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.

Los Demás: Spanish Football Stories

Sometimes football journalism can feel pretty two-dimensional. If isn’t the mainstream media reporting on the biggest stories, it’s those awful click-bait sites reporting on the biggest ‘stories’. So thank goodness for the less fickle storytellers like These Football Times, The Blizzard, The Football Pink and now Los Demás.

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This exciting new, long-form journalism project, focusing on the best stories from all across Spain, is the brainchild of Nick Dorrington, Colin Millar, Euan McTear and Pål Ødegård. I caught up with Nick to learn more about the idea, the inspiration and the plan of attack. If you like the sound of Los Demás, don’t forget to back the Kickstarter project!

1. Talk me through the inspiration for this project. I know all four of you are very experienced Spanish football writers but was there a breakthrough, meeting-of-minds that kickstarted (pun intended) this?

The initial idea was mine. I was in Argentina researching a piece on the origins of Mauricio Pochettino. The ex-president of the youth team in his hometown of Murphy said something that really resonated with me. He said that many people think football is just about the big clubs, about Boca Juniors or River Plate, but the reality is that it is in small towns like Murphy that football lives on a day-to-day basis. There was something attractive about that idea to me, and Spain seemed like the ideal setting in which to explore it further.

There are journalists based in Spain doing excellent work but the reality is that the majority of mainstream coverage is focused on Barcelona and Real Madrid. We wanted to offer something a bit different and in Colin, Euan and Pål, I found three superb writers who shared my vision for the project.

2. Am I right in thinking that the content will be mostly historical and social, rather than match reports and current updates? Do you have any examples of the sort of content that subscribers will be receiving?

Yes, that’s right. We will be looking for stories that shed a light on the clubs, communities, players and personalities who best represent the vibrant and diverse culture of Spanish football. For example, there are stories to be told of the grassroots supporter movements at clubs who were or are in danger of going out of business. Or of a small, otherwise unremarkable, town that has produced a number of Spanish internationals. Or of a supporter who is older than the club he supports. Stories like these, stories about people and communities, will be at the heart of our work.

spain3x

3. I’m interested in the production values – will there be images/illustrations alongside the text?

The plan at the moment is for the focus to be on the quality of the writing. The presentation will be clean and simple.

4. Is your aim to cover all Spanish clubs except Barcelona and Real Madrid, or will the content be audience-driven? Will subscribers get a say in what you write about?

Our aim is to cover the most interesting stories we can find from all over Spain – be that player, team, city or region-specific. I think it will be a largely organic process for the first year or so. But perhaps after that we will sit down and mark out the teams and regions we haven’t yet covered in order to ensure that our coverage is as widespread as possible. We will, of course, always be open to story tips from readers.

5. Would you say that this project is in some ways the result of a mainstream sports media that is rejecting long-form journalism?

Yes, I think it can be seen as a reaction to that, which isn’t to say that there aren’t outlets out there for long-form journalism. For example, The Lab at Bleacher Report has produced some excellent pieces. But these outlets are mainly interested in content that relates to big-name teams or players. It can be hard to find somewhere to place more character-driven pieces that don’t rely on an established name as a hook.

6. Again on the subject of long-form journalism, what made you decide on the crowdfunding subscription model rather than the traditional print book?

We felt that the crowdfunding model offered us the best chance of making a sustained success out of the project. Publishing on a monthly basis will allow us the freedom to explore interesting stories as they develop, instead of being tied to a single deadline as we would be for a book. It will hopefully also serve us in building our readership over time as word spreads about our early pieces.

7. Finally, do you have a 140 character sales pitch for potential subscribers?

Love Spanish football? Then help support in-depth, long-form journalism on the untold stories of the Spanish game by backing Los Demás.

Click here to learn more and back the Kickstarter project

Football School


Football School: Where Football Explains the World

Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton (with illustrator Spike Gerrell)

Walker Books, 2016

football-school

‘But why do we need to know about _______?’

‘What’s _______ got to do with real life?’

If you can’t fill in the blanks based on the experience of youth, then I worry about your childhood. Whether it’s Science or English, Music or History, there are always school subjects that we find harder than others. What we need is a yellow brick road, an engaging way in to that particular world. Well for young football fans, the wardrobe to Narnia has arrived.

Football School, by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton, offers 18 fun lessons ‘where football explains/rules the world’. The book uses cartoons, trivia, jokes and quizzes à la Horrible Histories but this is far from a cheap rip-off. The authors get the balance just right between the entertaining and the educational. Biology (footballers’ poos), Psychology (taking penalties), Politics (football diplomacy) and PHSE (nature vs nurture) are particular highlights, with only English (football jargon dictionary) and Maths (probability of death while playing football) disappointing slightly.

In trying to fit so much into just over 200 pages, Football School naturally spreads itself a little thin but it’s an excellent and significant gateway resource. For teachers and parents, the book offers lessons and activities that can be adapted and expanded to fit whatever purpose. And for kids 8 years and up, the book provides an accessible, real-world route into some very tricky topics.

Books Round-up: Early 2016

As I hinted back in April, May was a great month for football book releases. Here are my thoughts on two of those titles, plus an earlier gem:

When Football Came Home by Michael Gibbons (Pitch Publishing)

Reading this book ahead of Euro 2016 was like watching Christmas music videos in early December. The tales of Terry Venables, Gazza and co filled me with naïve hope once again that football might indeed come home. It’s a story that many of us are very familiar with but Gibbons gets the content just right. Old favourites like the dentist chair are wheeled out once again, alongside less famous details. England’s matches are explored in detail but not too much detail and the myths surrounding the team’s performances are neatly dispelled. ‘Euro 96 became a sugar-coated memory…The 4-1 win over the Netherlands was the high point, but they could easily have gone into that game under the pressure of having two points or less.’

When Football Came Home

The cultural backdrop of Tony Blair, Oasis, Blur and Northern Ireland is neatly tied in without taking the focus away from the boozy brilliance of the football itself. In terms of tone, the book reaches for Pete Davies’ witty reportage in All Played Out and gets close. It’s a very enjoyable whizz down memory lane. Now that England’s tournament is over and in such spectacularly underwhelming fashion, When Football Came Home reads like beautiful chaos, which beats limp resignation any day.

Football by Jean-Philippe Toussaint (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

First of all, Fitzcarraldo Editions make truly gorgeous books and this is no exception. Now for the ‘but’. To start a book with ‘This is a book that no one will like, not intellectuals, who aren’t interested in football, or football-lovers, who will find it too intellectual’ is a very bold move. It takes a perceived divide and attempts to widen it. Having finished the book, I can agree with the author but not for the reason offered. Football-lovers won’t like this book because Toussaint isn’t much of a football fan and this book isn’t really about football.

Football Toussaint

Instead, Football is a book about ‘melancholy, time and childhood’ that happens to touch on the beautiful game from time to time. And when it does, it is dismissive and offensive. There is some eloquent, philosophical writing in the book, especially ‘Zidane’s Melancholy’, but take the following statements: ‘the football of adults leaves me cold’, ‘in Europe, most football supporters are male, violent, racist, full of beer or wine’, and ‘I’m starting to get a bit fed up with football. I prefer poetry’. For Toussaint, it is ‘vulgar, coarse and perishable matter’. In my experience, football fans welcome intellectual writing that takes a deep and critical look at the sport. Too much of this, on the other hand, is shallow and offensive.

Forever Young by Oliver Kay (Quercus)

I know it’s early to talk about the Best of 2016 but I’ll be surprised if many books this year can compete with this exceptional story of ‘football’s lost genius’, Adrian Doherty. Doherty was an Irish wing wizard some thought was better than Ryan Giggs, who loved poetry and music as much as, if not more than, football. But just as he was on the verge of the Manchester United first team, Doherty’s career was tragically ended by injury.

Forever Young

Kay narrates this extraordinary tale with warmth and care, offering fascinating detail about Manchester United’s youth team during the late 1980s-early 1990s revival, as well as the treatment of injuries during this time. Kay deserves real credit for his brave, investigative style; no stone is left unturned and he refuses to cower in the long shadows cast by Manchester United’s modern empire.

If there must be a criticism, mine would be that at over 400 pages, the book is a little long. In trying to include so many different player testimonies, Forever Young becomes repetitive in its conclusions: Doherty was an incredible and unique talent, an outsider that everyone liked but few really knew. But ultimately, like the player himself, Forever Young is an extremely welcome breath of fresh, eccentric air.

Football Books 2015

The football season is drawing to a close and the holiday season is just beginning. For those that can’t bear to leave the beautiful game behind, there’s only one solution: beach reading. With the help of the best sports publishers around, we’ve collated the best football books around so you don’t have to…

BackPage Press

Neil White: We’re working with Arena Sport on ‘DIEGO COSTA: The Art of War’, translated and updated from Fran Guillen’s Spanish edition of last year to include the World Cup, Costa’s transfer to Chelsea and this season’s dramas. Due out 16th July, more info here

Diego-Costa

We’re really excited about ‘The Five-a-Side Bible’ which we’re developing with Freight Books and 5-a-side.com for an October release. That’s going to have lots of funny stories from the world of 3G, as well as tips from the best fives players in Britain, a five-a-side bucket list and much more. If you play short-sided football, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.

Around the same time, we should have ‘PUSKAS: Madrid, Magyars and the Amazing Adventures of Football’s Greatest Goalscorer’ done. We’re working with Freight Books on that, and it’s written by Gyorgy Szlossi, who heads up the Puskas Academy in Budapest, founded the Puskas Award with Fifa and remains a close friend of the Puskas family.

Pitch Publishing

Paul Camillin: The first half of 2015 sees a variety of titles being added to Pitch Publishing’s ever-growing football list​, including biographies, autobiographies and club-specific titles.

For those who lament the modern game, and feel somewhere along the way football took a wrong turn, losing touch with fans. The Ugly Game by Martin Calladine is a passionate, funny book of essays, and sets out to put football right by comparing it, often unfavourably, with American football, a sport, perhaps surprisingly, that’s showing how money need not destroy fairness and competition.

Ugly Game

Soccer in Stilettos by Liam Newman is a definitive look at the rise of women’s football, telling the inspirational story of how the female sport has slowly but surely stepped out of the shadow of its male counterpart to become the truly beautiful game that it is today. With the future of the sport looking brighter than ever, how did football finally show sexism the red card?

Of the club titles, one is already proving popular with Leeds United fans, and flying off the shelves. Jon Howe’s The Only Place For Us is the A to Z history of Leeds United’s Elland Road home, revealing the stories behind its past uses, famous features and characters – plus fires, gypsy curses and escaped pantomime horses. Using archive research, insiders’ insights and fascinating photos, Jon Howe retraces the intriguing historical journey of one of Britain’s most iconic football grounds.

Then on the autobiography front we have Moody Blue, the self-told-tale of former Rangers legend Marco Negri and Luggy, the story of journeyman manager Paul Sturrock.

Ockley Books

This Yorkshire-based publisher’s small but finely-crafted football list is one of the best around. Current highlights include Adam Digby’s Juventus: A History in Black and White and Roger Domeneghetti’s From the Back Page to the Front Room: Football’s Journey Through the English Media.

I think the best, however, may be yet to come. It’s pretty rare these days that you hear of a football book and think ‘Wow, why has no-one written about that before?’ The Agony & The Ecstasy: A Comprehensive History of the Play-Offs by Richard Foster is definitely one of the most exciting ideas I’ve heard in a long time. You can read an extract here.

Playoffs

Trinity Mirror Sports Media

Hardback:

Danny Higginbotham Rise of the Underdog, RRP £16.99

Danny Higginbotham has always been honest. What he lacked in natural ability as a footballer, he made up for in raw passion and commitment.

He started his football education under the greatest – Sir Alex Ferguson – at his beloved Manchester United. After a headline-making loan spell in Belgium, he embarked on an eventful career journey, taking in stops at high-flying Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke City.

Sharing Premier League dressing rooms and pitches with some big names, he experienced both sides of the modern game – from the gut-wrenching agony of relegation to the champagne moments of reaching Wembley. Along the way, he worked under charismatic bosses like Jim Smith, Harry Redknapp and Roy Keane – who delivered the most bizarre team talk he’s ever heard. At Stoke, he learned about the team-bonding tricks of Tony Pulis.

As honest and whole-hearted as his career on the pitch ‘Rise of the Underdog’ is the entertaining inside story of how an ordinary lad worked his way up the professional ladder, learning the lessons it takes to survive at the highest level of the English game.

Underdog

Paperback:

Sergio Aguero Born To Rise, RRP £8.99

‘A must-read for any football fan’ Daily Mirror

Sergio Aguero is one of the top strikers in world football, but his rise to superstardom hasn’t always been smooth. Born into poverty, his life story Sergio Kun Agüero: Born to Rise is fascinating and a real story of talent, desire and the guidance of good people helping him to overcome adversity.

The book features a foreword from his best friend, Lionel Messi, and includes colourful dressing room revelations about his fellow countryman and other stars he’s encountered on his journey. This is a book every Manchester City fan will want to read, but also any football fan who is fascinated by that elite group of world greats who were touched by destiny and born to rise.

Leon Osman My Autobiography, RRP £8.99

“Fascinating” Liverpool Echo

LEON OSMAN has been at Everton FC since he was ten years old and in that time has witnessed major changes at the club and within football. A fixture in the Blues’ team for the past decade, Osman’s humour and thoughtful nature shines through in his revealing and entertaining autobiography.

Osman provides a unique insight into Moyes – the man and his methods – as well as many of the big personalities he has played alongside, such as Duncan Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Tim Cahill, Thomas Gravesen, Mikel Arteta and Phil Neville.

Filled with entertaining tales and anecdotes from his life at Everton, Osman’s story is fascinating and inspiring.

Best of the Rest – top 5 new releases

  1. Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager by Michael Calvin
  2. Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga by Ronald Reng
  3. Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide by Stefan Szymanski
  4. Eibar the Brave: The Extraordinary Rise of La Liga’s Smallest Team by Euan McTear
  5. Balotelli: The Remarkable Story Behind the Sensational Headlines by Luca Caioli

Calvin

Best of the Rest – top 5 paperback releases

  1. Thirty-One Nil: On the Road with Football’s Outsiders by James Montague
  2. Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty Kick by Ben Lyttleton
  3. ¡Golazo! : A History of Latin American Football by Andreas Campomar
  4. Louis van Gaal: The Biography by Maarten Meijer
  5. In Search of Duncan Ferguson: The Life and Crimes of a Footballing Enigma by Alan Pattullo

Twelve Yards