Themes

The meaningless of existence

This theme is central to the poem. The title itself clearly suggests nothingness.

By juxtaposing two apparently random situations that both portray the journey from success and meaning to failure and insignificance, Paterson implies that despite all our efforts we cannot escape the plunge into obscurity.

Paterson uses evocative description to depict the downfall of the team that loses money and support and parallels this with the tragic death of the proud fighter-pilot returning home after the war.

The introduction from Aussemain and Paterson's final address frame the poem and emphasise this theme. As we and the poet separate by moving on we lose the shared moment of the poem, as well as ourselves, in our own ways.

Change

Paterson explores change throughout both situations in this poem. The football team’s period of success and triumph is only a momentary high. A lost game turns their fortunes and the zenith gradually slides down towards its opposing nadir.

The heroic McGrandle leaves the team: instead of the man with the golden hair we are left with the player who is mocked for his lack of goals. The excitement of the stadium is replaced with the stud-harrowed pitches laced with grim fathers and perverts and the balletic toe-poke of the star turns into the accidental... back-heel as the small boy kicks the stone in the gutter.

Through the football team, Paterson weaves together scenes from the demise of small towns that end up with burnt out shops and children playing the streets with bald tennis balls - scenes familiar in Britain in the early 1990s in the which this poem was written.

Similarly, the Leuchars pilot romantically takes in the landscape at the beginning of the second stanza before being reduced to an insignificant gallstone; his mighty plane twirling away to its destruction like an ash-key – all meaning and status suddenly eradicated. Thus the poem deals with change and how the initial trail fades in the failing light.