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An interview with football cartoonist David Squires

Cartoonist David Squires loves the atmosphere at A-league games. AAP Image/Martin Philbey
Expert
2nd March, 2016
19
3460 Reads

David Squires has an eye for the absurd. His laugh-out-loud cartoons for The Guardian Australia have earned him a cult following and turned him into one of the A-League’s most astute analysts.

You grew up supporting Swindon Town. What brought you to Australia? 

DS: My partner is Australian and we moved here from London in 2009. I grew up in Swindon and supported the local team. I was lucky that my teenage years witnessed the most successful period in the club’s history, culminating in promotion to the Premier League in 1993. We beat Leicester in the play-off final in a 4-3 thriller. Swindon went up and nothing was ever heard of Leicester again.

What were your first impressions of the A-League? 

DS: The first match I saw was Sydney vs Adelaide in the second round of matches in 2009/10. In terms of the football, I remember being impressed by both teams’ desire to keep the ball on the ground and play a possession-based game. But it was the stuff off the pitch that really impressed me: the friendly, passionate crowd; the large, modern stadium (the SFS has its problems, but compared to most of the grounds I’d visited while following Swindon, it was a palace); and perhaps most importantly, the freedom to drink beer while watching a match.

David Squires cartoon (via The Guardian)
David Squires cartoon (via The Guardian Australia)

Your A-League cartoons for The Guardian Australia have been widely read this season. How do you explain their popularity? 

DS: I don’t think the A-League gets the recognition or coverage it deserves. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, most mainstream media outlets only give it attention when someone lets off a flare. Therefore, most A-League fans – myself included – devour anything that focuses on the competition, and I guess that includes my cartoons.

Did England’s fanzine culture play a role in shaping you as a cartoonist? 

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DS: Absolutely. Fanzine culture was at its peak when my young mind was just starting to think critically. I subscribed to ‘When Saturday Comes’ from the age of 15, and although it didn’t have many cartoons, it wrote about football in a way I hadn’t read in newspapers or magazines.

The Swindon Town fanzine was called ‘Bring the Noise’ and ran a satirical cartoon featuring the exploits of a character called ‘McBag’ (a Scottish player-manager who wore a bag on his head). At the time, Swindon were embroiled in a financial scandal, and the storylines reflected those events.

The first thing I ever got published, at the age of 16, was for a later Swindon Town fanzine, ‘The 69er’. It was some awful, bitter cartoon (sound familiar?) about a player called Duncan Shearer who had left us to join the newly-wealthy Blackburn Rovers. I sincerely hope there are no copies left in existence, as I’m fairly sure it was awful.

You have a knack for illustrating the most comical aspects of the A-League. Is that something you put a lot of thought into, or do you find the A-League inherently funny? 

DS: Hah, no, I don’t find the A-League inherently funny and believe it or not, I try to not be too critical of the league, as it attracts enough criticism from other sources. I definitely try to avoid making jokes about the ability of individual players, as I’m aware that they are infinitely more talented at what they do than I am at what I do.

When I started doing the A-League cartoons, I was concerned that there may not be enough material for a weekly cartoon, but thankfully it has been an eventful season. I have a weekly chat with the Guardian Australia Australia sports editor, Mike Hytner about what’s in the news and the direction I might like to go in. It’s really helpful to have that conversation, as it helps me to think through ideas and Mike is also very gifted at tactfully telling me when an idea is too obscure or likely to get me sued.

It’s usually events off-the-pitch that interest me. This season we’ve had the stuff with Wellington Phoenix, senior police officers describing fans as grubs, numerous tabloid moral panics about supporters and the recent FLAREGATE. None of it was particularly edifying for the game, but it was great for me, selfishly.

Do you have a favourite A-League personality or team you particularly enjoy drawing? 

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DS: I’m afraid that David Gallop and Damien de Bohun have become something of comedy stooges. Really though, it’s the shock jocks and tabloid columnists that I like to go for; people who know nothing about the sport or its culture but pontificate about it regardless. The sad thing is that their fear campaign has an impact; at the recent Sydney derby there were security guards scanning supporters with x-ray machines. My ego was only slightly wounded that a guard to scan a middle-aged couple rather than me.

Do you ever worry about offending someone with your cartoons? 

DS: It really depends on who the offended party is. I have no compunction about offending certain people or attitudes, in fact, I’ll often set out to deliberately upset them. However, whenever I write anything I stop and ask myself: ‘Is this right? Is this fair?’

How does the A-League compare to the English lower leagues? 

DS: It’s hard to compare, and it’s been a while since I’ve been back to England to see much lower-league football, but when the A-League is good, it’s great. Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar side was, I think Championship level at least. Also, for the first couple of seasons, Western Sydney Wanderers were like a machine; their ability to just churn out results made would also put them at that level. I feel like the quality has dropped off a bit in the last couple of seasons, sadly.

I’d love some of my friends from the UK to experience the Sydney or Melbourne derbies though. I suspect that many of them have the preconception that Australia isn’t a football country – as I did before I moved here – but the noise and passion generated at those games belies that myth and shows how much love there is for the game here.

What sort of cartoon do you hope to draw ahead of the A-League grand final this season? 

DS: Right now I’m more concerned that I don’t have an idea for this week! It will largely depend on who’s in the final, so I haven’t really thought that far down the line yet.

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You can find an archive of David’s cartoons for The Guardian Australia here.