Uriah Rennie was the English Premier League’s first Black match official. He was a trailblazer. Or, at least, he should’ve been — Rennie retired more than a decade ago, in 2008. Yet he remains the only Black referee to officiate a match in the world’s biggest football competition.
Ashley Hickson-Lovence’s “Your Show” isn’t about Rennie’s legacy, but I can’t help but reflect on it, and the complete lack of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) representation in football beyond the players on the pitch. At least a third of the players we watch every week must be BAME; something is prohibiting their representation in other facets of our game; something deep-rooted, malignant and noxious.
Anyway — Hickson-Lovence’s “Your Show” is a novel based on the real life of Uriah Rennie. It comprises a mishmash of forms: a montage of second-person monologues, match reports, snippets of dialogue from phone-ins; a medley that works, detailing “the weight of being black,” the arbitrator in the middle of the pitch: “the black man dressed in black: black top, black shorts, black socks, black boots, two black watches, black skin.”
In brushstrokes we learn of Rennie’s childhood in Jamaica, and his adolescent years living on a Sheffield estate, which both introduced and hardened him to prejudices; on the pitch we witness his battles with legendary Newcastle striker Alan Shearer; his tussle with temperamental Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane; his unique approach to managing a game, which sparked resentment from certain factions of fandom; the chants from stadium crowds, sometimes spliced with racism, more often forthright in its venom.
Rennie’s story is an interesting one; Hickson-Lovence’s depiction of it is equally fascinating, reminiscent of David Peace’s “Red or Dead” and “The Damned Utd.” But I wanted more depth, of the type only Rennie can provide. I wanted more insight into how he read the game; more about his dedication to fitness; more about his feelings towards the players and managers he frequently clashed with; more about how his upbringing shaped the man he became. Yeah — I’m basically asking for his memoir.