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.

Martin Greig Interview

2014 has been another great year for sports publisher BackPage Press. In April, their translation of Andrea Pirlo’s brilliantly original autobiography became an overnight bestseller and in October they released the English language edition of Martí Perarnau’s groundbreaking Pep Confidential to widespread critical acclaim. 2 books, 2 hits – with a success rate like that, if BackPage was a striker, it’d be challenging Messi and Ronaldo’s reign. I caught up with one half of BackPage, Martin Greig, to talk books and European football.

1. Do you see the boom in interest in European club football as a widening of tastes or a movement away from British club football?

I think it’s more a widening of tastes. The growth in popularity of Spanish football over the past 10 years has been very exciting, particularly as it has coincided with the resurgence of Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard and then Pep Guardiola. I don’t think people are moving away from British club football so much as revelling in the fact that they now have a much broader choice.

2. Do you feel like British football is currently lacking eccentric, articulate characters like Pirlo & Pep? Or is it more a case of European football being a bit more open, with more access for the media?

I think British football has characters, but Pirlo, Pep and Zlatan are exceptional personalities. It just so happens that these books have came out in close proximity, but there may not be any more like them for a long while. In Pirlo and Zlatan’s case, I don’t think it is a question of better media access. Gabrielle Marcotti made the point that the Italian press had witnessed very few signs of the quirky personality that emerges in Pirlo’s book. These players are doing it on their own terms, but the difference is that Pirlo and Zlatan have the confidence and class to steer away from the bland, cliche-ridden claptrap that often passes for footballer (auto) biographies.

3. Was tapping into the European football book market always a plan for BackPage?

Yes. Our first book, on Spurs and Dundee legend Alan Gilzean – In Search of Alan Gilzean – was aimed at a British market, but the plan after that was always to try and break into other markets. Our second book, Graham Hunter’s Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, was the perfect vehicle to achieve this: the story of a team who had become a global phenomenon, written by a journalist with an international reputation.

PIRLO

4. How did the Pirlo project come about? Were there other publishers competing for the English language rights?

It came out in Italy about 12-18 months before we published it. We have been following Pirlo’s career very closely for years and, when the book came on our radar, we knew we had to get a deal done.

pirlo

5. Did you make any changes to the Italian version?

Pirlo insisted on the subtitle ‘I Think Therefore I Play’ remaining the same in English. He – along with the Italian journalist who ghost-wrote the book, Alessandro Alciato – had a strong sense of the kind of book they wanted it to be. We made some minor changes, mainly trying to fill in any possible knowledge gaps with the use of footnotes, but we didn’t have to do much to it.

6. How was the translation process? Did the Italian co-author Alessandro Alciato work with Mark Palmer?

The translation process was a joy. Myself and Neil [White] had worked with Mark in journalism a few years ago. We knew he was an excellent translator, but also a superb journalist who knew how to tell a story in the best way. Mark read the initial manuscript and all the reviews. He told us it was really good, but as he was translating it he got more and more excited about the material. Mark went to Italy to meet the editor of the Italian edition, to help clear up a few issues, but had minimal contact with Alessandro, though I did meet him myself earlier this year in Madrid. It was before the book came out and, when I told him that I thought the book would be really big, he looked at me as if I had two heads! As an Italian, I guess Alessandro didn’t quite grasp the esteem in which a British audience holds Pirlo.

PEP

7. How did the Pep project come to your attention? With this one were you involved from the outset?

A journalist called Lee Roden spotted a tweet by the author, Martí Perarnau, saying that the rights for his Pep book in Spanish had just been sold to a German publisher. Lee dropped us a line to say it might be worth checking out if the English-language rights were available. I remember getting a call from Neil about it. I was down in Manchester with Graham Hunter doing an event. We asked Graham about Martí and he confirmed that he was a very well-respected journalist in Spain with a close relationship to Pep. When we got the manuscript, we read the introduction where Martí quoted Pep as saying to him: “I’ll give you total access. Write about anything.”  We moved quickly after that!

Pep

8. Was anything edited in or out of the English version? Was Martí involved in the translation?

Martí wasn’t involved in the translation, but he has been incredibly helpful throughout. We had a brilliant, football-savvy translator, who really engaged with the material, which gets quite technical in parts. As such, it didn’t take a big edit, though we worked very hard on getting the balance right in certain areas of the book. It’s obviously a sympathetic portrait of Pep – though definitely not uncritical in parts. Critics may say that it is overly sympathetic, but I think that is to completely miss the point. This is one of the best managers in the world laying out his coaching blueprint. It’s unprecedented. That was only able to happen because of Martí’s relationship with Pep.

9. Pep Confidential is published in partnership with Arena Sport. What’s the story there?

We’re friends with Pete Burns, who runs Arena Sport, which is an imprint of Birlinn. We had discussed working together in the past and, when Pep Confidential came up, we were rushed off our feet with Pirlo. We spoke to Pete about the possibility of joining forces, and it’s worked out well.

FINAL THOUGHTS

10. How have you found your experiences of newspaper serialisation? On the one hand, of course, it’s great exposure but on the other, sometimes people feel they’ve already read the best bits.

Some people may read every word of a serialisation and then decide they don’t want to buy the book, but I would argue they are in the minority. The argument is much more about awareness. I think the vast majority of people will catch bits and pieces, and if you can pique their interest, then they become potential readers. Newspapers get a real kicking these days, but traditional media remains very powerful. The media model is obviously changing and no newspapers are going to throw around big serialisation fees any more, but publishers and newspapers can still work together creatively.

11. What football book this year do you wish you’d been able to publish?

Dennis Bergkamp’s book was excellent. He’s one of my all-time favourite players and the book more than did him justice. I’m a fan of David Winner’s writing and loved Brilliant Orange, so it was exciting to read the Bergkamp book.

12. What’s on the cards for 2015?

We’re publishing the definitive book on Ferenc Puskas. We’re also starting sports book podcasts in association with Waterstones. We’ll be interviewing the author of one new release a month and the author of one classic sports book a month. We want to increase the conversation around good sports books. We’ve got two or three other projects which are not 100% confirmed yet. Obviously, Of Pitch and Page will be the first to know!