BY MICHAEL WAGG
Joey Barton enjoys Plato’s The Republic. Mile Jedinak has chosen It’s lovely When You Smile for the Premier League Reading Stars online challenge. Football has a rich and bizarre literary history, so it’s time to select the First XI and imagine them knocking seven past Shakhtar. What about this for a literary lineup?
There’s an embarrassment of riches between the sticks. Che Guevara was a keen keeper, as was James Joyce, in the Gaelic version of the game. Arthur Conan Doyle turned out, as AC Smith, for the amateur precursor of Portsmouth FC; David Icke played for Coventry City – before the shell suit and numerous books – and Karol Wojtyla kept goal, wrote plays and then became Pope John Paul II. But the decision comes down to two literary giants: Vladimir Nabokov, who played for Trinity College while at Cambridge University and Albert Camus. While the great outsider didn’t, despite the myth, play for the Algeria national team, he did play for Racing Universitaire D’Alger junior team, and for his aptness to take on this most solitary of spots, Albert gets the nod.
These two pick themselves. Jim Riordan was a children’s novelist and sports historian who played for Spartak Moscow in the 1960s, an experience he described in Comrade Jim: The Spy Who Played for Spartak. Alongside him current Hull City manager Steve Bruce has written three murder mysteries featuring a detective called Steve Barnes. The titles – Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender! – promising a solid soviet pairing at the back.
A problematic position in literary terms. It would have been useful if Graeme Le Saux had penned a panegyric, but in his absence I’m pushing it a bit with football-mad Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, whose interview-novel Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp takes its title from a Hungarian footballer’s deft footwork in turning out of a tight spot. On the other side I’m going for Barry Hines, author of A Kestrel for a Knave – filmed by Ken Loach as Kes – who turned out briefly for Barnsley FC. It may not be his natural position so I’d look for another Barnsley wordsmith, and club poet-in-residence, Ian McMillan, to be ready to come off the bench.
IN THE MIDDLE
It’s any two from three. Brazil captain and “painter on the pitch” Dr. Socrates turned his hand to a novel as well as work for theatre. Terry Venables co-wrote a series of crime novels in the 1970s under the joint nom de plume PB Yuill. While Frank Lampard is on his tenth title in the Frankie’s Magic Football series (Frankie’s Kangaroo Caper). With flair elsewhere, I’d go for ‘El Tel and Frankie: the water-carriers’, and hope that Frank might use it as the title of his next book.
Theo Walcott has published four titles for children starring a striker called T.J. and there’s a book called Charlie Barker and the Secret of the Deep Dark Woods with David Beckham‘s name on it. Don’t ask too many questions. We’ll take the pair of them.
We’re a bit short of options, but in the hole I’ve gone for crime novelist Jo Nesbo, who played for Molde FC in the Norwegian top flight. He’s sold millions of books and sings in a rock band so I’m sure he can make things happen. And while we wait for Ian Rush to get going on a rock opera, leading the line I’m playing mind games. Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke didn’t as far as I know play the game to any significant level, but he did write The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick.
It’s Pepe Mel. The Real Betis, and ex-West Brom, manager has written two novels – Liar and The Road to the Afterlife – perfect for the half-time book-group. And if Pepe’s not available how about (Vittorio) Pozzo (Pozzo is a character in Beckett’s Waiting For Godot)?
And the strip? The pink and blue of Dulwich Hamlet, of course.