Football people on TV: John Nicholson

Date published: Friday 23rd December 2016 4:25

This week it’s a Big Bumper Christmas Special as Johnny turns his gaze upon legendary Teesside football writer, novelist and occasional tight-trousered media performer, John Nicholson.


Fashion police
Have you seen him? Clearly just isn’t trying, or possibly doesn’t possess a mirror. Appears to only own jeans and t-shirts. Basically dresses like one of the Grateful Dead’s road crew in 1972 and seems rather happy about that fact. Despite running a fashion design business in the 80s and early 90s, appears to have absolutely no sense of style whatsoever, possibly due to the fact that he makes his living without having to leave his flat, and thus has rather let himself go.

Not afraid to go the full double denim if getting dressed for a night out. Jeans are probably a little too tight for a 55-year-old, but then if you’ve got it, flaunt it, baby.

Doesn’t own a suit. Doesn’t own a tie. Doesn’t own a watch. Appears to buy all his clothes from car boots and charity shops for almost no money. Passes this choice off as part of his stand against the capitalist consumer culture, but is really just skint.

Has past form as a hippie, which he likes to keep quiet about these days.

Hair clearly hasn’t seen a hairdresser, possibly ever. Probably spends too much time worrying about his bald spot, and rightly so. It’s a suspiciously dark, raggy mop for a man of his age, which suggests he’s in denial about being middle-aged and fears that death’s icy breath is upon his neck at all times.

An advocate of low standards of appearance in order to have nothing to live up to, and who among us can say that’s a bad thing?


Lingo Bingo
Sometimes just seems to be making noises with his mouth, but apparently it is a version of the English language. Has one of those distinctive is-he-actually-drunk? slack-jawed, slightly slurring Teesside accents that outsiders always mistake for Geordie, a fact that must surely cause him severe ire. Prone to draw out a vowel and in doing so, make any word three times as long. ‘Taking’ becomes ‘taaakn’, ‘avocado’ is ‘avaahcaahdoh’, ‘Boro’ is ‘burrah’. Might also drop in local colloquialisms such as ‘owee’ or ‘maftin” to flag up his heritage.

Is quite clever, but sounds quite thick. Always a good trick because it puts establishment types off their guard.

Public outings in the media largely involve making things up on the spot without any prior thought. Often seems to begin sentences with no idea what he’s going to say next. Apparently, he has done book talks for up to two hours non-stop, until people were begging him to stop and be let out of the room. Trying to make people laugh is his primary way of seeking approval and gaining self-worth, feeling that if you’re going to take anything seriously, you need to be able to laugh at it first. Not a bad premise to work from.

Likes a swear and is prone to drop the f-bomb, the c-bomb, the a-bomb, the w-bomb and even the more rare and delicious v-bomb.

Conversation is littered with references to obscure bands of the 1970s, and likes to quote from songs in order to make points, which largely go over the heads of his audience, as they are not au fait with the lyrics of Robert Hunter. So when he says someone will steal your face right off your head, they think he’s made it up himself, which is probably why he does it, in lieu of having a better expression to hand.


Hits and misses
Biggest hit is writing two or three pieces a week for long-running and massively influential website every single week since the year 2000. Has never missed a single submission, filing columns from the bath in a suite at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a log cabin in the Sierra Nevada, on a train travelling through Nebraska and from bars in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Oban. These days mostly writes in a big padded leather chair in a lofty Edinburgh flat whilst listening to Grand Funk Railroad records.

His football writing is often very anecdotal and for years he made somewhat salty analogies from incidents in his own life, which may or may not have been partly or wholly fictional, to make a point about football. A lot of people loved it and as many hated it with a passion, but it was always distinctive and that was the whole point.

These days he focuses more on musing about the cultural, societal ideas and issues surrounding the game, rather than bothering his head with any actual football analysis, figuring there are plenty of young men with beards to do that sort of thing. Not over-fond of statistics, unless they feature chart positions.

A prolific writer, his 2010 book We Ate All The Pies was long-listed for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award. His next book, The Meat Fix, gained double-page spreads in three national papers and sold quite well. At this point he realised that the publishing industry, though populated with very nice people in cardigans, was largely concerned with making a living off the back of writers by paying said writers a small royalty, and in return, didn’t do much that he couldn’t do for himself. So he decided to buy his own cardigan and become a publisher himself, and is happy to tell anyone who’ll listen that he made more money in the first two months than he’d made in the previous two years. Fair play to him for that. Mind, he can bore for Britain on that topic, so don’t get him started.

Appears to be one of those ornery people who feel no-one is good enough to be his boss. Legend has it that he’s never had a salaried job, favouring working for himself his whole adult life which, on the face of it, is very unusual, especially for someone who seems to live in a permanent state of chaos and does a good imitation of being a total airhead.

Set up a rock t-shirt business in 2002 and sold it in 2012 but has somehow still ended up working for it. Sounds like a typically messy lifestyle choice, the like of which seems to litter his existence.

In 2015 he was a member of the Fosters Comedy Award Panel at the Edinburgh Fringe, which was a very prestigious gig. Famously he has been caught on film beating Johnny Vegas with a chair, whilst full of drink.

His Nick Guymer, Teesside-based crime novels, are loved by many, all of whom would very much like them to be made into TV movies, and they all wish someone would get in touch with him to buy the rights. The novels read a little like his columns, and are a similar mix of serious issues and humour, but with added references to the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, as well as some sex and fighting. Much like his own life.

His Artie Taylor series, set in California, draws on his time spent living on the west coast in the 90s

A veritable gobshite, he seems able to improvise for half an hour, entirely off the top of his head, but isn’t able to stand still.

Was on the Premier League Show last month which looked like huge fun, even if the camera put a stone on him.

In the Miss column, he once appeared on Nuts TV, and has performed poorly in Las Vegas casinos whilst almost constantly drunk. Was nearly thrown out of a casino for ‘rope abuse’.

Still doesn’t know how to use a semi-colon and occasionally writes unnecessarily long and convoluted sentences, which drives his editors crazy, and for which he apologises profusely, as he is prone to do after making a sentence a few words too long and not even bothering about punctuation.


Big club bias
Being a Middlesbrough fan since 1970 is the antidote to any BCB. If anything, he is biased against the big clubs and has a notoriously bolshie attitude to the rich and powerful, which has got him into various degrees of trouble at times. Prefers to win more in a lower division than hang onto 17th in the top. Says he thinks football should just be about fun and community. That sounds more controversial than it should.


Loved or loathed?
Like all writers, has had years of online abuse from people, all of which seems to be treated as part of the entertainment, even though it wouldn’t be in any other walk of life, and despite the fact it diminishes everyone and makes all our lives worse.

No insult seems to have been left unused, even though he seems nice enough, at least in small doses, and if sober. Equally, many thousands read him every week, and have said how much they love his work, for which he’s always grateful. His fanbase as a novelist is rapidly expanding. Being northern, he feels much more comfortable with criticism than with praise and seems to have very little ego about his work, fearing pride comes before a fall.

John is one of those semi-public figures that people impose their own world view upon, thinking they know him, when they don’t. Consequently, he has been called a socialist PC liberal hand-wringer, as well as an out-of-touch, right-wing reactionary idiot. Someone once threatened to ‘bite his face off’, unaware that they’d need to be able to dislocate their jaw, in the manner of a snake, due to the unusual length of his face.

My social media research showed the depth of appreciation for what he does, though one always has to be careful not to live in an echo chamber, or indeed, a reverb unit…and don’t get me started on a fuzz box; but enough of the missus.

‘One of the few football journalists who require me to google a word halfway through one of his pieces. This is A Good Thing’

‘Top bloke with top content. Maybe a bit lazy though. Could do with writing more often.’

‘Amusing, engaging…got me hooked on F365 since the early 2000s – a PF365M, indeed!’

‘Sense he’s still secretly reeling from losing the 1995 ‘Tesco Express Car Park Christmas Trolley Dash’ to Reidy and Merse.’

‘Helped me out with my dissertation. Not sure if he even remembers! Told me what I was studying was ‘a bit heavy man.”

‘Looked sad to be too far away from Shearer for a good leg squeeze on a recent TV appearance.’

‘Top bloke, like being in a pub with a real man who knows the ways of the world & has seen it all.’

‘He writes proper books for adults. The PFMs would call him “brains”‘

‘Excellent author & I own several of his books’

‘A man with a wide worldview, still tempered by the fires of Teesside cynicism. Knows his football too.’

‘Top top top writer.’

‘He understands the decline of the UK steel industry. Writes good books and funny articles on that @f365’

‘Become essential footie reading in the last few year’s

‘Dedicated champion of the Scottish breakfast sausage industry.’

‘Musical references constantly go over my head. Loves to rub people up the wrong way.’

‘I preferred it when he was more miserable, that probably says more about me than him…’

‘Excellent writer & v. engaging. Seems to be a bit stuck between the funny critiques and not being overly personal / negative.’

‘Champagne socialist (meant as a compliment)’

‘Cracking original writer, funny and honest. I think he would love a night out with the PFM brigade’

‘Looks a bit like a Vic Reeves character from the Geordie Jeans clip. F365′s best writer, despite the lack of awards.’

‘Nuttin but love: Created the term ‘claustrophobic argument’, which sums up so much of modern debate/arguments esp online’

‘Always really enjoyed his writing! Not enough anecdotes about drug taking, debauchery & bands these days for my liking’

‘Should look nothing like his profile pic, pic indicates 80’s boy band, name suggests massive 2 footed slide tackles for fun.’

‘Helped my girlfriend with her PhD by forwarding her research out. Altruistic.’

‘Top chap. Wouldn’t give me a special pass to be a PFM though.’

‘There is no such thing as a boring JN column. They’re always an interesting read.’


Proper Football Man?

He’s what? A writer? Eh? I can write. It’s easy. Look, I’ve just written words. What do you mean, I’ve spelted footbal rong, Jeff?

He came up with this all this PFM bollocks that everyone likes these days, which means we can’t even say “proper football man” on the telly anymore, because now everyone thinks a “proper football man” is a by-word for a narrow, rather xenophobic, chippy, over-rated English manager or ex-player with a fondness for bonding sessions in lewdly titled nightclubs and casinos. He caught us pumping our mates for jobs they were never qualified to do and then pretending that it wasn’t all their fault when it inevitably all went wrong, so he’ll be lucky to get out of this shopping trolley alive, Macca.

Reidy, fetch the scissors, we’ll cut his suit up. What do you mean he doesn’t own a suit? What sort of freaky weirdo is he? You’ll be telling me next he can’t drive, and not because he’s been banned for turning over a Range Rover in a ditch on the A40, like any proper man should.

He scares me, Jeff. A man without a suit, who can’t drive, is unnatural, Jeff. It is, it’s unnatural, Jeff, it is literally, literally unnatural, Jeff. Literally.

What do you think, Motty?

Ha ha, well…look, and I know this is something we’re going to discuss later, but hold on though, Mark. Let’s not be too hasty, after all, Johnny is a chippy northerner, supports an unfashionable club, he’s old, and old is good because it means he remembers when everything was brilliant, unlike now. And, Mark..ha ha…let’s be honest, he sometimes smells of drink in the morning, not that there’s anything wrong with that…and let’s not forget he passes the nothing-like-Olivier-Giroud metrosexual test, has trouble saying foreign names and once played golf off a 12 handicap as a teenager, so that has to be worth something, Lawro. And, let’s think about this for a minute now, he can’t speak another language, he eats black pudding, doesn’t like pubs that sell food or let children in, once said “shit” on the BBC, he’s lost a lot of money in casinos and, let’s get this right, Mark, he has a face that looks like an old carrier bag stuck in a tree. I’m a big fan, I have to say…but that’s just me. I vote he’s made an honorary member. Nothing wrong with a healthy debate, by the way, whatever happened to Tony Gubba?

Good points, Motty. I’m a big fan of his blood pudding-based diet, and he could easily be one of us if only he’d stop going on about inequality and feminism, learn to drive and be one of the boys. But he won’t. I vote we give him a wedgie, throw him over a house and cling film him to a prozzie.

So old and creased that he seems an unlikely candidate for the attentions of Miss Seal Sands Petrochemical and Fertilizer Body of 1979 whilst partying in notorious 70s-style sticky-floored Seaton Carew nightclub, The Shaven Haven. But has form for drinking until bad things happen, so probably reckons he could hold his own with the more lightweight drinkers amongst the boys, even if a belt from Reidy’s Toilet Duck of Destruction loaded with industrial grade ferric chloride, nitric acid and vinegar would melt his eyes. Can dance, but it upsets people when he does, so much so that it once caused a fight.

No PFM need worry that they’re going to have to put up with a sentient member of the human race, these days he dislikes going out at night, dislikes being in groups of three or more, dislikes anything outside of a museum that is said to be ‘curated’, any foodstuff that is ‘handcrafted’, fashionable beards, sculpted eyebrows, SUVs, shirts with the top button fastened, retail parks, shopping for anything other than records, and would rather be at home writing and listening to football on the radio, whilst eating pork scratchings and drinking vodka.

See, told you, he’s one of them professors, like what Glenn is.

What do you mean, what’s a radio, Jeff? It’s a box without pictures on, which talking and music comes out of, Merse. Don’t look at us like that, it is.

C’mon lads, let’s go to our favourite fast food gentleman’s club – Chips n Strips. We don’t want to be taking lectures on gender politics while we’re whistling at lovely ladies in the street, well she shouldn’t go out looking like that if she doesn’t want to get attention, it’s a compliment really. Chunky, son, come back and put your trousers on, it’s just a bloke with long hair. No it’s not Jesus, just because it’s Christmas, Merse. Bloody hell, you lot are exhausting.

His PFM application to be eaten by a stray dog and the consequent stool placed in his shoe.


Beyond the lighted stage
Absolutely loves music and collecting records. Now has over 4,500 vinyl albums and rising. Has written Fringe reviews for The Mirror. Once acted in a Tom Stoppard play, played lead guitar in a band, ran a knitwear company, made waistcoats. Likes knitting, the big girl’s blouse, no wonder so many chicks dig him.

As if his ego can never be satiated, in his novels he created a protagonist, Nick Guymer, that was basically him.

Has now written about two million words in creating 14 novels and one novella in the last four years, wearing out two spacebars in the process. That’s top, top novel writing, Des. Des? Yes, Des.

Works with Scottish Women’s Aid in highlighting domestic abuse issues in his novels.

After realising he’d been some flavour of depressed or upset, on and off, since he was 15, he made a conscious decision to put the black dog back in its kennel, and will take anyone by the hand who needs to make the same decision, in order to get some peace. As a result, he now does talks on how creative writing can help with depression.

Has also done talks to hardcore prisoners about using your life experiences to create art, which frankly sounds terrifying. I don’t know how he has the balls to do that.

By all accounts he can cook you a nice bit of fish, a cracking beef stew and is mildly obsessed with Lorne sausage and black pudding. All in all, he’s an acquired taste, and he’s far from perfect, but he means well, and genuinely hopes he adds some light into life’s darkness.

And he tells me that he wishes every one of you peace, love and joy, because the truth is, we all need each other if we’re going to get through this thing.

Bloody hippie.


John Nicholson

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