July 13, 2018

England’s joy-filled World Cup journey could inspire a new generation of players — and readers

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Gareth Southgate: wearer of waistcoats, bearer of English dreams

The World Cup—and more specifically the crazy, sweltering, joyous four weeks of breathlessly unpredictable football that have just unfolded in Russia—may have done funny things to the English.

First and foremost, it has made them buy waistcoats in unprecedented numbers, in homage to Sir* Gareth Southgate’s sartorial choice for matches. It has made them throw their precious beers in the air along with thousands of other people when Harry Maguire nonchalantly nodded in from a set-piece in the quarter-final against Sweden. It has made them get thunderously ill-advised tattoos of Golden Boot competition leader (at the time of this writing) Harry Kane with “2018 WORLD CUP WINNERS” written underneath. It has even made them [whisper it] strike up happy, involved, inclusive conversations about unity, kindness, and dealing with anxiety… not very English, huh? And as if all that wasn’t enough, it even seems like the World Cup is getting people into bookshops, according to a Bookseller report that also announces HarperCollins’s rush-released England tie-in book England’s World Cup 2018: A Tribute to our Young Lions.

Managers of the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London and the Yellow Lighted Bookshops in Tetbury & Nailsworth both reported increased foot traffic and sales in the last month, which has also seen the UK embroiled in both a scorching heatwave and a series of resignations from beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May’s government — factors that may have depressed consumers. Yet it seems England’s fortunes in Russia have bolstered what is traditionally a quiet time of year for book sales, according to Big Green’s Simon Key: “When England did well then people felt good and spent money, it’s a psychological thing. When England won a match, people came in saying ‘isn’t it brilliant’ and they bought books.”

It isn’t necessarily sports-related books that are benefitting, however, with reported sales of the 2018 Fifa World Cup 2018 Official Book (Carlton) only up two percent on 2014’s edition. (Remember, when England limped out in the group stages…?  Actually, perhaps better to forget that one.) Of course, that’s very likely to change in the coming months, when the inevitable slew of celebration and tie-in books arrives, along with—you’d imagine—a healthy crop of chunky hardback memoirs from key squad members just in time for Christmas.

Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that England’s footballers may have sparked a mini reading revival? Southgate’s men have certainly distinguished themselves with a series of articulate interviews, and have been likeable, grounded, and relaxed throughout. That there have also been books spotted around can only have helped: Fabian Delph, returning to the England camp in Repino after joining his wife in the UK for the birth of their third child, posted a picture of his in-flight entertainment: a copy of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic All Quiet on The Western Front. And senior squad member Jordan Henderson has been pictured with the world’s fastest single-leg amputee Andy Grant’s inspirational memoir You’ll Never Walk.

This England squad might have been doing funny things to people, but the identity they have created for themselves is very different from those of pampered, entitled groups of old: one of unity, respect, empathy, thoughtfulness, and, not least of all, fun (see: inflatable unicorn race). And hey, even if just one kid picks up Slabhead**: The Harry Maguire Story*** this summer, and is inspired to both play football and read, then we can consider this a successful World Cup. Most importantly, the nation is united (for now, at least) behind a group of men that embody some genuinely admirable qualities; they really are role models.  And that’s—almost, let’s not get carried away here—better than some old trophy.

So, football might not have come home this time — but we’ll don our waistcoats once again for the third-place playoff on Saturday, then fold away the red-and-white bunting with a sad smile, consoled that, this time, we have witnessed the beginning of something, and not merely another end.

 

*Well, not quite yet. But surely soon…?

**His nickname, as coined by Jamie Vardy. Don’t worry, he’s cool with it.

***This book doesn’t exist yet. But it will.

 

 

Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.

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