Review: Millwall Haiku by Howard Colyer

Football is a game often defined by its playing formations, such as 4-4-2, 5-3-1-1 or 4-3-3. But what about 5-7-5? Sounds implausible?

Well, novelist, playwright and poet Howard Colyer has used this form as the basis of writing a series of match reports from 2003/04 to 2015/16, based around watching his football team, Millwall. Still not clear?

The form in question is the haiku, defined in the Oxford English dictionary as: A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

One of the immediate questions in reading this form of poetry is, can the ups and down, thrills and spills of ninety minutes be captured in such a short form? The answer has to be yes. And the reason? The haiku’s which cover thirteen seasons, seeing the Lions through promotions and relegations, the FA Cup and even a brief European adventure, capture the essence, the key moments of games, so that allied with the score and date of the game described, there is context for the reader.

For example:

Millwall 1 Nottingham Forest 0


A red card given

and a siege for half an hour,

Stack superb in goal.

Here the score tells us that Millwall won the game, but the haiku tells us that it was achieved with 10 men after having a player sent-off and that goalkeeper Graham Stack was outstanding in ensuring the Lions took the three points.

Millwall 0 Bristol Rovers 1


“I’m going to bed,

going home and straight to bed,”

the man said head down.

In this example, Millwall have lost the game and the haiku perfectly captures the total despair of a fan at what the reader can assume was a dire performance. Simple, but totally effective.

Poetry might not seem a natural bedfellow for football, but like the game, it has a pace and rhythm, which can reflect the ebb and flow of footballing fortunes.

A recommended read, in that it is an original style in which to capture the fortunes of a club, but also in that in the rereading of the haiku, different inferences and interpretation can be gained.

“No one likes us, we don’t care” may be the Lions infamous refrain, but not in the case of Colyer’s fine prose.