Wednesday 26 April 2023

More than just a Game by guest author Richard O’Neill

I stood on the terraces at seven years old and watched my first professional football match, it was a school friend’s birthday treat and I was invited to join him. A very nice thing to do but nothing record breaking about watching your first game at seven, many people watched their first game at a much younger age, the difference being that I was the first person - adult or child - in my family to have done that.

 Richard in his school uniform around the time he enjoyed his first football match!

It had been less than a year before when I’d had my first experience of playing football in any real sense, it was at school as part of a PE lesson and then in the school yard at playtimes where teams were quickly picked and pitched against each other. It seemed I was pretty good at it almost immediately and I was hooked.

I grew up in a nomadic Romani family which meant I went to a number of different schools and whilst I was aware of the games of cricket and football they weren’t part of our culture so we didn’t play them. We played throw and catch but that was mainly as hand-eye coordination practice for our sports like quoits and competitive slingshot.

Discovering not only that I had a passion for the game but also a talent for it, football became my thing I’m hesitant to say obsession but as an ADHD person I guess the term would be hyper-focused.

It was the thing I thought about and talked about and practised at home and there came the problem, none of my large family, close or extended, were interested in the game and practising became a solitary occupation. My Dad had no interest in the game at all in fact thought it was pretty pointless yet even with four other children to share his time with and a business to run he would take time out to stand and allow me, dressed in the football strip that my mam had bought me, to take shots at him with the ball he’d bought me.

I wanted to find out all I could about the game, its history and how to play it better. The first thing I did was to go to the library and get out as many books as I could on the subject and I read them from cover to cover. One day after school my mam showed me a book she’d bought in a second hand shop and I dove straight into my gift. The book written by Billy Wright was a treasure trove of information and read from cover to cover many times and kept safe along with my other prized possession, my football kit.

Book of Soccer by Billy Wright

Every new school or area I went to I found being able to play football well was a major advantage often allowing my inclusion simply because I could score goals. And for me when I was charging down the field with the ball at my feet and with only one aim in mind to beat the goalie and help my team win it was the most amazing feeling of freedom. When I did score my team mates would pat me on the back and shake my hand, something boys would rarely if ever do off the pitch.

As I got older as much as I loved the game I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to pursue it any further. Whether you have the talent and dedication or not, when you move around a lot, when your family culture is different to the mainstream, when there are expectations placed upon you from your culture it often means you have to make a choice, either or.

Richard at a football club in 1998

Which brings me to my book. A Different Kind of Freedom, set in the early part of the last century, is the story of a boy from a Romani family who wants to be a footballer. He encounters a huge amount of resistance from his father but fortunately he finds inspiration in a real life hero who has trodden the same path.

The novel was inspired by real life Victorian footballer Rab Howell who was a pioneer in football in general being one of the first to become a professional player who played for Rotherham, Sheffield United, Liverpool and Preston and went on to also play for England. He also happened to have been born and brought up in a nomadic Romani family.

Rab Howell

I try to show in the book just how difficult it is to overcome the increased obstacles you encounter both from inside and outside when you come from a different background and emphasise the importance of having a mentor and a role model.

I also wanted to show in the book which is also mirrored in my own life that the game isn’t over until the final whistle blows. Whilst I didn’t go on to play football professionally I did get the opportunity to work with professional football clubs and enjoy the excitement, the ups, downs, highs lows and the absolute joy of being on a winning team.

To find out more about Rab Howell and Richard's book visit the Time Tunneller's YouTube channel.

A Different Kind of Freedom: A Romani story by Richard O'Neill is available from all good bookshops including and

Richard O’Neill is a multi-award award winning author and storyteller.
He is the recipient of the ‘National Literacy Hero’ award, the Beacon Leadership and a Royal Literary Society Award.
Raised in a traditional nomadic Romani family, he has a particular interest in using literature to promote inclusion and social mobility.
His books have received teacher awards in the UK and ‘Book-list’ awards in the USA and an Aesop medal.
Twitter @therroneill


Wednesday 19 April 2023

The history of glass by Susan Brownrigg

Glass is all around us - it is used in windows, lightbulbs, mirrors, bottles, drinking glasses, for our TVs and mobile phones as well as in decorative vases and paperweights. So common place we don't often stop to wonder at the skill taken to produce this versatile material.

Glass has always been found in nature – for example obsidian (volcanic glass) was used by stone age people for cutting tools while Libyan Desert Glass was carved into a scarab beetle as the centrepiece of a gold and jewel decorated breastplate found in King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

Pectoral found in King Tutankhamun's burial chamber

Human crafted glass has been around for around 4000 years, often attributed to the people of Mesopotamia, the Ancient Egyptians also made glass beads and jars in about 2500BCE.

Glass was made by mixing sand, soda and lime and heating at a very high temperature in open molds.

This lump of translucent blue glass found by archaeologists
in Iraq is one of the oldest surviving glass objects (British Museum)

Glass portrait thought to be of Amenhotep II
(Corning Museum of Glass, USA)

This glass portrait may be of Amenhotep II, who ruled Egypt about 60 years before Tutankhamun. Glass making may have been introduced during his reign. This head was originally blue but has faded to tan after being buried for a long time. It belongs to the Corning Museum of Glass in America.

About 100BCE a Syrian glassmaker invented the blowpipe and the art of glassblowing using a long tube was created. The glassblower picks up a gob of molten glass at the end of the tube, turns, swirls and rolls it, while blowing air into it.

Another 100 years later, the Romans were producing elaborately decorated drinking glasses – they were especially skilled at carving or etching glass.

The Romans are also thought to be the first to use glass in windows, while the Anglo Saxons also created stained glass windows. Fragments of coloured window glass from the 7th century have been found at excavations of former monasteries in Northumbria.

Stained glass window at Bede’s World
featuring excavated glass.

The stained glass window (above) was reconstructed from pieces of glass excavated from St Paul’s Church, Jarrow, Northumbria. Scientific analysis of the glass revealed that it was made from a combination of recycled glass and chunks of new glass which had been imported from the Levant – present-day Lebanon and Syria.

In Medieval Times glassmakers were so skilled that they could create huge windows of stained glass for churches and cathedrals. The oldest (in-situ) glass from this time can be seen at Canterbury Cathedral.

The Parable of the Sower (Stained Glass window, Canterbury Cathedral)

One of the most famous places for glass making is Venice. In 1291 a law was passed that said Venetian glassmakers had to work and live on the island of Murano.

Barovier Goblet, Murano

This was said to stop the risk of fire spreading from their furnaces to the mainly wooden buildings of Venice, but historians believe it was also to stop them sharing trade secrets – and in 1295 the glassmakers were forbidden from leaving the city!

In the 1900s glass became easier to make, less expensive, and stronger.

Glass windows and containers became everyday features of most homes.

Susan's grandfather was a glass carrier

My grandfather worked as a glass carrier for Pilkingtons – known locally as Pilks – the St Helens glass manufacturer. 

I visited the World of Glass Museum, St Helens, to learn more about glassmaking and the history of the Pilkingtons company.
Find out what I discovered by watching this week's Youtube video.


Choose a glass object pictured in this article as the starting point for a story. It could be the Libyan Desert Glass scarab, a medieval church window or a Murano goblet.

Susan Brownrigg is a Lancashire lass and the author of three historical children's books for ages 8+ - Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest & Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower are seaside mysteries set in Blackpool. Kintana and the Captain's Curse is a pirate adventure set in Madagascar.

Susan's books are published by Uclan Publishing. 

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