Soccer Banter: What has the book done for you and your career?
Stephen Rea: I am very proud of the book, and publishing is such a competitive business that it's an accomplishment just to get a story into print. I think being a published author gets you an element of respect. I have had emails from other authors and writers who have either read it or just heard about it, and with something like this behind you then it just helps give you (and your writing) a wee foot up in a very tough business.
For instance I am a Chelsea fan, and the guy who runs the Chelsea website read my book and liked it, so he contacted me, asking me to write for the club's official site. That would never have happened if I wasn't a published author.
Career-wise - if you are talking about money - it has done very little, and that is true with nearly all books. There are more than five million books on Amazon, and something like 90 percent of those sell less than 100 copies a year. When someone buys my book my royalty is around $1.25, so even if your book sells say 5,000 copies, it's not a great return for a year's work.
However thankfully there's more to life than money, and the biggest thrill for me has been how well it has been received. If you read the press/reviews section on my website, I have been bowled over by the positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. I've been lucky enough to get some glowing reviews from respected organizations like “The Washington Post” and the BBC, and I'm very proud of that.
SR: My literary career - to steal a soccer metaphor - has been relegated and plummeted down the divisions! But I'm confident I'll soon be ready for promotion!
I spent a lot of time publicizing my book when it was released. I did a lot of interviews, contacted a lot of media outlets and travelled across the country doing book signings and spreading the word. Then when it was released in Ireland and the UK I did the same across the Pond. I then opted to be a stay-at-home dad to my young daughter under the mistaken impression I would be able to grab a few hours writing a day as well! Ha ha! As anyone who has stayed home with a child will tell you, it doesn't work like that! So my writing has been limited to the Chelsea website and a few articles here and there, but I plan to start bashing the keyboard again. My next project will be a fiction novel though I think, I have a draft from before Hurricane Katrina I aim to revisit.
SB: What are you doing in the game now?
SR: I'm still pulling on my boots and dragging myself around the pitch every week. We have two teams now at Finn McCool's and I play on Finn's 2 in the Second Division along with one other original member from our first game in April 2005. We have won the league twice since we started three years ago, and in fact I scored my first goal in ages in the Cup Final!
I'm also meeting with my daughter's school as they have asked me to consider coaching their team, and certainly becoming a qualified coach at some level is something I intend to do.
SB: What doors has the booked helped open for you?
SR: See answer to one...
But the other big news is that a guy in California has optioned my book with the hope of making it into a movie. There are still many, many obstacles to come before it will every happen, but nonetheless it's exciting to think that somebody, somewhere thinks enough of your work to devote time and energy to trying to see the story on the big screen. Fingers crossed it comes off: Finn McCool's FC - The Movie... now, that would be something!
SR: Football and music are my two main passions in life, and I think I am more likely to write a music book than a football one to be honest. I would have no objection to doing it, I love the game, but I don't have any plans at the minute. If someone approached me with something I want to do though I'd certainly be interested.
SB: What football book would like to have written?
SR: Fever Pitch is the obvious one. For guys my age, especially those of us who are keen readers, it is impossible to overstate how defining that book was. It changed things forever - suddenly there were serious books by talented writers about football, and not just puff biographies of the latest star or dull histories of clubs. I like Nick Hornby's stuff anyway, but that was fantastic. I enjoyed the British movie too actually, even if it was about Arsenal!
Another classic I would highly recommend is Simon Kuper's Football Against The Enemy, and it's probably number two on my list. I'd also urge your readers to check out his book Soccernomics, and a great, entertaining story is Chuck Culpepper's Bloody Confused.
SB: As a fan of Northern Ireland what do you think the future holds for the national team?
SR: I worry about us. I was at the World Cup in 1982, my dad also went to 1986, but it's getting harder and harder to qualify for tournaments these days. With more than 50 members and the strongest national teams in the world it's a near-impossible task for a tiny country like our's to even finish second in a group and make the play-offs. For instance for the current Euros we drew the only group with three World Cup qualifiers - Italy, Serbia and Slovenia. On the positive side we have been in the mix right to the end for the last couple of campaigns, but we need a good crop of youngsters all coming through together to give us a solid base to build on.
And that's not even mentioning that our small pool of potential players is currently getting decimated as Northern Irish-born players opt to play for the Republic of Ireland - some even after being capped in friendlies! - but that's another story...
SR: I'm a Chelsea fan. Favorite all-time player though is George Best. Also loved Pat Jennings. Favorite Chelsea players in no particular order are probably Ray Wilkins, Zola, Lampard, Gullit. Saw Gullit a few times in the flesh and he was fantastic. Best individual display I've probably seen in the flesh was a Monday night game at Blackburn when Chelsea won 4-3, Brian Laudraup was absolutely incredible. I also saw Best and Cruyff on the same pitch as well, a World Cup qualifier in Belfast in 1977, but I remember very little about it!
SB: Do you watch MLS? How do you compare football in Northern Ireland to the US?
SR: In short, no. But I don't watch anything other than the Premiership and international football, and rarely if ever bother with leagues like the Italian, Spanish and German. I don't think I've seen an Irish league game in more than a decade, and at that time it was all amateur. I'm sure the MLS is better funded, better run and of a higher standard nowadays, though I think some clubs back home have moved to having at least a few players as full-time professionals.
SB: What do you think of soccer in the USA?
SR: I have been very impressed with soccer in the States, and indeed I've noticed a big change even in the seven years I've been here. I did a signing at a fantastic bar called The Pug bar in Washington DC, and afterwards the owner Tony Tomelden took me to see DC United v the New York Red Bulls. It was cold and wet and had been raining for days and the game was live on TV, but still there were thousands of hardcore fans who had turned out to support their team. I really enjoyed that, and after that experience I knew the game now has a solid foothold in this country.