TEB Interview – Stephen Goddard
For our latest TEB Interview we had a chat with Palace fan and author of Rattles & Rosettes, Stephen Goddard. We thank Stephen for sparing time from his busy schedule to talk to us and we thoroughly recommend his book particularly with, dare we say it, Christmas on the horizon.
Q. So let us begin with the easiest question of them all, why Crystal Palace?
I was born in Lyndhurst Road in Thornton Heath and went to Winterbourne Primary School. No-one in my family played or watched football but I got hooked on Palace through a school friend who was (and still is) a massive fan. I remember passing Selhurst Park on the top deck of the 68 bus and glimpsing a match in progress. I badgered by Dad to take me to a game and he finally relented on March 27 1963. I was nine. The match? Versus Colchester United and (of course) we lost! But I cared not. Finally I had gone through that vital rite of passage – clicking through the turnstiles at the Whitehorse Lane end, to rejoice in that heady mix of hot dogs, onions, cigarette smoke, overflowing urinals and bellowed profanities. To put it another way …
When I was a young boy
Spring of ’63
First trip to the Palace
Just my dad and me
We lost, 1-0
And so began my luck
Veni, vidi, velcro
I came, I saw, I’m stuck
Q. Who is your favourite player to have worn the famous red and blue?
Steve Kember. He had a marvellous first touch, turned on the proverbial sixpence and could split a defence with a pass to get you out of your seat, metaphorically speaking (we never sat in the stands). John Jackson is just behind him and more recently, Jules – two gods in a green jersey.
Q. Which Palace game do you have fond memories of?
So, so many. the match against Fulham in 1969, that took us up to the First Division for the first time. I lost a set of car keys running on to the pitch after the match against Burnley in May 1979 and had to walk home, deliriously happy. I was at Stockport in 2001, the Millennium Stadium in 2004 but, for sheer tension and relief, I doubt I will ever experience anything as emotional as Sheffield Wednesday in 2010, the match that kick-started ‘Rattles & Rosettes’.
Q. Perhaps you could share your view on the Tony Pulis departure and the appointment of Neil Warnock?
I gave Neil Warnock a very bad press in Rattles & Rosettes, covering as it does, our period of administration in 2010. Such was the misinformation and emotion of that time that most of us felt he had bottled it. My book begins with Neil in charge of the team against Newcastle in 2010, with news of the club going into administration. It was ironic to see him take Palace to Newcastle for his first match in charge this time round. I thought Tony Pulis was outstanding in the way he pulled things round last season but there was always a disturbing, distracted tetchiness about him. I think Jules’ comments were fair – it was the players who, finally, did it on the pitch.
Q. It is always a bumpy ride being a Palace fan but the last few years have been some of the best in our history. How do you see the future for the club?
Ask most fans who have been around as long as I have and they will tell you the current owners are the best we have had in living memory. The test will be whether our ‘Fab Four’ can retain their commitment to Palace as a genuine community based club while at the same time mixing it successfully with mega-rich, foreign-owned rivals spraying petro dollars in every direction. Are the two mutually exclusive? It is a question for football, not just Palace.
Q. If you played for Palace which position would you play and what would be your squad number?
Midfield dynamo at number 8. Wearing Kember’s ’69 shirt.
Q. How long have you been writing and how did it all start?
After graduating, I was a musician for a few years and wrote an article about doing gigs for a magazine called Buzz. They liked it and promptly offered me a job. I have been a journalist ever since (though I occasionally do pubs and clubs as a tribute act Beltin’ John). I was a sub-editor on the sports pages of the Liverpool Echo when we lost 9-0 to the Scousers in 1989. Imagine the sheer, sweet joy of walking into work the day after our FA Cup semi-final win at Villa Park a few months later.
Q. Tell us a little about your book Rattles & Rosettes, how you came up with the idea for the story and how long it took you to write?
I had hoped Nick Hornby would write Fever Pitch 2, documenting the effect on fans of post-Premier League football. He showed no signs so I decided to have a go myself. Rattles & Rosettes is a dual narrative, which cuts between two fictitious football fans a century apart. We follow 16-year-old miner and Burnley fan Tom, whose dreams of becoming a journalist are put on hold with the outbreak of World War I and 23-year-old Dan, a bin-lock salesmen, whose fanatical support of Palace threatens to jeopardise his relationship with long-term girlfriend Sally. The two tales eventually intertwine.
It differs entirely from Fever Pitch in that I have attempted a work of social history rather than paid homage to any particular club or set of fans. As a result a lot of non-football fans have told me how much they enjoyed the book, which is extremely gratifying.
The book took eighteen months to write and also gave me an opportunity to research and interpret what happened on Christmas Day 1914 – and that famous match between England and Germany in No Man’s Land. I deliberately set out to stir the passions of all of us, on whatever terrace (those were the days!) So far, Palace fans have engaged even more with Burnley fan Tom in 1914 than our ‘own’ Dan in 2010! I hope this shows the novel has an appeal transcending tribal loyalties. As fans, we have to fight for the soul of football and that is the driving theme of the book.
Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Browett read the book from cover to cover in three days. ‘It is a great story set in turbulent times with football as a connecting theme between two young men whose lives could hardly be more different,‘ he told me. ‘It is very fitting that, a century after Burnley won the 1914 FA Cup Final at “the” Crystal Palace, they returned to South London in September for a match in the Premier League.’
Q. What do you find the most rewarding about being an author and do you have any tips for budding writers?
The reviews of the book on Amazon have been amazing – 37 now and 34 giving it five stars. ‘I haven’t read fiction for many years,‘ said one of the most recent, ‘but this book has film written all over it. What a great read.’ Similarly, several people have told me they have not read a novel in years and Rattles & Rosettes has got them back in the habit again. That gives me a warm glow.
Having worked as a journalist on news and feature pages most of my life – and always dealing with hard fact – the opportunity to inhabit a world full of characters I could create and play with was pure therapy, too. The internet puts you in regular touch with a bunch of characters you are unlikely to meet in real life. Part of the joy of writing the book was to pull together the comments of Palace fans the world over, through bulletin boards and chat rooms, and knit them into a cohesive narrative.
My tip to any budding writer is to write from the heart about something you are passionate about and not for a ‘market’. I was advised by some publishers that Rattles & Rosettes would not sell. In fact, it is selling above and beyond expectations, without the financial investment of a major publisher.
Q. And finally, tell us about any projects that you are currently working on.
I am currently toying with another novel which would start where Rattles & Rosettes finishes – on December 24 2014. Squeaky-clean Billy Shears, 64, an ordained church minister and renowned football commentator is about to be appointed by the FA to head up a team charged with putting the ‘soul’ back into English football. On the brink of taking on the coveted role, a woman from Billy’s distant past wants to get in touch with him. If anyone finds out about their relationship, it is the end of Billy’s dream …
Rattles and Rosettes is published by Ship of Fools Ltd, price £7.99. Personally signed copies are available direct from Steve. For details email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The book is also available from: