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.

MCRFWF

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.
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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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Richard Foster Interview

Paul Dickov, Dean Windass, Clive Mendonca – you’ve gotta love the Football League play-offs. Richard Foster loves them so much that he’s written a very good book about them – The Agony & the Ecstasy (Ockley Books, 2015). The origins, the stats, the winners and the losers – they’re all there and more. I caught up with the Guardian journalist to talk all things play-offs.

Agony

1. At what stage did you decide to write the book and how did you approach Ockley about it?

I actually had the original idea about ten years ago. I had always been intrigued by the Play-Offs and following initial research was amazed that there was no book dedicated to telling the story behind them and so the journey started.

Having just finished my first book, The A-Z of Football Hates I had an offer from that publisher for the Play-Offs history but was introduced to Ockley by another author. I was impressed by Dave Hartrick’s enthusiasm, knowledge and most importantly, his emphasis on the quality of the writing.

2. What was the hardest part of the writing process?

Firstly, having written a fair chunk, around 20,000 words, I had my Mac stolen and stupidly hadn’t backed it up so that was a major setback. I could not go back to writing it for a year or two, as it was too painful. So that was a tough lesson learned – always back up your work.

Secondly, writing a history is a tough challenge as every year things change and I toyed with the structure for ages. The biggest decision was whether to go down the strictly chronological route or a thematic approach, in the end it turned into a mixture of the two.

Finally, the bane of every writer’s life is proofreading.  We all recognise it has to be done and it has to be done thoroughly but this book actually was proofread by three different people so by the end, I wanted to scream.

3. There are lots of great tables, stats and infographics throughout the book. Was that the plan from the outset?

I must admit that I am a sucker for stats and I had always thought that a dedicated Play-Offs table would be a good idea. But it did take a lot of toing and froing between Dave Hartrick and myself to come up with the final formula and, as a Brighton fan, he was not especially enamoured by the idea of Palace being the top Play-Offs team.

The infographics are the work of design genius, Mick Kinlan, who did an amazing job transforming all the facts that I dug out about each and every club that have competed in the Play-Offs into such a visual feast. My personal favourite is the Bristol clubs being linked by the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Class.

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4. There are lots of insightful contributions from player, managers and fans. Was it hard work collecting these or were people very eager to discuss the play-offs?

Almost universally everyone I approached was more than willing to be interviewed about the Play-Offs and could recall the minute details of their experiences, which convinced me that this was a worthy topic for a book. There was one manager, who shall remain nameless, who asked for money to be interviewed, suffice to say, he is not included in the book.

5. Putting aside your beloved Palace, what is your favourite play-off memory?

There are so many to choose from but as a neutral I would have to say that the Huddersfield Town Sheffield United penalty shoot-out in 2012 League One Final takes some beating. Uniquely, all twenty-two players took a penalty and the last one by Steve Simonsen was perhaps the most inglorious failure and dramatic and heart-breaking ending of them all.

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6. What are your predictions for 1-6 in the Championship this season and who do you think will win the play-offs?

Middlesbrough, Hull, Burnley, Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich. Fate decrees that Brighton will win the Play-Offs this year as consolation to my publisher for having to stomach Palace topping that Play-Offs table.

7. Would you be in favour of a Premier League play-off for the fourth Champions League spot?

I am with Sir Alex Ferguson on this one, which is not a phrase I use that often. I think it would be a little too artificial and considering the bleating that goes on about too many fixtures for the top clubs this would add fuel to the fire.

 I like the fact that the Play-Offs give the Football League clubs the stage upon which to showcase the excitement and drama of their season finale. All eyes are focused on the lower divisions for those Finals and that is a good thing that should be maintained.

You can buy The Agony and the Ecstasy here

Of Pitch & Page review of The Agony and the Ecstasy coming soon in TERRACE magazine

George Rinaldi Interview

The first few months of the year tend to be a pretty barren time in sports publishing. We’re reading our Christmas presents, we’re watching football on TV and we’re saving money in every way possible – these are the sales theories. I can’t speak for everyone but I find myself crying out for new books by February. Thankfully, Pitch Publishing read my mind and they’ve served up a real winter warmer: George Rinaldi’s Calcio’s Greatest Forwards. It hit the shelves on 15th February and the author was kind enough to answer my prying questions.

Rinaldi

1. So how does a 20 year-old go about getting a book contract?

Ha! Well I turned 21 two days before release but we’ll pretend I’m still 20 for my own sake! It was an odd experience in all honesty. I always wanted, from a young age, the chance to write a book whether it was fiction or non-fiction. For some bizarre reason at the tail end of my gap year I started putting things into place to make a self-published book, so I did a bit of research around that and then started writing it. What I wasn’t aware of was that when people pitch their books to publishers that most, if not all, of the book was already done! I was handed a contract with about 15,000 words on the table out of a targeted 80,000! It was tough work but I really did put so much effort into this. I wanted something to replicate my work for years to come.

2. Why did you pick forwards? Why not Italy’s most famous creation, the defender – Baresi, Maldini, Cannavaro? Or is that the next project?

Oh good question. I thought first of all that maybe a mixture called “Calcio’s Greatest” would work, with say 20 odd players from all positions, but forwards just have that certain interest pinned to them. I wanted people to know about Gunnar Nordahl and Silvio Piola in the same way Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti are seen. I may choose to do another with extra players who missed out or revise it at a later date.

3. 21 is an odd number to pick! You mention in the introduction that 20 was the target. Who was the one that you couldn’t quite let go?

Well, I had it all signed off with 20 players originally and had to crack on with that due to time restraints. I didn’t want to, say, add 25 players but those extra five weren’t properly researched like the rest. It would have felt rushed, and not worthy for people to read and learn of. I worked out, with the time I had, I could do the 20 I wanted. There was no one I could let go but I had a time window for both myself and the illustrator (Josh Clifford) to get one more done. So I made sure Marco van Basten was there, as I’d stupidly not included him!

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4. And in a similar vein, who was Number 22, just missing out on the final cut?

Ronaldo, George Weah, Omar Sivori and John Charles. They were the four, bar Luca Toni, who I just couldn’t keep over the others, even though some value Ronaldo as above pretty much all of them. I felt more has been done on Ronaldo elsewhere though, and I thought the ones I picked gave a good mix. I did want Weah, but I didn’t have the time. Sivori and Charles came down to the fact I had Boniperti, and they crossed over very closely. I’d have done Charles alongside him, but again time was the issue.

5. What was the hardest part of the writing process?

Probably the extensive research into publications from La Gazzetta dello Sport, La Stampa, Corriere della Sera etc. They have some wonderful pieces from the early stages of Serie A, but finding the right source to access them was tough. I had to exchange a variety of e-mails to get those as close to factually correct as someone can do in that situation. I even debunked a few myths on Giuseppe Meazza, which I was quite proud of regarding his goalscoring stats.

6. The illustrations – the Steve Welsh cover, the Josh Clifford portraits, the Paine Proffitt images – are a great touch. How did that come about?

Steve was my aim from the off. I had seen his work everywhere and I loved his Roberto Baggio illustration. We came to an agreement for the cover and he took my long-winded e-mail and managed to craft it into my image. Paine was kind enough to allow me to use his work for free, having asked him to do the nostalgic paintings for the players pre-1970. He’s a wonderful man and his work is of the highest quality, it was too good a chance to pass up. As for Josh, it was very fortunate on my part. One of my friends knew Josh, and asked me to send him an e-mail to show me what he can do. He did two practice ones – Meazza and Totti – and they were incredible. They all work seamlessly together which was a nice surprise!

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7. Why do you think so many of the attackers featured either never left Italy (Totti, Inzaghi, Del Piero) or did but failed to reach the same heights (Shevchenko, Crespo)?

Well, sometimes your home is your home. Totti came down to his mother’s wishes, and with Del Piero and Inzaghi it’s just where they were comfortable. Remember, they were playing at a time when Italian football was probably the best league in the world. It wasn’t really until the tail end of noughties the league curtailed somewhat. Because of that, it’s why players like Edinson Cavani moved on, same goes for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Italy isn’t what it was. It can return to its former glories at some point, but I doubt it’ll ever be what it was.

In regards to Sheva and Hernan, I think a lot of people forget that Crespo actually had a decent goals-to-games record for Chelsea. For Andriy it just didn’t work out for him. He worked wonders for Kyev then at Milan, but the move to England saw his decline. It wasn’t just the climate or the new league to adjust to, considering he went back to the Rossoneri and was then voted the flop of the season.

8. If you could write a whole book about just one of Serie A’s 21 finest attackers, who would it be?

Gigi Riva, all day every day. This man went through the works to achieve his greatness with Cagliari. He lived in poverty, had his parents snatched from under his nose and still went on to guide his side to their first and only Scudetto. There’s so much more to tell, and if I could do so, I would, but like Valentino Mazzola I don’t think my words at this stage could do him justice!

9. And finally, who do you predict will be the next great Calcio forward?

Tough one. Paulo Dybala has what it takes to be one of the best in recent years since his move from Palermo but it depends how long he’ll last at Juventus. Even being a Fiorentina fan, I hope it’s for his entire career, as his sort of talent can attract some good names over to L’Italia. As Crespo said, Messi and Ronaldo don’t want to step foot in Serie A. We must change that. We’ll try our best, Hernan.

Buy Calcio’s Greatest Forwards here

Dougie Brimson Interview

Photo Alexey Shlyk

Photo Alexey Shlyk

In 1996, Dougie and Eddy Brimson wrote a groundbreaking, insider’s account of British football violence. 20 years on, Everywhere We Go remains an era-defining, bestselling book. Dougie has since written another 14 titles, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as 4 films including the huge hit Green Street, starring Elijah Wood. With another hectic year ahead of him, Dougie was kind enough to pause and answer our questions on his amazing career so far.

1. How did your first book Everywhere We Go come about? Did a publisher approach you to write it or did you write it and then look for a publisher?

The short version is that during the build up to Euro 96, my brother and I realised that there was a gap in the market for a book which countered some of the rubbish that was being spouted in the media about the culture of hooliganism. But we also realised that if we were going to be the ones to fill that gap, we would have to write something which would capture the interest of both sides of the debate.

So we began to jot down some thoughts and when we had about 10,000 words we simply picked a publisher at random and sent them a sample to see what they thought of the idea. That publisher was Headline, they loved it and Everywhere We Go was published in early ’96. It really was that simple.

Everywhere We Go

2. Your first books were landmark, non-fiction accounts of British football violence. What was the hardest part about writing about the world you knew? And how much danger did these books put you in?

Well that’s very nice of you to say! The truth is that we actually found them quite easy to put together because they are, in essence, our opinions on various issues surrounding the culture of fandom peppered with anecdotes obtained from people we knew or who contacted us. The reason they worked so well is that not only were our opinions pretty much on the same wavelength as many of the people involved in the so-called Saturday scene, but because they were written in a style that was very easy to read.

However, we always knew that we were going to upset people along the way and that proved to be the case. There was certainly a price on our heads at one point but if you’re going to put anything in print, you have to be prepared to back it up and we were.

3. In 2001 you published The Crew, your first of many novels. Football violence was still at the heart but how did you find the switch from non-fiction to fiction?

Well it helped that I had the incentive of developing a basic plot outline for the writer Lynda La Plante who wanted to use football hooligans in one of her TV series. However, once I was up and running, I actually found it extremely easy.

Of course by this time, I had a good handle on my readership and so had a fairly reasonable idea of what they wanted to read and just as importantly, how they wanted to read it. After all, unless they’re on holiday the average bloke generally reads in bed, on trains or in the loo. So I always write in 15 minute chunks which ironically, made things easier with fiction than non-fiction. The hard bit was persuading my publisher to take it on although they were pretty good in the end.

Top Dog

4. Wings of a Sparrow was more football fiction but this time you replaced grit and violence with comedy and dreams. Was it fun writing something a little lighter?

Oh absolutely. One of the main reasons we go to football is because essentially, it’s a lot of fun and after years of writing about the darker side of it, I wanted to write something which made not only me, but the readers laugh about the daftness of local rivalries.

I’d actually written some comedy stuff before, first with The Geezers Guide to Football and then Billy’s Log but Wings is targeted much more directly at the sport and the reasons why we love it. After all, it’s essentially based on one of those questions which fans around the world have bandied about since the birth of the game. Wings really was a joy to write and I hope that comes across on the page.

Wings of a Sparrow

5. Football fiction isn’t a genre with a particularly strong literary reputation. Why do you think that is and do you think it’s unjustified? How would you describe your audience?

That’s a great question and in all honesty, it’s a genuine mystery to me. Maybe you should ask some publishers!

Personally, I think that there is no single answer, just a lot of different factors. It’s certainly true that mainstream publishers are afraid to take any risks these days and it’s also safe to say that football as a subject matter is a huge turn off for those commissioning editors who handle fiction and there seems to be two reasons for that. First, despite its success in non-fiction, the game is still regarded very much as ‘down market’ by the fictional side of the publishing fence and secondly, football books are generally targeted at a male readership and since ‘Lad-Lit’ as a genre doesn’t really exist, even if a writer came up with a marketable storyline, where would it sit?

Ironically, the market is certainly there and it’s gagging for stuff. Fever Pitch still sells strongly decades after its initial publication whilst my first novel, The Crew, has sat at number one on the Amazon football download chart for over four years! Even the sequel Top Dog still sells well and I’m always being asked for more.

That said, I think I’m fairly odd in that I write very much for my market as opposed to the market if that makes sense. I always keep in mind that the most important person in the publishing game is the reader and so have always tried to give my lot what they want as opposed to what I think they might like. Thus far, thank goodness, it seems to be working!

6. You’re perhaps best known for writing Green Street, the big football hooliganism film starring Elijah Wood. How was that to work on? What differences did you find between screenwriting and book writing?

Screenwriting is a very different writing discipline and it’s one which has its good and bad points. For a start, it’s very much a collaboration which is great if you’re working with good people, not so great if you’re working with idiots. Equally, with books a writer is in control of pretty much everything whereas in film, it’s out of your hands pretty much from the moment you hand over the first draft of a script.

Green Street

7. What’s your favourite football book (fiction or non-fiction) and why?

I’m a big fan of Left Foot Forward by Garry Nelson because I think it captures the life of an average footballer pretty much perfectly and it’s also brilliantly written. The Tales from the Vicarage series by Lionel Bernie are also pretty awesome reads but that’s because I’m a Watford fan!

8. And finally, what does 2016 have in store for your busy self?

I’m currently writing In The Know which is the third novel in the The Crew, Top Dog trilogy and I’m also working on two films. One about the war in Afghanistan and the other, a screen adaptation of Wings of a Sparrow which is proving to be great fun. Aside from that, Watford are keeping me pretty occupied at the moment. Long may that continue!

For more info on past and present projects, visit http://www.dougiebrimson.com/

Chris Bruce interview – The Five-a-Side Bible

With Christmas fast approaching, the perfect football gift book has arrived just in time. The Five-a-Side Bible is a must for all ‘ballers in your life, young and old. I caught up with author Chris Bruce to discuss the inspiration, the features and the fun.

Q1. You made the brilliant decision to start 5-a-side.com back in 2013. Was it a long-term plan and where did it come from? Was it an instant hit?

I’d love to be able to say that it was always my vision to create 5-a-side.com as it is today and eventually release a book but I’m afraid I’d be lying. The truth is that I love 5-a-side: the game its self, the culture, trying to improve at it. So back in 2013 I thought it would be a fun idea to start writing about it, and share my thoughts on the internet. It was really just a release for me back then.

For a long time there was hardly anybody reading it at all but I didn’t care. It’s a passion not a business, and I was just enjoying writing about the sport I love. Gradually over the months people started finding the site and giving me feedback on it, which was really nice and spurred me on to write more. It turns out that there are a lot of people who like reading about 5-a-side – no surprise as there are millions who play it – and it has been great to connect with people who all share that enthusiasm for the game.

five a side

Q2. At what point did you start to think ‘You know what, we could make a great book out of this’?

Truthfully, that thought hadn’t occurred to me until the publishers, BackPage Press, got in contact and convinced me of the potential of it. Through the website I had stumbled across a part of the football community that wasn’t well catered for but BackPage Press were the ones who saw the potential for making a great book out of it. They had their finger on the pulse and had seen how popular the game had become, so they contacted me and we began talking about what we could produce.

Within about an hour of brainstorming we had come up with so many brilliant ideas of what we could put in the book.  It’s at that point that I just thought: wow, this could be something great.

Q3. There are so many brilliant features and anecdotes in the book but I think my favourite is ’15 Players You Always See At 5-a-side’. Which type of player would you say you are? And what’s your favourite feature of the book?

I’m now 34, and I can see myself starting to become ‘the veteran’. In the book, we describe that character as the one who knows all the tricks on both sides of the law, the sort of sneaky guy who knows what he’s doing and is rarely beaten. He’s also the one who starts to look a bit vulnerable in the last 20 minutes, when he employs the dark arts to stay on top of the whippersnappers.

I like to think that my use of the ‘dark arts’ is kept to an absolute minimum, but there’s no doubt that a bit of know-how can be crucial in 5-a-side.

It’s so hard to pick a favorite feature of the book – there were so many that were fun to work on. I like the interview we did with Matt Le Tissier; the reasons for not turning up to 5-a-side (a constant bugbear for any organiser); the best collection of 5-a-side team names (including the likes of ‘Murder on Zidane’s floor’ and ‘the Neville Wears Prada’); and some cracking real-life stories of crazy occurrences and people losing their temper.

Q4. In with all of the fun, there’s plenty of useful advice, especially in terms of tactics, fitness and nutrition. In 5-a-side I’ve always found these to be ignored elements but have they been really popular parts of the website? And is that a sign of the game being taken more and more seriously?

One of the beauties of 5-a-side is how informal it is. People, regardless of ability, body shape, or sanity, just turn up and enjoy a game with their mates. It’s a world away from professional football. Part of the 5-a-side culture seems to be that you don’t want to be seen taking the game particularly seriously.

But on the other hand people want to be good at it. And to be good at it there are things you need to know, and ways you need to prepare. 5-a-side.com has been sharing these tips for a while now and you’d be surprised at how many people are using them to improve their game. The book contains the best of those tips: the things that will make you a better player and improve your playing experience without going over the top. It’s all practical advice that you can apply.

Q5. One element I wasn’t necessarily expecting in the book was the history of the UK ‘movement’ and the interviews with pioneers like Sof. Did that take a lot of research or was that background something that you were already familiar with?

Since starting the site in 2013 I got to know quite a few of those guys. There’s a really interesting culture that has developed and some wonderful players have graced the 5-a-side pitches of this country over the years. The very best of the players can do some mesmerising things with the ball, which is all the more startling when you consider that they’re not professional players.

In the book I wanted to talk to a few of them about what makes them so good, and what their stories were. It’s really intriguing to hear the journeys some of them have been on in the world of football. Hopefully people will find those sections an interesting read – especially since I managed to persuade these 5-a-side legends to share some of their tips.

Q6. When you’re putting together a book like this, I imagine it takes a lot of collaboration with a lot of people. Did you have a team to work with? How was it working with BackPage Press?

The team has comprised of myself, plus the publishers BackPage Press (in particular Martin and Neil) – not even enough to put out a 5-a-side team between us. It’s remarkable how much we got through in such a short space of time.

BackPage have been great to work with. It really helped that they play 5-a-side themselves and understood the target audience, so when we collaborated on it we all knew what we were talking about. The experience they brought as journalists as well as the enthusiasm they brought as regular guys who play the game was a great combination. It really was a pleasure to work on it with them and I learned a lot in the process.

Q7. The book looks great; it’s the perfect giftbook size with great colour images throughout. Was the Christmas present-buying market always the intention here? After all, more people play 5-a-side than any other type of football and I for one will be buying plenty of copies for friends and family!

It’s the sort of book that you can dip in and out of. It’s entertaining and goes at a nice pace so I think it will be ideal as a gift for anyone who plays 5-a-side. And yes, there are lots of people that play, so even if a small proportion of them buy it the book should do well. Having a broad appeal across the spectrum of 5-a-side players was something we always wanted to achieve.

Q8. Were there any bits that you were sad to leave out? Will these be appearing in The 5-a-side Bible 2?

With a project like this you could go on forever, constantly adding new things to it. When we had to draw a line and stop I was full of thoughts of other things we could have done. But stepping back and looking at what we have managed to produce, I’m really happy with the way it has turned out.

Of course, it would be nice to one day get around to doing some more of the things we wanted to – but as you say, that’s for the 5-a-side Bible 2!

To buy The Five-a-Side Bible click here

Visit 5-a-side.com for the latest tactics, tips and anecdotes from the world of five-a-side.