In an unlikely coincidence, when Chelsea face Newcastle United both teams’ managers will also be published writers of fiction books. We’ll have to wait until later today to find out who comes out on top in the football, Frank Lampard or Steve Bruce, but when it comes to their literary careers, is there a clear winner?
Some would say that victor is undoubtedly our own Frank Lampard, who started writing his series of children’s books, titled Frankie’s Magic Football, during his final years as a player at Chelsea. While he may not be rivalling Roald Dahl, he has picked up a respectable following among younger football fans, so much so that the 20th book in the series was released in February last year.
As the title suggests, the stories focus on the ‘wacky’ adventures of a young boy named Frankie, who finds an old football with magical powers which transports him, his friends and pet dog Max into another world, where they must use their football skills to defeat all manner of baddies including pirates, cowboys and dinosaurs.
‘I first had the idea when reading stories to my own children,’ said Lampard. ‘Sport and reading are two essentials for us at home, so I decided to make up my own football stories and adventures.’
Bruce’s writing isn’t quite so family friendly, as his trio of books involve football manager Steve Barnes – loosely (we hope) based on Bruce himself – spending his spare time taking on murderers, terrorists, spies and even fugitive war criminals.
Bruce did, however, use his creative licence to right a few wrongs from his football career, with Barnes proud of winning the European Cup with ‘Mulchester United’. As far as we know, none of the books featuring little Frankie involve him scoring for ‘Empland’ against ‘Gutmany’ to spark a comeback en route to winning the World Cup.
Unfortunately, Bruce’s novels were not a huge success, with the now Newcastle boss admitting: ‘It was a long time ago, and I'm not sure I want to be reminded of how bad they were. It became a laughing stock, to be honest. I think they're probably still on the shelves somewhere, and I bet you could probably pick one up for 99p.’
He would lose that bet spectacularly. Having gathered a cult following among football fans, rare copies sell for anything up to £400!That’s despite dedicated fan of Bruce’s work, Northern Irish journalist Seamus O’Reilly, describing Striker in his lovingly brutal series of reviews as a ‘fizzing geyser of hot nonsense’.
The long and frequent musings about the irrigation network of Lancashire, bronze-age tribes and salesman-like descriptions of his car, all unrelated to the story and often while the main character is being held at gun-point, fall victim to O’Reilly’s wit, while such gems as ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle. That applies to other nations too’ and ‘I decided to wear tracksuit and trainers. That is the kind of decision I make regularly’ led him to imagine the author ‘typing the entire novel with his two index fingers, tongue peeking out from between his gritted teeth’.
One thing you can say for Bruce the author, though, is that his career was prolific while it lasted, with all three books completed in one four-month spell in 1999. Let’s hope Chelsea make similarly short work of his Newcastle side at Stamford Bridge!