It’s been a labour of love to get my new book ‘The Games That Made Us’ published. That story for me, somewhat oddly, begins with the COVID pandemic, the first lockdown and finding myself furloughed; Meaning for the first time since leaving university 14 years prior, I was essentially out of work.
Like a lot of people at the time, I wanted to find something to fill the time that had suddenly been thrust upon me. As dancing with Joe Wicks every morning was never going to be my thing, I decided to try and accomplish something that had been a lifelong ambition of mine and write a book. For as long as I could remember I had a love of reading sport books, autobiographies especially, and thought that this time of enforced leisure could be my opportunity.
I had an idea in mind as well, given to me when telling my two children, Jack and Adam, about the ‘Greatest Escape’ season, and thinking how remarkable it was that nobody had ever thought to write a book about that campaign and everything that took place during. So off I went, with a semblance of a plan, my wife Kate agreeing to be my editor of sorts, and an ambition that was two-fold: I wanted to finish writing it, and I wanted just one person who wasn’t in my immediate family to read it.
Even that idea seemed fanciful to me though, I couldn’t see any way that anybody would care what a West Ham-supporting Recruitment Consultant wrote about. But the dream lived on, and as I wrote, for four or five hours a day through early and mid 2020, I realised one thing: I loved writing.
When I was at Uni a 2,000-word essay on political history would take me a couple of weeks, but on a subject I was passionate about and enjoyed, I could write that number in an afternoon, if not more. Then to my shock and delight, the good people at Pitch Publishing showed an interest in releasing my work, and after some editing and polite advice to take a couple of opinions out for fear of being sued, ‘The Greatest Escape’ was released as an actual book in January 2021.
I still cannot believe it now. I also couldn’t believe some of the things that would happen afterward, as people seemed to not only buy the book, but enjoy it. I had the bug now, and a few months later I began work on my second release, which this time was going to be the book I had dreamt of writing about since I was a child.
I had always loved the idea of writing a book about West Ham that was about the club and its history, while being part-autobiographical in the sense of talking about how the club had affected me and my life, and in a pleasant coincidence, I realised that 2022 would be 30 years since my dad had begun taking me to Upton Park. I became an avid fan almost immediately and I thought that the opportunity to write about an exact 30-year period would be too good to pass up.
But what form would the book take? After a few weeks of thought I decided to write about the club’s 50 most important matches since 1992, taking in at least one match per year. Why most important, rather than best? Two reasons really. First, as we all know it’s not like we won nine league titles over the time, so 50 ‘best’ matches I thought could be hard to find.
Let’s be honest, if you bought that book you’d skip over Number 49: 3-0 win away to Bradford in 1999, wouldn’t you? And secondly, I find ranting about some of our awful, or comically bad matches and moments, quite therapeutic.
My self-deprecating, ironic humour that I think all West Ham fans possess can fully come out then, and being honest I think any book about this club needs to look at those moments as much as the good ones. Also I felt our ‘important’ matches would tell the story of the time period effectively, and I also liked the idea of finding a couple of hidden gems to write about.
I think if you see the list of matches a couple may surprise you, but hopefully once you have read my rationale for their inclusion you may well see my point. I spent some time making a list and then off we went, only as I wrote the book through 2021 and early 2022 did I find the odd problem; which was that on the pitch our European run could make my book seem out of date before it was even released.
Luckily the team at Pitch were sympathetic to this issue and flexible with my deadline, which led to me writing about match 50 (Frankfurt away) two days after the game had been played. Some real emotion went into those words I can tell you. I think the book is really good. I guess I would say that but I’m apparently a lot more critical of my own work than a lot of people are. But I am super proud of it. It truly is the book I always dreamt of writing.
I am sure this won’t be it for me though when it comes to sitting at the laptop writing and moaning about West Ham. I love the process too much to stop, and the interaction I have had with other fans through social media that has come about through the books has been ever so enjoyable.
The book is out now and I think if you’re a fan of this club, or even football in general, a fair bit of it will resonate with you. At the end of the day I’m not a professional writer, I’m just a fan that likes telling stories, and I think, and hope, that comes across in both books.