The first full-length novel I ever wrote was a thriller about football and it rejoiced in the title Dead Shot. I wrote it over two years after leaving university; I couldn’t afford to get it all typed, and I never sent it to a publisher. Probably just as well, as I soon realised it wasn’t good enough to be published. But I learned a lot from the experience, not least that, whatever literary talent I might lack, I did at least have the stamina and persistence to put together a novel of around 70,000 words. And that knowledge kept me going until I found a publisher for All the Lonely People a decade later.
Why a football novel? Well, I grew up in a football-mad household ; my late father was obsessed about the game, and spent the last ten years of his life, at times in great pain when suffering from cancer, writing a book, A Team for All Seasons, about the club he loved – which finally got published, just before he died. I’m prouder of his achievement, as a man who left school at 14 and had no real formal education, than I am of any of my own books.
Over the years, I’ve written a few short stories which feature football, including one called “Penalty” which was a sort of tribute to my father’s team. But I’ve never written another football novel. I keep thinking someone else will write a really good football thriller one day, but I have to say that the soccer-based novels I have read over the years have been more Unibond League standard than in the Dick Francis league.
But sometimes fact goes far beyond what is credible in fiction. And yesterday has to be one of those days, when Manchester City – a team I started supporting out of sympathy when they were bottom of the league, an experience they have repeated several times since – won the Premier League in the most dramatic and extraordinary circumstances. I’ve never been so enthralled by any sporting occasion As I think all the pundits have agreed, you really couldn’t make it up.