Football

'My Best Work Comes When I Feel A Genuine Emotion About A Subject' - The Life And Work Of David Squires

'My Best Work Comes When I Feel A Genuine Emotion About A Subject' - The Life And Work Of David Squires

In a world as transient as English football, Arsene Wenger's time in charge of Arsenal should be viewed as an Era of its own; a kind of One-Place-Short-Of-Bronze Age.

As such, it's a useful paradigm through which to zoom into the individual vicissitudes of the world.

When Wenger was appointed, Guardian cartoonist David Squires was working part-time in the Swindon Town ticket office, spending his days off shopping his portfolio of illustrations around magazines in London. "It didn’t give me much of a realistic grounding of the working world, as it was such a doss", Squires told this week's Reducer podcast.

Swindon were doing better than now but they were heading downwards, and were clinging on in the championship.

Steve McMahon was the manager and the vibe around the club matched his personality...it was pretty grim for everyone.

But in the ticket office we were having a great old time. It was me and two other guys about my age, and an older gentleman. Days would go by without any customers coming in or the phones ringing.

Back then it was days of playing cricket in the office, and playing full-scale cricket matches.

God, the club’s electirican would come in and casually put blue movies on the video recorder in the corner which was supposed to be showing highlights of Jan Aage Fjortoft’s greatest goals.

Amid a bleak series of redundancies, Squires briefly found himself as the club's head of security. "They got rid of the security guard and I must have been the closest person standing by at the time. They gave me this big set of jangling keys, and asked me to lock up the stadium. Of course, being 21 and having no sense of responsibility at all, I went to the pub with my friends and then broke into the stadium that evening and had a really good kickabout under the moonlight".

Squires had studied illustration in college, but owing to what he says was either his "natural shyness or just not being very good", the part-time job at Swindon evolved into a full-time gig, although his creative side was indulged on occasion. He was commissioned to design an illustration of Steve McMahon to be sold in the club shop, but the design never made it to market after McMahon complained he looked too similar to magician Paul Daniels. "He called me the worst word in the English language", recalls Squires.

More successful was his design of the club mascot, Rockin' Robin, who continues to kickstart home games with a dance routine to the Jackson 5 to this day.

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Squires struggled to find illustration work, however - partly down to an esoteric portfolio crammed with drawings of Kevin Keegan and Alex Ferguson. His passion dwindled.

"It took me quite a few years to regain my passion, and it started with doing an hour a day after I moved to Australia in 2009. I had a little more leisure time, I was getting home from work at 6 so I started drawing cartoons. After a while had quite the pile of them, so I decided to stick them online, on Facebook and then a website and then grew an audience on Twitter".

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On the week of Wenger's departure, Squires made the definitive comment on his farewell. By now he was the Guardian's resident football cartoonist, and his Shawshank Redemption-inspired strip of how Wenger will go about adjusting to the outside world.

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That cartoon was similar to Squires' journey throughout Wenger's reign - the product of a struggle.

I lost confidence in it halfway through. 'Is anyone going to get this?' That self-doubt began to creep in.

By the time I sent it, I was convinced it was going to bomb, but it proved to be by far the most popular one I’d done.

Timing is important - that was at a time when people were showing a different mentality to him, even if you’re not an Arsenal fan.

Right up to drawing it, I wasn't sure whether the last panel would be Gunnersaurus or Pat Rice, and what swung it in the end was I thought it was funnier to have Gunnersaurus wearing boat shoes.

Four years earlier, Squires started tweeting daily cartoons during the World Cup, and they caught fire. He continued to draw, and it was after he drew a famous strip of a Sky Sports reporter's progress that the Guardian got in touch.

"Is it weird that I owe my career to that love truncheon? I try not to think about it" writes Squires in his new book, Goalless Draws, a collection of his best work for the Guardian.

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Although the book only covers a four-year period, a heck of a lot has changed in that time: Britain went from a place angriest about cereal cafés to a dysfunctional cavalcade fulminating over something they can neither define nor deliver. All of these changes have informed Squires' work.

My best work comes when I feel a genuine emotion about a subject, or if I’m angry about it. One of my best was after England went out of the Euros to Iceland and after Brexit, which I was still fuming about....a typical Remoaner. I was so pissed off about everything - I was pissed off with Brexit and pissed off with how England went out - but looking back that was one of my best cartoons.

How I deal with most things in life is with humour...it’s not always the best way to deal with things, but that gallows humor is always there.

Bang in the middle of the book is 2016, that pivotal year: sometimes I get criticism for putting political criticism in the cartoons, but I always say that football doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

We bring to it our own political beliefs and we see it through that prism. When I was working on my last book, which I was drawing during Brexit and Trump, there were times I thought, ‘What am I doing here? This is futile, there must be something more important I can be doing’.

I experienced that sense of powerlessness that we all feel at those overwhelming moments, but the world has a way of returning to normality, or at least we find a way of coping with it.

The way I cope with it is by making silly cartoons about football.

There are a few other challenges for Squires - one of which reared its head during the summer. What does the comic do when England are...actually quite good?

"Yeah it is a challenge. A friend of mine reminded me of a quote from Charles M. Schulz, the writer of Peanuts - “winning is great but it isn’t funny”. It's absolutely right. It is quite a challenge, because it’s as if everything we know is wrong all of a sudden".

Also, how to satirise a world which seems intent on mocking itself? Squires has occasionally drawn things into existence: a PoppyGate cartoon depicted a fan turning up to a game slathered head to toe in poppies as a 'mark of respect'. Days later, a Leicester City fan turned up to a game in exactly that get-up.

"Oh God. I love it when that happens. When I write something and it comes true, people on Twitter think I’m some kind of soothsayer ....but it’s just that the world is completely fucking insane now. It’s really hard to exaggerate people’s behaviour".

David's new book is called Goalless Draws: Illuminating The Genius Of Modern Football, is published by Guardian Faber and is available now.

To hear the full version of this interview, listen to The Reducer Podcast below.

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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