put his face back together, is it?

No, but his reading, iss important for him.

Iss too late. Wait till he's thirteen befower yow teach him to read?

Rob was tempted to tell her she could have had a go herself, but bit his tongue and just said mildly, He's comin on though, honest.


Still OK for later? he asked quietly.

She nodded, didn't look at him. He saw she was smiling though, in spite of herself.

Rob checked again that Glenn wasn't watching. This would just make more complications with him, even though he'd gone years without speaking to Stacey. Rob needn't have worried. Glenn and Jim led the singing to a crescendo. It made perfect sense. They could continue the election here and now. Form some kind of coalition this
time. Rob thought he could phone one of the journalists who had come looking for the Tipton Taliban. Long-serving Labour councillor drinks with BNP cronies. What would they make of that? The papers seemed to have lost interest in the place since the election. And since the Wood-house kids had nicked one of those new mobile phones with a camera when they mugged some of the reporters in the Wetherspoon's car park.

That night, his uncle had stood leaning into the bar like he was steering it in a gale. He called a couple of the reporters over, winked at Rob.

A bloke from Tipton goes to New York for his holiday, decides to visit Ground Zero, yer know, pay his respects. He's stondin lookin at the ruins an this chap comes up to him, big ten-gallon hat, typical Yank, from Texas, like Bush, yer know.

Hey, Pardner, this bloke says.

How do, says the bloke from Tipton.

Where the hell you all from?

Me? I'm from Tipton, mate.

Tipton? Tipton? What the hell state's that in?

Our bloke has a look around him an says, Abaht the same bloody state as this.

His uncle had doubled over, banged the bar with glee. The journalists looked nonplussed. Then Jim had said, Stick that in yer bloody papers, suddenly straight-faced, staring hard into them.

The anthem ended to the sound of cheers and the banging of tables. Come on England. Rob felt the hairs on his neck go.

Cinderheath Football Club, Dudley, England, 7th June 2002. England versus Argentina, Sapporo, Japan.

David Beckham's face was in close-up again; more clapping and banging tables. Come on England. Rob put the drinks for his uncle's end of the table down heavily, beer
sloshing on to the paper tablecloth, edged with Union Jacks, left over in the back cupboard from a royal wedding or jubilee. He sat down next to his dad with their drinks, touched his old man's arm.

They had the top table, of course, all organized by his Uncle Jim. First teamers, committee members, invited guests: an aristocracy of sorts.

Beckham's face filled the screen, filled the room.
Rob had driven past the giant hoarding over the motorway a few weeks ago. He'd driven for miles, worrying about the game against the mosque and the election, worrying about his dad who'd gone out to do some canvassing for Jim. His old man wasn't meant to be walking too far or getting too worked up since his bypass operation. He wasn't meant to be drinking either, for that matter, but that hadn't stopped him. Though Rob could've offered to drive his dad around, he'd had to get away, anywhere, to find some air, a way of getting the throbbing out of his temples.

The sign underneath Beckham's face said,
. If England won the whole thing they'd leave it up for ever.
England won the whole thing. Argentina today, then Nigeria, then on through the knockout rounds.

He'd had the same headache for weeks. It came and went, like the sound of the helicopter on the morning of the game against the mosque, or whatever they were calling themselves now.

Lee came in with the food. They hadn't opened the kitchen, but Charlie the burger man had set up in the car park, pumping out exhaust fumes and the smell of fried onions.

Here we am, five Beckham Double-Cheeseburgers, two Owen Dogs, six chips.

There was a chorus of thanks for Lee as they reached for the food. He dropped the change in a pile on the table.

Why's theer seven things when theer's onny six o we?

Jim reached across the table and took a hot dog and a burger, grinned and shrugged his shoulders.

All these nerves, mekkin me hungry.

Charlie cor cook em fast enough, thought I was gonna miss the kick-off, said Lee.

Yow should've asked for a Butt-Burger, he ay shiftin many o them.

He could goo through the team, couldn't he? Seaman-Shake anybody?

Beckham shook hands with Simeone. Simeone had once said he never knew whether to kick Beckham or kiss him. Veron and Beckham hugged each other. All week the television had been playing Beckham's sending-off four years ago and then the free-kick against Greece, the arc of the ball as it swung into the top corner showing that all things were possible, a little stab of hope every time you saw it. It made a change from looking at X-rays of Beckham's left foot. It was all getting too much.

Rob thought about his dad's voice, irritated by the telly and the papers.

Iss too much on one bloke, too much, I tell yer. He cor win it for yer on his own. He ay fit any road, not match fit, there's no way he can be, look at him. Iss too much for one bloke.

Dyer want some tomater sauce, Jim? Glenn asked.

Just a soupçon, our kid. Jim grinned again, like there'd never been a problem, never a bad word between them.

The first football match Rob ever went to was up at Dudley Town,
at the old ground, the County Ground. Dudley played Wolves in a friendly to celebrate the new floodlights. He'd walked it with his dad. It was hard to imagine his old man walking that far now. They'd had a hot dog
from a van outside, maybe it had been Charlie's, and then climbed the bank.

Rob remembered the brightness of the new lights, the green of the pitch, white lines and glistening patches of mud through the middle and in the penalty areas, the Wolves players warming up in their tracksuits. His uncle walked across the pitch in his suit, next to the mayor, doing some presentation for the council. In fact, Rob remembered, his dad wasn't even meant to take him. Jim had got tickets in the grandstand but then got caught up in some civic business, so his old man had said, Come on then, I'll tek yer after all.

When the clapping started, people looking at them, he didn't realize it was for them, for his dad, at first. Then the hands started stretching out towards them, the shapes of people looming over Rob, blocking out the floodlights, hands held out for his dad to shake, to ruffle Rob's hair.

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