Unfortunately, Joyce’s love affair with Aston Villa was not to last. Egged on by fellow Villa fan Ezra Pound, his souvenir programme work became more experimental. Play-by-play tactical analysis reports featured an increased use of multiple-viewpoint narration and Lobachevskian geometry, which confused scores of fans more familiar traditional third-person narrative approaches and Euclidian geometry. He also abandoned many of the traditional rules of punctuation: a 1923 interview with Frank Barson upset the legendary ‘hard man’ striker after Joyce removed all the quotation marks and replaced them with inverted commas. Barson later got his revenge by stealing the apostrophe from Finnegans Wake.
The situation finally came to a head in 1924 with his controversial profile of one of Villa’a most notorious fans. Anticipating the 1970s phenomenon of ‘streaking’ by almost half a century, Macintosh Brown would interrupt Villa matches by charging across the field wearing nothing but a brown macintosh. Joyce’s profile of this shady exhibitionist – complete with pop-up illustrations – resulted in a highly-publicised obscenity trial and Joyce was forced to accept a three-match ban.
The club’s owners were furious with Joyce. When Villa were defeated by Newcastle United in that year’s FA Cup final, Joyce submitted a 10,000 word match report which cited the works of Catholic theologian St Thomas Aquinas. The club owners urged Joyce to remove these references which, they felt, were ‘confusing to younger fans’. For Joyce this was the final straw. In a fit of rage he attempted to set fire to his vast collection of Aston Villa scarves, track suits and other paraphernalia. Unfortunately, due to his failing eyesight, he only managed to incinerate a pair of curtains and an early draft of his planned Ulysses sequel, Twolysses.
Despite this, nearly a century later Joyce’s influence still remains strong at Villa Park. In fact, many of his early, lyrical poems have formed the basis of some of the club’s most enduring supporter chants. These include the poignant ‘We Love You Villa, We Do’, the rousing ‘We are the Boys from the Holte Army’ and, of course, the ever-popular ‘Shit on the City.’