Q&A – Matt Gardiner, Manchester Football Writing Festival

The UK literary festival ‘scene’ is booming, with over 350 planned for 2016. They range from village halls to entire towns (Hay-on Wye), and from remote rural settings to big city centres, but do they span the literary genres? The Edinburgh International Book Festival will welcome over 800 ‘writers and thinkers’ next month. Of those, roughly 1% will discuss our favourite pastime, sport: two will discuss athletics, four will discuss cycling, and two will discuss football (former Celtic goalkeeper Packie Bonner and Anthony Cartwright, author of novel ‘Iron Towns’).

No wonder Waterstones Deansgate made the inspired decision to team up with The Football Museum to create a literary festival dedicated solely to the beautiful game. Now in its third year, the Manchester Football Writing Festival continues to go from strength to strength. We caught up with founder Matt Gardiner to look back on the last few years and look forward to the delights of this year’s festival.


1. Where did the idea for the festival come from? 

Back in 2013/14 Waterstones Deansgate had some great football events with Guillem Balague, Sid Lowe and Jonathan Wilson which had all proved incredibly popular.  That, alongside the launch that year of the London Sports Writing Festival, triggered an idea.  While the London festival covered many different sports I felt a Football festival in one of the world’s true footballing cities seemed to be the way forward and would be something I would personally love to attend.

2. Was it easy to get everyone on board – Waterstones, Football Museum, writers?

Waterstones was pretty easy as it was my idea and I work for them! The Football Museum also very quickly realised the potential of reaching a different audience and we kick started from there.  It has amazed me how enthusiastic writers have been to take part in the festival.  For the first year as soon as I had buy in from the Football Weekly team and The Blizzard I knew we had at least 2 events which would draw a crowd. Both have been back every year since which shows, I hope, how much they have enjoyed coming.

3. What has been your favourite ever event so far?

Difficult choice that! I loved the Sid Lowe & Graham Hunter event in the incredible surroundings of St Ann’s Church in Manchester in year 1 although I spent much of the night worrying about the language (Just the one F-word in the end). Our Manchester nights are always lively and almost impossible to draw to a close. The Mike Calvin event last year with Shaun Derry and Mel Johnson was absolutely fascinating too.
4. What’s different about this year’s festival/how has the festival changed since that first year?

We have a new partner this year in Hotel Football which is fantastic.  Otherwise it is still very much the same beast as year 1.  Predominantly Twitter driven and hopefully still offering people the chance to meet and talk to their favourite writers and broadcasters.

5. What event are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m very excited to read Jonathan Wilson’s “Angels With Dirty Faces”, so I’m looking forward to that event tremendously.  Our final event this year with Women in Football promises to be incredibly insightful with some very experienced writers/broadcasters sharing their experiences of the world of football journalism.

6. What’s the best football book you’ve read this year so far?

I think that is between Rory Smith’s “Mister” and Oliver Kay’s “Forever Young” both of which are fabulously researched and equally readable.  Expect both to be on prize shortlists this year and next.

Find more details about events here


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