The Giant Killers
Gilded Balloon Teviot – Wine Bar
Aug 10-15, 17-29 (12:45)
Not many people know that if you draw a line 10 miles long over Lancashire, you would have passed through one quarter of the founder members of the Football League. The furthest east of these is my beloved Burnley – I bleed claret & blue – & I remember the day in Burnley library on the microfilm machine when I was looking at the newspapers of 1888 to read the reports of the boys’ first ever professional games. Travelling west from Burnley you soon reach Accrington Stanley, then Bl%$£”&*n Rovers (I can’t say or type the name without getting curiously agitated), from where one turns 90 degrees & draws another line 3 miles long, south to Darwen, the next of the East Lancashire contingent to join the Football League in 1891-92.
Darwen was the smallest of the four mill-towns, & is the chief setting of Long Lane Theatre’s highly engrossing ‘The Giant Killers,’ a story concerning the unfairness of life & the hope of football. At it’s core is the 1878-79 FA Cup run by Darwen to the quarter finals where they met Lord Kinnaird’s Old Etonians in a battle of class & culture – top hats versus flat caps & all that. En route we get hints of the debate about professionalism & the evolution of tactics, but there’s so much more to this play than the footy. ‘The Giant Killers’ chief remit is to highlight the plight of the northern working classes, still suffering in a semi-feudal state 60 years after Peterloo, with MacDonald’s first Labour government yet 45 years away. Football was about to change all that & it can be argued that trade unionism really began to take root on the terraces.
The tale is relayed by four strong performances, three lads & a lassie with proper northern accents, seamlessly combining to create the energy of entire teams, towns & even a hyper-realistic train ride to London for the quarter final. They really do bring across the love of football & how it helped people rise from the plague of poverty, & just made the world feel a better place, exactly as in the modern-day, seeing Vincent Kompany start off well at Turf Moor (4 points from 6) makes me also feel similarily content to be alive.
Despite the occasional mention of Bl%$£”&*n Rovers, the whole play is a class act, tho’ perhaps one replay too many. The story of the cup run does involve replays, & it’s necessary to relay the truth of the matter, but going over the same ground, same pitch actually, does drain a little of one’s attention. Still, by the end I was bubbling with emotion & gushing pride & best bitter for my fellow Lancastrians showing the world that working men can match gentle men & really helping to fuse the common folk of the country with the beautiful, & their national, game, the greatest ever leveler of men.