It started, like all the best ideas, in the pub. I can’t remember which pub now, or how exactly the conversation went, but that’s always the way with pub chat, isn’t it? Either way, myself, fellow author Allan Wilson and publisher Mark Buckland were standing with pints in hand talking about books and football, a pretty common occurrence, truth be told.
We had heard on the literary grapevine about the existence of an England Writers football team. Rumour had it that they had even played in a Writers’ World Cup at some point. That was all it took.
‘Why don’t we start a Scotland Writers football team?’ one of us said.
So we did.
After a bit of investigating, we got in touch with the English lads who not only gave us a host of invaluable information and contacts, but who offered to come and play us in our first game once we got ourselves sorted.
It turns out there is a little network of international writers teams, many of which have been in existence since around 2005. As well as our nearest neighbours down south, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary all have teams. There are even teams in Israel and the United States, it seems.
So anyway, a few short months after that initial pub chat we found ourselves taking to the pitch for the first time. It was December 1st 2012, the 140th anniversary of the first ever Scotland v England game, and we were even playing at the same ground, the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Glasgow.
Our team was made up of novelists and poets, short story writers and publishers, screenwriters and more, anyone who has a connection with the literary community in Scotland is welcome, men and women alike. For example, on that first day crime writer Chris Brookmyre put in a good shift at left midfield, publishing legend Kevin Williamson led the line up front and poet Billy Letford was the midfield engine.
And we won 4-2. Don’t ask me how. Considering we had never played together before, and that the England team were a well-drilled and experienced unit, that scoreline seems all the more remarkable.
But the English players took it really well. We had met for a curry and beers the night before, and after the match we went on to a night of literary readings, many more beers and a lot of communal congratulation and commiseration, with the English swearing they would get revenge next time.
Which they surely did when we travelled down to London to play them in April of last year, and we ended up on the wrong end of a 5-0 tanking. It was like the battle of the bloody Somme, a terrible match in awful conditions that will forever be burned on the memory of all the Scots who played in it.
But even still, that weekend was a great laugh and a huge success. We had another night of readings and banter, and cemented cross-border literary relations like never before.
Since that game, Scotland Writers FC have been lucky enough to play two more games, both away from home. On consecutive weekends we travelled to Gothenburg to play our Swedish equivalent, then on to Vienna to take on the Austrians.
Fortunes were mixed on our travels, let’s just say that. The fit, skilful Swedes destroyed us 9-2, but we regained pride on the pitch in Vienna, running out 3-1 winners.
Both those weekends taught us something, I think. What we’re doing is much bigger than just a bunch of mates playing football together, though the camaraderie and companionship of that is undeniably a part of it. There was a real feeling of cultural exchange in the air during both weekends. The literary events in the evenings were terrific, feisty affairs, and we learned so much about the storytelling cultures of Sweden and Austria while on our travels. Some of our players read their work in Gaelic and Scots as well as English, a real eye opener for our foreign hosts, and after those trips I felt more European, more international, genuinely more outward-looking in my thoughts and ideas. And I know the rest of the squad felt the same.
Also, it was great to hear about the community work that both the Swedish and Austrian teams are carrying out. Both have strong connections with local amateur teams, and are leading literacy and writing classes with football-mad kids who might otherwise never dream of picking up a book, never mind writing their own stories.
It was inspirational, to tell the truth, and we are in the process of getting something similar off the ground at home.
Although we take the football very seriously on the pitch, despite our lack of skill, there is so much more to the Scotland Writers FC than just the ninety minutes on the park. It’s about using the unlikely combination of books and football to create a sense of community amongst otherwise solitary writers, improve local communities if we can, fly the flag for our own culture abroad, and broaden our minds about the experiences of others. While also having a few beers and playing a game we love, of course.
For more info including match reports, team photos and more, check out http://scotlandwritersfc.wordpress.com
Doug Johnstone is a writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. His fifth novel, Gone Again, was published by Faber and Faber on March 7th 2013. His previous novel, Hit & Run, was published in 2012 and was an Amazon #1 Bestseller, as well as being selected as a prestigious Fiction Uncovered winner. His novel before that, Smokeheads, was published in March 2011 and was nominated for the Crimefest Last Laugh Award. Before that he published two novels with Penguin, Tombstoning (2006) and The Ossians (2008), which received praise from the likes of Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre.