Interview With Patrick Barclay: The Art Of Football Writing

In the latest of our Art of Football Writing series, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting to author and writer Patrick Barclay.

In short, Paddy is one of the most talented and esteemed writers around. He has written for The Times, The Guardian and The Independent in his time as a journalist and now contributes to the London Evening Standard four days a week. He also makes regular appearances the Sky Sports programme Sunday Supplement’.

In our interview, he talks about his craft, changes in the writing industry, MLS and his upcoming book.

Matt Jones (MJ):You’ve written two biographies; one on Jose Mourinho and one on Sir Alex Ferguson. Would you say is your specific area of expertise is as a writer?

Patrick Barclay (PB): No, not really. I’m been a football writer for nearly 40 years now and I only starting writing the first biography about Jose Mourinho when he arrived at Chelsea in 2004 and now I’ve nearly finished my third. But it’s certainly something I enjoy. Maybe I’ll do another one!

MJ: Do you go through a lot of rituals each day before writing?

PB: When writing a book, absolutely. Mainly just an avoidance of the avoidance of getting down to work, as any kind of writing is always subject to procrastination.

But the joy of it is the research; those little discoveries you make along the way. To give you an example, when I was writing the Mourinho book, I didn’t really have as much time as I’d have liked to research his early life. But I was sent to cover a match between Sporting Lisbon and Newcastle.

I stayed the one night and as I was checking out, the manager of the hotel said to me “Ah, you’re from London, the adopted city of our great Jose Mourinho!”. We got talking and it turned out his assistant had been taught by Mourinho at school!

So I got my tape recorder out and got a great account of back when Mourinho was a school teacher. It was a huge stroke of luck and when you stumble on something like that, it’s great fun.

MJ: Do you have music you like to listen to whilst writing?

PB: Never! Under any circumstances! If somebody is playing music two streets away, I absolutely hate it. I can’t stand any distractions.

I know Henry Winter from The Telegraph listens to music whilst he works. He does write with a great rhythm and perhaps that is where it comes from.

MJ: You’ve spoken on how you need to be fully immersed in what you’re working on, but do you sometimes find it difficult to escape the football bubble?

PB: Yes I do. If I go to the pub, people won’t ask me about the situation in Syria. They will want to talk about football because they know I’m interested in it.

But I’m the same! Even if I’m at home and we have guests, I might suggest watching a Barcelona game that we’ve got recorded, so it is kind of voluntary.

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