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INTERVIEW: Ian McMillan - 11 Jan 2021

WHEN they finally let us back to the football, Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan has one grand ambition he'd like to see fulfilled.
“I’d love one of my poems to become a chant!” he chuckles. “So far it’s never happened.”
It's not such a barmy idea, given that Ian holds the honorary post of poet in residence at his beloved Barnsley FC (“I’ve never got paid, it’s more like a life peerage…”), musing on their ups and downs via the medium of verse.
To date, however, the crowd’s acknowledgment has mostly amounted to random fans turning to him at various points in a match and yelling: “Put THAT in a poem!”
“I remember in our Premier League season,” says Ian, “we’d lost to a disputed late penalty at Coventry, and this angry fella grabbed me by the neck and held me up against the supporters’ bus, shouting that in my face!”
The idea that football and poetry can play nicely together is one Ian has championed for years, having taken on his residency when Barnsley reached the top flight in 1997.
“I think every club should have its own poet,” he tells me. “They could be like mascots.”
Well, yes, or maybe combine those two roles, I suggest — recite the poems while dressed as a giant bear, dog, donkey or suchlike…?
“Oh, that’s a great idea, Mike!” he cries. “I love that!”
Of course, there’s more to Ian McMillan than just footie verse. There are countless books of his assorted work, dating back 40 years, plus regular telly and radio slots.
And he’s forever in demand for voiceovers, thanks to his rich Barnsley accent.
It’s Ian’s distinctive voice you can hear narrating The Yorkshire Dales And The Lakes, the More4 documentary series returning tonight. And it suits the tone perfectly. Not that it hasn’t aroused the odd bit of scepticism.“Some people think I put it on!” he tells me.
“They think I talk like Prince Charles when I'm at home.
“I tell them it’s the opposite: Prince Charles really talks like me.”
The success of The Dales And Lakes, Ian believes, is in the way it celebrates real people, living and grafting in real communities — picture-postcard beautiful places but challengingly remote.
“There’s a kind of stoicism to their outlook,” he says. “They just get on with things.”
For Ian McMillan, “getting on with things” means continuing to explore new ways to make poetry accessible. With this in mind, Barnsley Council recently made him their Poet In Lockdown.
Not that this is likely to go to his head. “Just the other day,” he tells me, “some bloke in car shouted, ‘Lockdown?! You should be locked up!’”

* The Yorkshire Dales And The Lakes is on More4.


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