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Children's Author, Bob Cattell

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

'To me as an author what is interesting is how young players cope with pressure. Will they buckle under or pull through?'


Most adults would agree that to get a ten or eleven-year-old child interested in football is a piece of cake. To persuade the same child to read a book is much harder. So it was, that three years ago children's author Bob Cattell embarked upon a series of six books under the general heading of Strikers. Co-written with David Ross, the stories follow the early career of Thomas Headley, from his transfer to the mighty Sherwood Strikers to his breakthrough into the England team. On the way Thomas comes across match-fixers, media magnates, jealous team mates, and inevitably, injuries and the pain of being dropped.
 
'I noticed there were plenty of books about kids playing football,' explains Bob, 'but nothing really for kids about the modern professional game. At the same time, whereas cricket has inspired a huge list of books by high quality writers, football has never really made it into literature. Maybe it's because the reality is often stranger than fiction.'
 
Writing for children does impose certain limits, Bob admits. Unlike the real game there must be no swearing and no sex scandals. Otherwise, short of complex financial matters, no subjects are taboo.
 
'Because you're dealing with an audience that is traditionally reluctant to read, you want them to feel that they must turn the page to find out what happens next. So the narrative has to run very fast. The books must also be acceptable for kids to be seen reading at school. I guess they derive from the older tradition of adventure stories we used to read all the time in magazines like Boy's Own and comics like Roy of the Rovers. This genre came to be dismissed as rather old-fashioned in the 1970s and 1980s. Even the notion of boys being competitive fell out of favour amongst educationalists. So perhaps the Strikers series is my way of returning to the sort of books I enjoyed reading when I was a child in the 1950s. And I suppose yes, the good guys in my stories do usually win.'
 
But not without setbacks. Thomas Headley, a strong-willed youth who grew up looking after his Jamaican mother and younger brothers, is constantly being tested; by the bright lights, by pressures from the media, and for a while by the frustration of being played out of position. Some of his team mates also have familiar traits, such as Drew Stilton, the arrogant striker and Paul Claudel, the Frenchman who has a touch of the Eric Cantona about him. However, says Bob, in real football characters like Cantona are the exception. 'Most players tend to be viewed through the media as somewhat one-dimensional characters who are focused purely on the game. To me as an author what is interesting is how those young players cope with pressure. Will they buckle under or pull through?'
 
And will Thomas Headley pull through? 'Ah, teases Bob, 'that would be telling.'
 
Bob himself supports Aston Villa. One of his earliest memories is, while on a caravan holiday in Norfolk, shivering as he and his father listened to the car radio relay Villa's triumph over Manchester United in the 1957 FA Cup Final. Even though it was May, outside the car it was snowing. As he says, you couldn't put that in a book because no one would believe it!

 

Simon Inglis, November 2001

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