I first posted the following blog in the spring of 2012, the year that footballer Andre Gray posted a series of homophobic tweets which saw him spread across the sports pages of the British press.
You would hope that things would have changed in recent years but last night, as I watched the Gareth Thomas documentary on homophobia it became horrifically clear that nothing much has changed at all. And to me, the reason is because the finger of blame is far too easily being pointed in entirely the wrong direction.
To be fair to Gareth Thomas, at least he had a go at taking the game to task and the appalling car crash interviews given by Gordon Taylor and Simone Pound of the PFA coupled with the refusal of the FA to respond to him underlined everything I say below. But where were the interviews with current Premier League players or coaching staff? Why no contribution from the likes of Lineker or Shearer?
Instead, he fell into the now traditional trap of attacking the supporters using social media to try and underline his case. Consequently, by suggesting that the reason why no players have come out as gay was due to potential abuse from the terraces, all he really did was further demonise the very people who will ultimately win the war against homophobia in football. The supporters.
As I said, the blog below was written five years ago and it angers me that I’m being forced to repost it. Because the fact that we’re still without an openly gay footballer in England isn’t simply tragic, it’s shameful.
As you may or may not know, Downing Street will today play host to a summit which will discuss, amongst other things, the issues of racism and homophobia.
Leaving aside the simple truth that I actually think our PM has more important things to be doing at the moment, the reason this summit is taking place is apparently to take a fresh look at both ‘problems’ in the face of recent events and, in the case of homophobia, in the wake of the BBC documentary which looked at the lack of any openly gay players in the professional game.
Now my views on racism at football are in black and white for all to see, be that on this very blog or in my book Kicking Off. Homophobia however, is something I have never really discussed before and there is a reason for that.
You see speaking as a football fan, it is my assertion that there isn’t actually a problem to address at the moment and nor will there be until such time as we have a player with the bottle to actually come out and admit to his sexuality. At that point things will change immediately because then the anti-homophobia campaign will have an actual focal point or to be blunt, a potential victim. As a result, then, and only then, will we know if we actually have a major problem at all. Because at the moment, it is all supposition.
That is I know, a very simplistic way of looking at things but let’s face it, once inside the confines of a ground, football fans become fairly simplistic beings. All too often the concept of right and wrong is neutralised by raw emotion and whilst any form of abusive chanting is unacceptable, the real key to stopping it isn’t legislation, it’s by changing the mindset of the minority who do it.
The precedent of course, is racist chanting. For as black players made more inroads into the game, supporters eventually began to realise how futile and pathetic abusing them was and that soon became so ingrained in their psyche that to even utter a racist term stopped occurring to all but the most rabid of morons. Indeed, far from knocking football for being racist we should be applauding it for driving the anti-racism message deep into the heart of British society.
I believe that exactly the same thing will happen with homophobia and I would argue that it would happen in a fairly short space of time if not immediately. After all, one only has to look at the TV to see how much has changed with regard to British societies acceptance of homosexuality in recent years.
Yet as the noises being made ahead of this summit clearly seem to prove, both the game and the authorities would like the great British public to believe that the second an openly gay player steps onto a field, the terraces will resound with cries of ‘they don’t like it up ‘em’ or ‘I’m free’ and the sight of fans mincing up and down behind the goals. Indeed the reason I sat down and wrote this very blog is because I have been so offended by some of the things I have been hearing this morning. Football fans may not be perfect, but the suggestion that more than a tiny minority are genuinely homophobic is beyond offensive,
The question of course, is why such things are being inferred and the answer, like most things to do with the great game, is fairly obvious. It’s a basic diversion tactic. Because if you point the finger of blame toward the fans, you don’t actually have to apportion any blame to yourselves.
Like it or not, if you are a pro-footballer be it at Old Trafford or Roots Hall, the nature of the beast is such that getting abuse from the terrace is going to be part and parcel of your career. Brutal though this might be, it is a nailed on fact and if you don’t like it or don’t think you will be able to take it, then don’t do it. It really is as simple as that.
The key to dealing with that abuse is to understand why it happens and what it actually means. Because for the most part, vitriol will only be coming at you from opposing fans if you’re pissing them off by doing a good job. And as long as you’re doing a good job, as recent history has proven only too well, your own supporters will not only forgive you anything but they will continue to heap adulation on you. Since they are the ones who ultimately pay your wages, they’re the only ones you really have to worry about.
However, if that grief comes not from the terraces but from your peers, especially your own team mates, it is something else entirely because it goes beyond banter from the crowd, it becomes personal.
Anyone who has ever been in a changing room knows that many of them are like a scene from Animal Farm (the George Orwell book, not the porn movie!) and any individual who shows even the remotest sign of being in any way different becomes fair game. Remember the stick Graham Le Saux used to get simply because he has a brain in his head? Much of that focussed on his supposed sexuality and let’s face it, if you were gay and saw that as a potential warning of things to come, why on earth would you want to put yourself in the firing line?
Of course not all players are like that and I’m sure that there are certain changing rooms which are delightful places to be post-training. But there are plenty which aren’t, especially if you’re not one of the towel-snapping, prank playing, tart shagging brigade and it is that ‘closed shop’ lad mentality which David Cameron and the various cronies and cling-ons should be discussing not the old chestnut of fears of abuse from the terraces.
But that will only happen when the game actually admits it has a problem in-house and we all know how reluctant it is to do that. Especially when you have a mute and already demonised scapegoat ready to hand.
Thanks to all those people who continue to keep both The Crew and Top Dog at the top of the various download charts. It really is humbling. Could I please ask that if you have read either book you leave a review of some kind as they are a great help both to me and to potential readers. And don’t forget, my latest comedy ebook Wings of a Sparrow is also available both in print and to download.
I’ve posted this as a page on my blog but thought it might be useful to post it as a standard blog as I know some people have connections set up.
So what follows is the text of an as yet unpublished interview I gave to a journalist just yesterday (Jan 9th 2012)! I’ve posted it simply because it provides reasonable answers to many of the questions I receive on a fairly regular basis.
I hope you enjoy it but if you have a question of your own, please don’t hesitate to mail me. Oh, and it’s quite long!
How and why did you become a writer?
I fell into it by accident really and it was certainly not an aspiration or anything like it! I had left the Royal Air Force after 18 years as an engineer and was ‘working’ as an extra on TV and in films. EURO 96 was on the horizon and I was on set filming an episode of Casualty for the BBC when the idea came to write a book about my experiences following football. That book eventually became ‘Everywhere We Go’ and it really was a case of right book, right time.
The rest as they say, is history.
How do you get your ideas?
In the early days, they were driven by the readership as I thought they would be. That’s why I wrote follow-on books about local derbies, England and the London clubs (all of which are now out in eBook format).
After that, I moved into fiction which largely came about as a result of an approach from the TV writer Lynda La Plante who wanted me to write something for one of her series and from that point on, I’ve tended to write about things which either interest me or which I am passionate about. Given the way I write and the fact that much of my work revolves around my own opinions, I think it’s vital to take that approach.
How long does it typically take you to write a book?
How long is a piece of string? I actually write fairly quickly but there are all kinds of things which impact on how long a book will take to complete. However, I usually aim to have a first draft of a full-length book completed in two to three months although I actually wrote the second half of my novel Top Dog in under ten days and some people say that’s amongst my best ever stuff!
How do you write?
I’d like to tell you that I have a very clearly defined routine which involves writing at least 5000 words a day or a straight 8 hours at the keyboard but the truth is that I am horrifically ill disciplined and it doesn’t take much to distract me if I’m not very careful. Twitter for example, can keep me occupied for hours which is quite pathetic and if I know that there’s an old movie on telly it’s game over!
I actually had to sell my beloved motorbike because if the sun was shining I’d be out on the road, deadline or no deadline!
However, if I’m in the mood I’ll sit down and simply write for as long as I can and that can be anything from 2 to 20 hours in a day. All I need is tea, food and very loud soul or jazz funk music to keep me going but make no mistake, it’s bloody hard work sometimes.
So why do it?
Well it’s actually quite a decent way to earn a living! After all, I don’t even have to get dressed most days and you can’t say that about many jobs!
More seriously, writing can also provide a real buzz especially when I get in the zone and the words just come pouring out without me having to think too about them. Whilst writing ‘The Art of Fart’ for example, I was having so much fun that I actually had to keep stopping because I’d be giggling so much I’d get tears in my eyes.
It’s also fair to say that I derive a huge amount of pleasure from interacting with readers. That’s actually a huge part of it for me because having someone tell you that they like a particular book kind of makes all those hours at a desk worthwhile if only because it proves I’m doing something right!
You seem to have written books in pretty much every format there is which is quite rare amongst authors. Why did you branch out from non-fiction?
Simply because having written four books with my brother, I wanted to do my own thing. The problem was, I didn’t really know what and so I wrote a comedy book called ‘The Geezers Guide to football’ and then a couple of thrillers before going back into non-fiction. Now I’ve written another comedy book and my next project is also more humour so maybe that’s where I’ll settle. Who knows?
Where do your ideas come from?
Two places, my warped imagination and the market. Whenever I talk to writers I always tell them that if they want to write for publication it is absolutely vital that they get to know who their target readership will be, research what they are reading and then write something to suit.
That might sound mercenary but it’s exactly what a publisher will do when they’re deciding if a submission is right for them so why not make the process easier for yourself?
In my case, my target readership is lads and as a lad myself (albeit an older version!) I understand that we’re basically simple creatures who know what we like to read and more importantly, how we like to read. I try to give them what they want, it really is as simple as that. Thankfully, it seems to be working!
However, don’t get the impression that I take my readership be they real or potential for granted because I don’t. As a professional author my readership is my livelihood and if I don’t keep them entertained, I’ll starve!
How much time do you spend on research?
That depends on the project. When I was writing non-fiction football stuff it was a 24/7 operation because football culture was and remains a constantly moving beast. Thankfully, I had loads of good contacts who kept me supplied with information and to be fair, I couldn’t have written half as much as I have done without their help.
For the fictional and comedy stuff, research hasn’t ever really been an issue because I’ve been able to draw on personal experiences. If you’ve read ‘Billy’s Log’ I’ll come clean and say that it’s very much an amalgamation of my own life and that of my mate who will remain nameless!
So are all of your fictional characters based on real life?
God yes! Everyone in every novel I’ve written has been based on someone real be they family, mates or even celebrities. I ever based one character on my local newsagent!
Character creation is actually a really important part of my writing process because once I have the outline nailed down, the next stage for me is to fully construct the people I will be writing about and that starts with three things; their name, their face and their voice. After all, to all intensive purposes that character is a real person with a real history and real problems of their own and so you have to know what they will look and sound like! But equally, if you’re going to put them through something you have to understand exactly how they will react and what they will be thinking at that moment and all of that has to be built up.
That’s so much easier to do if you use a real life base-line to work from not least because if you’re struggling, you can actually ring them up and chat to them or even stick something on YouTube to give you a feel of them. It’s amazing how simply hearing someone’s voice can help you work through something. It certainly does it for me!
So what other writing tricks do you use?
Music is fundamental to my writing because I can’t write without it. But it can’t be any music, it has to be the right music. As a result, before I start work on a new project I’ll spend ages picking the right album or tracks which I put together as a playlist on iTunes. That becomes the soundtrack and it’ll be on repeat throughout the writing process.
It fairly quickly becomes almost hypnotic and I soon find that I’m able to switch in and out of a project simply by pausing the music which is an awesome thing to be able to do. The downside is that once I finish the project, I can’t listen to any of those tracks again without instinctively starting to type!
Your novels The Crew and Top Dog are two fast paced and very tightly plotted thrillers. How much work did you do in advance?
Ah….. well I actually spent a huge amount of time on these two books but the funny thing about them is that in both cases I wrote the endings first. You see I knew I wanted specific twists within the last few pages and once I had those straight in my mind I had to commit them to paper. The rest of the book was about how I took the reader to that point.
Judging by the fact that The Crew is frequently ranked at #1 in the kindle download charts for football books and is still receiving good reviews over ten years since it was first published, it clearly worked!
So why the move into comedy?
My dad was an entertainer and comedian so I think comedy is in the genes! Truth to tell, I love writing humour more than anything else although in real life, I’m desperately unfunny bordering on grumpy!
You spent a long time in the Royal Air Force. Will life in uniform ever feature in your future work? Or would you ever consider writing your autobiography?
I have a couple of ideas but at the moment, that’s all they are. I have a list of 3 or 4 books ahead of those.
As for my autobiography, it’s an idea that has cropped up a few times in recent years but the honest answer is that if I did write it, I doubt anyone would actually believe it because it would be like a bizarre version of Forest Gump! As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m one of those people ‘things’ happen to!
For example, I was quite possibly the first person in the west to know about the Chernobyl disaster! But if I tell you how, I’ll possibly have to kill you!
As a professional author, do you enjoy the part of your job which doesn’t involve writing?
I love the promotional aspect of writing and do everything I can to sell my books and spread the word about what an ex-editor once called ‘Brand Brimson’.
I also like to talk to writing groups whenever I’m asked but that’s about it really. I don’t get invited to literary functions and have never been anywhere near a literary festival of any kind.
I’m not really sure why that is but hey, that’s the literary world for you. It’s never made much sense to me.
I’ve been writing for 15 years now and one thing I’ve learned is that there are a huge number of people involved in publishing who fail to grasp the idea that the most important person in the whole process is the reader.
So does that explain why you were once quoted as saying that you’re not at the bottom of the literary ladder, you’re one of the rubber bungs underneath? What did you mean by that?
I made that comment during an interview in which I was asked about the genre of ‘hoolie-lit’ which in case you don’t know was the label tagged on to those of us who wrote books about the subject of football hooliganism.
Anyway, the point I was making that in spite of the fact that as a genre it spawned something like 60 books the bulk of which were by first time authors, drew loads of people back into reading and made a small fortune for various publishers and bookshops, no one involved has ever received any recognition let alone credit from within the literary world for what happened. Quite the opposite in fact, we just get looked down upon.
It still pisses me off to be honest. But that’s literary snobbery for you.
It’s well documented that your involvement in the Elijah Wood movie Green Street Hooligans did not go too smoothly. There have been various versions of the story but you have never really given your side of things. Would you like to take this chance to explain what really went on?
The brief version is that the director and I had a difference of opinion. She thought she knew everything and I knew she didn’t. Sadly, in the end I was forced to give up on it and walk away but the finished item kind of proves I was right because whilst it’s ok, it could have been so, so much better. That’s women for you.
Will you do more movies?
I certainly hope so!
I actually have a few screenplays on the production treadmill at the moment and would hope to do more in the future but I learnt an awful lot working on Green Street so won’t make any of the same mistakes I made there. I hope not anyway!
How did you secure your first publishing deal?
My brother and I had been writing some draft material and in the end, I walked into WH Smiths, took a book and wrote to the publishers asking if they would be interested.
That publisher was Headline and within a week or so they wrote back asking for some material and so I sent them some. They quickly came back asking for more and after two or three times I told them that if this carried on they’d have the whole book anyway so they best tell me if they wanted it or not. They wrote back and said they did and that was it.
It was only some years later that I realised how lucky we were and that it doesn’t generally happen like that!
How did you find your agent?
I don’t have an agent! Oddly, in spite of having 14 books published I’ve never been able to find one who wants to take me on so I’ve basically given up looking now. However, if anyone wants the job, I’d be happy to talk to them!
What tips would you give to aspiring writers?
The single most important piece of advice I would give them is this; if you can’t take criticism, don’t do it. Reviews can be brutal but so can reading or hearing simple feedback and if you think that you will struggle with someone slagging off your work, don’t put yourself in the firing line.
After that, it’s the basics. Write what you know, know your market, join writing groups, etc, etc. But above all, enjoy it! If you don’t, how can you expect your readers to?
What was your worst ever review?
Time out in London reviewed my first book ‘Everywhere We go’ thus: Everywhere We Go…. yeah right. Fuck off.
And your best?
I can’t remember the actual book but one of the English broadsheets (The Times I think) once called me ‘the hooligan’s pornographer-in-chief’ which I thought was quite cool. It’s certainly going on my gravestone!
Actually, the best reviews and in truth the only ones that really count are those from readers. I’m very lucky there and appreciate them all (but please, keep posting them!!)
If someone wanted to get a feel for your writing, which of your books would you recommend?
That would depend on who they were and especially what sex!
I do have a soft spot for my novels and to be honest, of all the books I’ve written ‘Billy’s Log’ is a personal favourite because it still makes me laugh. Indeed, I’m going to bow to pressure and write the sequel later this year.
What books do you read?
Autobiographies are a favourite of mine together although I steer clear of footballers and anyone under 40! I recently re-read Joan Simms book which is brilliant and very funny.
I also read military non-fiction and there is a book about the bombing raids on Port Stanley during the Falklands war called ‘Vulcan 607’ which is a particular favourite as I was there!
You have recently made the switch over to epublishing. How did that come about and how is it working?
I was approached by a company called the ebookpartnership.com who wanted to know if I would be interested in putting selected books from my backlist online.
I didn’t really know much about the process at that point but had a couple of titles which I knew I had the electronic rights to and so handed them over, more as a test than anything else. The reaction was amazing and now I have 12 of my backlist available to download. Two of those, ‘The Crew’ and ‘Everywhere We Go’ are actually free and although I was reluctant to do this at first, it has worked out astonishingly well as the ratio of sell-through purchases has been brilliant.
Is it working? Well I suddenly have full control over what I write and when I write it and it all happens at the speed I want it to happen as opposed to having to fit in with a publisher’s schedule. So hell yes! I’m a convert. So much so that I actually wrote ‘The Art of Fart’ specifically to release to the online market.
Tell us about ‘The Art of Fart’.
As anyone who has read the opening chapter on Amazon will know, it’s yet another book which has its roots in my own life! After all, when you grow up in a house of 8, 6 of whom are male, farting is going to feature quite heavily!
But in all seriousness, it’s just a bit of fun. It was certainly hilarious to write!
So what’s next?
I’m currently working on another novel, this time a comedy about football and then I may well write the sequel to ‘Billy’s Log’ which I already have mapped out.
However, if life has taught me one thing it’s that it never runs smoothly so who knows? I just hope I’m around to find out!
I am, by my own admission, a petrol head. I don’t care what it is, car, bike or boat, if it has an engine, I’m there.
Two stroke, four stroke, diesel, rotary, even gas turbine… I don’t care. I love them all equally and thanks to the delights of my engineering background, am more than capable of pissing about with any of them for hours.
Now being a petrol head, it stands to reason that I have a love of motorsport and since I was a nipper, there has been one particular discipline that has captured my heart. I’ve watched it, raced it, I even put it on TV and to this day, I cannot get enough of it. I speak of the sport of Formula One Stock Car racing.
Known as ‘the working mans motorsport’ on account of its inner-city roots, it is finally, after years of prodding by hundreds if not thousands of people, about to come to the BBC. I won’t say anything more, just check this out. Must watch TV
I cannot wait. Really, I can’t. And in case you were wondering, yes, that really is my old stock car in the picture. Happy days.
Of course being a petrol head and a bloke, some people assume that I must have certain opinions relating to women drivers but this is not the case. Indeed, I can honestly say that most of the women I know are excellent behind the wheel. I certainly feel safer in their passenger seats than I do with most of men I’ve had the misfortune to be driven by recently
That said, I do have quite firmly entrenched opinions about cars. Or to be more specific, what cars men should or should not drive. And these are based not on what’s under the bonnet or even how fast they go, but on what they look like.
As far as I’m concerned, men should drive cars that are big and butch. Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar, big Mercedes, BMW’s or Audi saloons fit the bill perfectly. Personally, I consider anyone who drives a Chrysler 300 to have both testicles firmly in place because they look like they actually run on testosterone.
Conversely, whilst it would be reasonable to assume that given their performance, I would be ok with men who drive sports cars, this is not the case. If I see a male driving a Porsche for example, one of two things springs to mind; mid-life crisis or gay. Similarly, I consider convertibles to be the preserve of women. Period. The only exception being if they are old and American.
On the subject of ‘non-blokey’ cars, any male who drives anything with either ‘hybrid’ or ‘people carrier’ in the description clearly falls under the tag of ‘new man’ (for which read ‘sad man’) and should be ashamed of themselves. Anyone without ovaries who drives a Smart car clearly has problems.
4×4’s are another vehicle I have issues with. Both BMW and Mercedes versions have always had something ‘girlie’ about them whilst the same thing has also begun to infect the Range Rover. Once the ultimate man’s vehicle, I seem to see so many of them being driven by blondes these days that there’s no way they can be considered masculine any more. As for the large pickups that have begun to infest our roads, whilst they undoubtedly have their merits and are obviously de rigour in the US of A, here in the UK they do have certain connotations associated with them. And who wants that?
The irony is of course, that I drive none of the above. For whilst my two previous cars were old Jaguar XJ’s (possibly the all time classic English lads motor) these days I drive a VW Golf. Not exactly blokey I’ll admit but I do love it to bits.
Then again, I’m confident enough in my sexuality to drive what I like. And besides, as far as I’m concerned, the ultimate male vehicle doesn’t have four wheels at all. Just the two.