Seth Burkett Interview

I find that there’s a certain image that comes to my mind when someone says ‘male sports writer’. So it was a real treat to meet Seth Burkett, the young, energetic and ambitious writer behind The Boy in Brazil, Developing The Modern Footballer Through Futsal and Football’s Coming Home.

Seth-Burkett

1. Let’s start with your first literary project, the book you wrote with your grandmother.

Yes, my Gran [Molly Burkett] is a children’s author and she’s had over 100 books published. Ever since I could talk, she’s been trying to get me to write stories. When I was 16 in Year 11 at school, she said, ‘Right, Seth, you need to become a writer! I’m working on a book and you can edit it, and then we’ll put your name on the front cover.’ I hardly did anything; I think I maybe wrote one paragraph! But I got my name on the front cover.

My Gran keeps telling me, ‘No-one reads about football – you need to write for kids!’ I’m glad at least some people do, but I’m trying to make her happy by re-writing her most well-known book at the moment for a modern audience. It’s about badgers. I don’t have a clue about badgers!

Boy From Brazil

2. Next, aged 18, you spent a year in Brazil playing for Sorriso EC. At what stage did you think about turning your experiences into the book, The Boy in Brazil?

From my Gran’s influence, I always wanted to write a book. In Brazil, I had a lot of down-time. After training, I had whole evenings and no-one spoke English. I could entertain them with swearing for an hour but there were lots more hours after that! So I kept a diary to pass the time. When I got back from Brazil, I wrote it up and sent it off to all the publishers and got rejections from everyone.

Then in my second year at University, I broke my leg. I was gutted for a few months but then I decided that it was a good chance to rewrite the book and try to get it published. Again, no luck, but I tried again at the end of my third year and eventually, I got to the stage where I got quite a few offers. I sent it to Ian [Ridley, sports journalist and publisher at Floodlit Dreams] and he rang me back the next day and said that he really liked it. As soon as he was interested, there was no-one else for me. To have that guidance from someone with his ability and experience was invaluable. He was great at getting the book published in time for the 2014 World Cup.

To be honest, I don’t really like looking back now. When I read through it, I just see so many things that I could have improved. But people like it and it’s had good reviews.

Football Coming Out

3. How did you then get involved in Football’s Coming Out with Neil Beasley?

I actually did another book in between called Developing the Modern Footballer through Futsal with my old coach at Loughborough who is the England futsal manager. And then Ian was aware that I wanted to keep on writing more books. Neil actually approached me on Twitter beforehand for some advice on writing the proposal. I gave him a few pointers and then about a month later, Ian messaged me and asked if I wanted to help.

I met with Neil in Loughborough and he was a charismatic guy with really interesting opinions and we went from there. It was a longer process than my other books, as I imagine all ghost-writing always is. But in the end, I think we did a good job on it. To be longlisted for the William Hill was absolutely crazy for me. It was something that we never expected.

4. Finally, what’s next for you?

The answer is I don’t know. I appeared in a film recently [The Bromley Boys]! Stuff like that comes up, so I don’t really like to plan. I think if I keep saying yes and making these connections with people, interesting stuff will come up. I’d like to work on more ghost-writing projects. I’ve got a few projects on the go at the moment and if I’m lucky, one of those will get published. If I’m really lucky, two or three of those will get published. I enjoy writing and I hope I can keep on writing.

Four Football Books to Read in Early 2017

1. Above Head Height: A Five-A-Side Life by James Brown (Quercus, Feb 2017)

above-head-height

In December 2015, former NME and GQ journalist James Brown wrote a very moving tribute to one of his teammates who passed away. The article struck a real nerve with the ever-growing five-a-side fraternity and this book will surely expand on the weird and wonderful camaraderie that exists between people who only meet for an hour every week. Novelist Tony Parsons has gone so far as to call it ‘The Fever Pitch of five-a-side’.

2. Shades of Blue: My Life in Football and the Shadow Within by David White and Joanne Lake (Michael O’Mara, Feb 2017)

David White played for Manchester City for eight years, between 1985 and 1993. He’s always been a club legend but in the last few months, he’s entered the national spotlight as one of the first brave men to go public about sexual abuse at the hands of former Crewe Alexandra youth coach, Barry Bennell. This promises to be a groundbreaking account and in Joanne Lake (co-author of I’m Not Really Here, a groundbreaking account of depression in football), White has the perfect support.

3. Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend by Andrew Downie (Simon & Schuster, March 2017)

socrates

I’ll be honest – I was a little sceptical about this one at first. Sure, it’s got a great cover but do we need another book on a Brazilian legend? The answer, as it turns out, is absolutely yes because this is an unusual biography about an unusual player. Downie is in possession of unparalleled insight; ‘he has had exclusive access to Socrates’s unpublished memoir and many of the tape recordings left by Socrates’. So I think this will be a special book indeed.

4. Nolberto Solano: Blowing My Own Trumpet (Mojo Risin’ Publishing, March 2017)

solano

I’m a big fan of cult footballers and they don’t get much bigger than Sir Nobby of Newcastle. Judging by his Twitter account, I reckon the little Peruvian has plenty of tales to tell about his time on Tyneside. ‘Armed with a lifetime of memories and his trusty trumpet,’ the publisher website states, ‘Solano reveals all in a story filled with hope and punctuated by painful life lessons.’ I can’t wait for this one.

Diego Costa: The Art of War

Diego Costa: The Art of War

By Fran Guillén

Arena Sport/BackPage Press, 2015

51MRXQMm0eLIn my experience, football biographies can be even more disappointing than the autobiographies. After all, there is a higher level of expectation; these are books authored by chosen experts, rather than reluctant writers. At one end of the quality spectrum you have the unofficial biographies scrabbled together for the man of the moment; at the other, you have the insightful, often academic work of David Winner, Jonathan Wilson and Philippe Auclair. So where does Fran Guillén’s Diego Costa: The Art of War sit on this scale?

The answer, I believe, is slap bang in the middle, even though it has one of the best football book covers of all time. Over 200 pages, Guillén does a very good job of masking the fact that his book contains no original interviews with Chelsea’s star striker. Existing Costa quotes are scattered throughout but the focus is much more on the words of the people around him. Thanks to his strong Spanish media connections, Guillén brings together an impressive array of ex-teammates, opponents and coaches. The star is Jesús García Pitarch, the former Atlético Madrid Director of Football who bought Costa from Braga in Portugal.

With Pitarch’s voice leading the narration, the book offers a strong analysis of the early years, particularly for English football fans who missed Costa’s coming of age. Pranks, parties, tantrums, scraps – these are the common threads during loan spells at Celta Vigo, Albacete, Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano. As Pitarch neatly summarises, Costa ‘had never been in an organised team and had no experience of the dressing room, of being part of a team. He lacked any sense of discipline, of belonging to a club. He was already 15 or 16 before his football took off.’

This unfettered background, once tamed somewhat by maturity, is key to creating the beast that Chelsea fans now know and love. Costa remains the man-child, the ‘clown prince’, but he has honed his greatest skills – the positioning, the shooting, the mind games. José Antonio Martín Otín wins the award for the book’s best quote: ‘He’s like your typical Sunday-morning footballer who turns up with three aims: he wants a game, he wants to score and he wants a bit of a fight.’

Typically, however, insight seems to run thin just as fame appears on the horizon. With the exception of the chapter on Costa’s decision to play for Spain and the 2014 World Cup, the second half of the book lapses into match-by-match reporting. Title-winning seasons at Atlético and Chelsea come and go without anyone delving below the surface. The book’s title becomes increasingly problematic with each irrelevant Sun Tzu extract. Where is the tactical detail, the information on the ‘art’ of the striker’s war? Paulo Assunçao reveals that Ronaldo is Costa’s idol, but sadly this is a passing remark rather than a probing inroad.

Ultimately, Diego Costa: The Art of War is an up-to-date and entertaining look at one of modern football’s greatest characters. New season, old hamstring injury but Costa remains integral to Jose Mourinho’s plans. And perhaps there is no greater depth to reveal about the Chelsea striker. With a game built around raw aggression and power, simplicity often seems his greatest asset.

Buy it here

Shocking Brazil: Six Games That Shook The World Cup

Shocking Brazil: Six Games That Shook The World Cup

By Fernando Duarte

Arena Sport Books, 2014

Modern non-fiction is often as much about reinventing the wheel as it is about offering the reader new information. As simplistic as it is to say, facts are facts and once they’re known, they’re known. So new authors shuffle the existing pack before (fingers crossed) revealing a hidden ace or two: a modern perspective perhaps, a more accessible tone, and hopefully some unique insight and testimony. In Shocking Brazil, regular Guardian contributor Fernando Duarte lays down all three as he traces the history of Brazilian football through six of its biggest World Cup disappointments: 1950, 1966, 1974, 1982, 1998 and 2010.

Focusing on the losses may seem a fairly negative angle to take, especially for a Brazilian native. However, Shocking Brazil doesn’t feel pessimistic; instead the approach is realistic with patches of optimism. Rather than ignoring the Seleção’s well-known history of success – 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 – the narrative celebrates this by detailing the setbacks that led to these triumphs. The result is a necessary and successful reconfiguration of Brazilian footballing history; as Duarte puts it, ‘The losing stories are a significant source of untapped information on the development of the game.’ Would Pele and co. have gone on to win back-to-back titles if it weren’t for the Maracanazo in 1950? Would Ronaldo have played as well in 2002 if he’d won it in 1998?

With its ‘tales of mismanagement, corruption and chaos’, Shocking Brazil highlights the recurring obstacles and distractions that the Seleção have faced over the years. The fascinating ‘political intrusions’ that hindered the 1950 and 1974 sides may have subsided somewhat in recent years, but they’ve been replaced by equally demanding sponsors and contracts. As expected, Duarte is at his most enlightening when dealing with these more recent, and less-discussed, events, including conspiracies linking Nike to Ronaldo’s 1998 breakdown, and Dunga’s battle with the Globo media empire in 2010. Written with the informal charm and wry humour of a die-hard fan, these sections feel as vibrant and fresh as Neymar Jr himself.

What the book so brilliantly conveys is the multiple layers of politics at play in Brazil, and the massive disruptions they can cause. Historically, the national football sphere, like the government sphere, has been dominated by dictator figures looking to exploit, as much as maintain, the success of the team. Between the shoddy preparation for 1966 and the shambles made of the 1998 Ronaldo health-scare, Duarte has only bad things to say about the CBD; ‘Brazilian management has been historically flawed in its organisation and structure.’ One of the best features of Shocking Brazil is its discussion of the domestic game alongside the national game. Two of Duarte’s most prominent themes run parallel with good reason: the mass exodus of talent to Europe, and the Seleção’s abandonment of ‘The Beautiful Game’ following the 1982 post-mortem. With the notable exception of Neymar, the Campeonato Brasileiro has been severely weakened since the ‘Dunga Era’. As Gilberto Silva, one of the numerous high-profile contributors, concludes,’It is unacceptable that in the 21st century we still have clubs run so poorly.’

And on top of the weight of all this incompetence, dishonesty and greed, is the expectation of a population of 200 million people. ‘A third consecutive failure in the World Cup could have serious consequences for Brazil’, Duarte predicts ominously. In many respects, Shocking Brazil reads like a very handy ‘what to expect’ guide for World Cup 2014, where the Seleção have the additional pressure of home soil for the first time since the disaster of 1950. High-profile omissions, patchy form, a lone superstar; all familiar factors. After Thursday’s unconvincing 3-1 victory over Croatia in the opening match, Hugh McIlvanney wrote, ‘Improvement can be expected but greatness seems out of reach’. A goalless draw against Mexico suggested even progress might prove slow. As in 1998, 2006 and 2010, Scolari’s team seems unlikely to set the world alight. And as in 1966 and 1974, Brazil are up against European sides like Spain and Germany that will know their style and show no fear. So will World Cup 2014 prove to be a sixth triumph or a seventh disaster?

Buy it here

Books for Brazil

The World Cup Reading list

Now that the domestic season is all but over, it’s time to focus our book attention on a certain international tournament that’s coming up. These 6 books have got all the bases covered.

The Host Nation
It’s always good to do your homework on the team with the home advantage – the players, the venues, the culture at large. Here it’s a toss-up between the new and the old – David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation or Alex Bellos’ Futebol(Bloomsbury).  I’d favour the old here, especially as it’s been given a timely update.

The Host Continent
Brazil are far from the only side accustomed to a sub-continental summer. İGolazo! by Andreas Campomar (Quercus) gives you the lowdown on all of Latin America’s finest: the hosts but also Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and even Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras.

The Favourites
Phil Scolari’s side may be round about 3-1 with most bookies, but this is hardly Brazil’s finest crop. Plus, there’s a history of failure interspersed with all that success. For a reminder, check out Shocking Brazil by Fernando Duarte (Birlinn).

The History
For the full facts, you can’t beat Brian Glanville’s Story of the World Cup but for something a little more fun I’d suggest Paul Hansford’s The World Cup (Hardie Grant). ‘Heroes, Hoodlums, High-kicks and Headbutts’ – the subtitle certainly has a lot to live up to.

The Personal Angle
On the subject of previous World Cups, I’d recommend From Bobby Moore to Thierry Henry by Liz Heade as a nice slice of familial nostalgia. But for 2014, it’s got to be The Boy in Brazil by Seth Burkett (Floodlit Dreams). At just 18, Burkett became the only English professional footballer in Brazilian football – this is his fascinating story.

And finally…The Expectation Suppressor
A month ago no-one gave England a chance in hell; but now that the squad has been announced, suddenly there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Lest we forget our history of disappointment, read Pete Davies’ classic One Night in Turin. It may be nearly a quarter of a century since Italia 90, but it’s amazing how little has changed for our national team. For more, read my review here.