Lords Cricket Ground, one of Great Britain’s most iconic sporting venues, hosted the inaugural London Sports Writing Festival this weekend. The event saw some of the most talented sports writers around combine with a host of Britain’s most popular sporting figures to deliver a fascinating insight into topical and age-old sporting discussions.
I had the pleasure of attending the event on behalf of World Soccer Talk and it truly was a privilege to be in the company of some of my sporting and literary inspirations.
The Friday was bursting with a host of football-related chatter. It began with Mark Halsey discussing his controversial new book Added Time along with co-writer Ian Ridley and award-winning author of The Nowhere Men, Michael Calvin. The former referee spoke of his personal relationships with Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson – something which he feels he shouldn’t be criticized for – as well as offering a damning opinion of the manner in which young referees are managed in the modern game.
The next discussion saw three of England’s most prominent football figures discuss careers that have been hampered by fitness woes. Kelly Smith, record goalscorer for both England and Arsenal, Clark Carlisle, Chairman of the PFA and former England and Tottenham defender Ledley King took to the stage to discuss the highs and the lows being a footballer can bring. The former two in particular spoke of their battles with drink, depression and how they managed to fight back from it.
There was barely time to draw breath before four other great writers took to the stage. In a real treat for Arsenal fans, Patrick Barclay, Philippe Auclair, Jon Spurling and Tom Watt spent sixty minutes discussing ‘The Men Who Made Arsenal’. All of the writers have penned books on the history of the great London club, and they chewed the fat on legendary Gunners figures like Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger, as well as the understated influence of the much maligned George Graham.
That discussion preceded what was the highlight of the evening as Spanish football experts Sid Lowe, author of the excellent new book Fear and Loathing In La Liga, and Graham Hunter, author of Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team In The World served up an hour of enthralling, impassioned discussion about La Liga, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the hugely contrasting but comparatively trophy-laden history of each club. The conversation oscillated wonderfully between the two, with Matt Dickinson of the The Times offering a marvellous foil for an engaging full-on debate on the Spanish game.
The day was capped off with an engrossing discussion between Guillem Balague and Avram Grant. Ballague, who is putting the finishing touches to his book about Lionel Messi, spoke at length about the Argentinian lauded as the greatest player of all time.
He provided a glimpse into the complex nature of his character, the brutal effect his footballing pursuit had on his family, and how these factors have subsequently moulded his winning mentality. Grant in turn, offered his insight of working with some of the top players in world football and how he would handle a prodigious but understatedly complicated talent like Messi.
Saturday was slightly more diluted in terms of football discussion, but still served up some great offerings for the football nut. Liverpool writer and Daily Mirror columnist Brian Reade took part in a light-hearted ‘Sports Quiz’ in which he spoke of his Istanbul experience, favorite ever piece of sporting skulduggery and the bizarre occasion on which he was nearly sued by Sir Elton John!
The final session on Saturday saw writers from ‘The Blizzard’ take to the stage. The quarterly publication edited by award winning author Jonathan Wilson, boasts a writing staff of stellar names, and Wilson was joined on stage by Philippe Auclair, James Montague and Gabriele Marcotti.
They talked over a host of topical footballing issues, most notably the qualifying exploits of the English, Bosnian and Icelandic national teams, that before taking tantalizing glimpse at what might occur in Brazil next summer. The illustrious panel also reminisced over their favorite ever World Cup and the very distinct possibility of tournament not taking place in Qatar 2022.
I managed to speak to a few of the writers after their respective disucssion, all of whom were affable and engaging. Rather excitingly, many have agreed to take part in our ‘Art of Football Writing’, so keep a keen eye out for that in the coming weeks!
In the meantime, for more information about the festival, including details on where you can find highlights of the weekend’s sessions, head over to http://www.londonsportswritingfestival.com or seek them out on twitter @lswf2013.
Here’s hoping this year will be the first of many!