Friday, 24 August 2018

He's One Of Our Own - The story behind the book

Blades fans have been lucky in recent years, with several books being published with either a strong Blades flavour, or focusing on a former Blades player. Autobiographies of Alan Hodgkinson, Keith Edwards, Tony Kenworthy and  Bob Booker look firmly to the past (and in most cases to a fondly remembered time). The latest Blades related book has a much more current focus, but the time it covers will still be looked on with great happiness for many years to come.
Danny Hall, journalist at The Star, has written He's One Of Our Own : The Story of Chris Wilder's Blades Revolution and he too time out to tell A United View about it.
On the book's website you say;  "I’ve always had an ambition to write a book, ever since I picked up a copy of The Star as a kid and realised that being paid to write about sport was an actual thing."

Is it the case that the Wilder story presented a nice opportunity to achieve that ambition? Have you had any other opportunities previously?
I pitched one book before this one, but they weren't picked up because they had broad appeal. This one was a little different, but it wasn't a case of being desperate to write a book. It's always been something in the back of my mind, because I enjoy the longer-form of journalism that there isn't always time and space for, but it wasn't like I was throwing out pitches left, right and centre. So I thought a book, over 60-90,000 words, would give me the chance to get my teeth into something. I pitched it to the publisher who called me immediately and said he wanted it, so the journey began there really.

With newspapers focusing online, increasing numbers of alternative online news outlets and traditional print media supposedly under threat, is it tough pitching an idea to publishers, or was this story an easy sell?
As touched on previously, a fairly easy sell. Newspapers are focusing increasingly online and on social media, but I still believe there is room for a long read.
As a Blades fan and journalist what are your favourite memories pre-Wilder? 
Pre-Wilder, there wasn't a great deal! One of my earliest memories was watching Vas Borbokis v Sunderland... I loved him from that moment, and got his name on my replica away shirt. It had to curve around the No.2 because the shirt was so small, and cost more for the printing than the top! Obviously the highlight was the Warnock promotion season and then the Premier League campaign, which ended in the most Sheffield United way possible. The FA Cup semi-final against Hull at Wembley was also brilliant, if not for the sensation of finally scoring a goal there but for the spontaneous round of applause that filtered around Wembley after Hull's fifth goal went in.
What are the challenges of writing a book alongside the day job?
It's tough. A lot of people have assumed that writing the book is a bit of a busman's holiday, as it fits quite tightly with the day job, but it couldn't be further from the truth! And coming home at night after a day of writing, to write another 4-5,000 words, or taking a week off to write was difficult. I reckon over the five-month period of the book from idea to completion, I had a week off from it - and that was spent on holiday, reading over the proofs! 
I think many fans might assume that for a man whose job is writing that writing and publishing a book is dead easy, but how long did it take from the first formulation of an idea to getting a physical copy of the book in your hand? 
The physical copy was delivered today, August 22, and the idea was formed in the week leading up to the Leicester FA Cup tie in February.

I imagine the players and management were more than happy to contribute to the book, how hard was it to edit down their input?
They were, and it was fairly straightforward. I wanted to get a flavour of the Wilder years from the perspective of the players, but also their careers - so Jake Wright's time in the Conference, Mark Duffy almost giving up football, Paul Coutts' difficult times under Adkins... they all spoke really well, fortunately for me, and I think the end product works quite well.
Were there any stories that you couldn't commit to print?
There were - invariably, in this job, there are! 

Fans contributions add colour and putting the Wilder era into context against the Adkins regime that preceded it must have made for some challenging edits with emotions still running strong over his reign?
There were, but I was careful to not censor them too much. It was an emotive time - football's an emotive game - and the biggest challenge was editing down a superb piece from one fan, Dan Atkin, who wrote brilliantly about the effect that season had on him - a few thousand words too long! So wittling that down, and still keeping the flavour, was a challenge, but one I enjoyed. What came across was that the players had similar frustrations to the fans, albeit probably not as strongly. It was a season we'd probably all rather forget, but one that I felt was so important to the Wilder story that it had to be included in full, to understand the task that faced Wilder when he took over.
With contributions from many sources how hard was it to turn it into a cohesive story?
Not particularly - although anyone who reads it may not agree! The book follows a linear format loosely, although some chapters do jump forwards and backwards slightly. 
From talking to the players, what do you think is different about this group and the way they were managed that led to United finally escaping League 1 and establishing themselves in the Championship? Are there aspects of their personalities, attitudes etc. that are different from previous squads?
The main difference that I picked up on was 'real world' experience - many of the players who form Wilder's side have experienced rejection or disappointment, which I touch on in the book. As I say Wright played in the Conference and Mark Duffy gave up football entirely for a period... Coutts worked on an oil rig in Scotland, Chris Basham worked in McDonald's. It's also a cliche, but the team spirit up at Shirecliffe is really good. You can see that the players are teammates and friends too, which perhaps hasn't been true in the past.
The biggest reason, though, is undoubtedly Wilder. He has a unique ability of being close to the players one minute, making them feel a million dollars, and the next totally distancing himself and working them to within an inch of their lives. I lost count the amount of times I have sat at Shirecliffe listening to Wilder speak and thought, 'I'd love to work under him'. And that, in any job, can't be underestimated.

As a journalist you have had a level of access to the club and events that fans can only dream of. What are your top 3 moments of the Wilder reign so far for you personally?
September 24, 2017. To turn the game around like that, in those circumstances, with Hillsborough bouncing was unbelievable. Afterwards, we spoke to Mark Duffy in a small room just off the Hillsborough tunnel and I don't think he could believe it himself. It was the day he wrote his name in United folklore forever, and he had no idea what he'd just done.

The open top bus. We were invited on, taking turns to go on the top deck as the bus worked its way around Sheffield town centre. Inside the Town Hall, the walls reverberated to the sounds of the Jack O'Connell song and to see so many Blades gathered from the balcony was incredible.

Not a top moment per se, but Millwall away in Wilder's first season. Afterwards a Sky journalist asked him if he feared for his job, and he wasn't too happy. Getting the beers on the bus on the way back was credited with the turnaround, but no-one could ever imagine what would follow in the coming months.

Everybody wants things in small, easy to read form now. Twitter also provides a great platform for promoting writing in all its forms. If you could sum up the book in 140 characters what would you say?
Tough one! The story of how one man picked up a club on the floor, told by those involved. This is how Chris Wilder made Sheffield United united again.

Any further plans for books, United based or otherwise?
Not just yet! It was an enjoyable experience, but not one I'd rush into repeating. I owe my fiance more than a bit of my time first, I think!

Thanks to Danny for his time in answering the questions. I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book (you can get your copy here ) and we will post a review of it on here in due course.

No comments:

Post a Comment