Lancashire expat pub football in the USA
PUBLISHED: 23:07 13 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:31 20 February 2013
A recently published book about Hurricane Katrina in 2005 focuses on the expat community in New Orleans - and two Lancastrians feature heavily.
August is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster ever to hit America. The estimated impact on Louisiana and Mississippi alone was $150 billion, it left debris strewn over roughly 87,000 square miles, the size of Britain, and killed more than 1,800 people. A recently published book about the storm focuses on the expat community in New Orleans - and two Lancastrians feature heavily.
Finn McCool's Football Club: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of a Pub Football Team in the City of the Dead starts with author Stephen Rea moving to the Big Easy from his native Belfast a year before the hurricane. It humourously relates his struggle to adapt to life in the Deep South until he discovers an Irish bar called Finn McCool's with an eclectic mix of locals and emigrants, and he quickly becomes a regular and helps form a pub football team. Two of the founding players are computer programmer Steven Fisher, 37, from Preston, and physiotherapist David Ashton, 51, from Lytham.
David ended up in New Orleans randomly in 1996 after signing on with an agency recruiting for jobs in the States. He heard a newscaster mention the name Baton Rouge when talking about an election primary and immediately decided that's where he wanted to go, though the agency staff talked him into going to New Orleans, the nearest large city, instead. Steven arrived the same year arbitrarily as well, after signing on with an American recruiter with no say in his destination.
After training for seven months the pub side were about to start their season when Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. The tone of the book changes as the story follows what happened to the pub, the players and the regulars. Many of the expats dont evacuate, such as club coach Steve McAnespie, an ex-Premiership player and Bolton Wanderers' former record signing.
He wakes to find water lapping at his bed and is swept out into the street. A non-swimmer, he is bashed and scrapped along metal signs, posts and railings before finally managing to grab onto a roof. He scrambles onto the top of the house and spends two days clinging to a chimney before he is heli-vacued out, and when he is rescued his feet are so badly sunburned he can't wear shoes, and his lips so cracked and parched he couldnt drink water.
Players are forced to swim out of the flooded city past dead bodies, others loot ATM machines for cash to bribe bus drivers to escape the modern-day Atlantis, and some lose their jobs, their homes or everything they owned. A few lose all three. The rest of the book follows the locals and the expats as they fight to rebuild their lives in the surreal post-apocalyptic landscape of New Orleans, as vast swathes of the city have no electricity, schools, hospitals, traffic lights or rubbish collection.
Steven was on holiday in Preston when the storm hit and his employer relocated to Arkansas where he lived for weeks. His house didn't flood but was badly storm-damaged and with his teammates' help he set about repairing it.
However David did not fare so well as his girlfriend Brandi Bourgeois was pregnant at the time, and her mother died with the strain of the evacuation. After fleeing just ahead of the hurricane he was hopeful that his elevated house in the Mid-City area hadn't flooded, but it took just eight inches of water - enough to destroy his home as mould in the hot, humid conditions ran rampant.
The book follows his odyssey as he first stays with a Finn McCools Football Club player, then the couple move in with the book author Stephen for six months, they relocate again to Brandis fathers house when their son is born, before ending up with fellow Lancastrian Steven. One of the books themes is how the small but close-knit expat community based around Finn McCools helped one another cope with the devastating disaster.
* Today both Steven and David still live in New Orleans, and you can read their story in Finn McCool's Football Club: The Birth, Death and Resurrection of a Pub Football Team in the City of the Dead, available from online retailers like Amazon or available to order in any book shop. You can find out more about the author at www.stephen-rea.com.