What inspired you to write A Devilish Pastime?
I was doing a writing course, and, for one of the assignments, I needed to produce an idea for a non-fiction book and write a synopsis for it. I had become very interested in sports history, and thought about various ideas in that area. My first idea was to cover the history of all well-known sports, but that wouldn’t have allowed me to go into much depth about any of them, so it wasn’t very appealing Then, something – I can’t remember what – made me think about the common ground that the various football sports share, and there seemed to be a good basis for a book there.
So, I did a bit of research and planning, and wrote a synopsis. I began to like the idea so much that I started doing some more detailed research and planning, and started writing the book itself, independently of the course.
After finishing the first few chapters, I started contacting publishers. One of them, SportsBooks, agreed to publish the book, giving me a great incentive to press on and complete it.
Aside from the research, what other means did you use to obtain information, especially if you participate in any of these games?
Almost all of the information came from researching – using books, websites and so on. I went to see a folk football event in the Midlands, and visited Harrow School in London to see its own 19th-century brand of football – these are both covered in the book’s epilogue.
I don’t take part in any sports nowadays – too old and unfit! – although I did play soccer at a recreational level for many years. Other than that, my playing experience is limited to a couple of rugby union games at high school, when I was pretty clueless about the rules, and probably never even touched the ball.
Describe your experiences while researching and writing the book.
It was hard work, but mostly enjoyable. The social history aspects were especially interesting, and made for some nice diversions from learning about the histories of rule changes, leagues being formed, etc.
One of the difficulties was that a lot of the source material for the research was written from biased viewpoints, by people who were essentially proselytising about those particular sports – I had to try to differentiate the facts from the myths and exaggerations.
The easiest, and most satisfying, parts to research and write were the parts about the sports that have had the most eventful histories. Writing about rugby union, from 1895 until roughly the 1960s, was especially tough, as very little happened throughout that time, thanks to the extreme conservatism of the people running the sport. On the other hand, with American football, there was an enormous amount to write about in terms of changes in the rules, tactics, culture and organisational structures – almost too much.
Do you any future writing projects or books you wish to share?
No, not for the foreseeable future. I didn’t have any further ideas that seemed to be strong enough, and turned my attention to proofreading and editing instead. This helped me with re-editing my book for re-publication as an ebook last year, after the original SportsBooks edition went out of print.
Is there anything else you wish to share with readers?
Strange as it may seem, I haven’t been to a soccer game since 2007! Although I grew up as a fanatic, I find it difficult to watch soccer nowadays, thanks to the diving, play-acting and whining, and the extreme levels of hype and madness surrounding the game in England. I do still find the game’s earlier history interesting, though.