June 15, 2018

We asked, “Is it possible to make a team of soccer players with famous writers’ surnames from this year’s World Cup?” and the answer is “Yeah, kinda!”


Tim Howard: with the rest of the US team, getting a nice long holiday this year.

As you may have heard, the World Cup started yesterday in Russia. The soccer World Cup. You know, the round ball? The one that isn’t basketball, football, or baseball? The offside rule, and all that…? Oh, never mind.

If you’re reading this in the States—and let’s face it, there’s a strong chance you might be—one of two things is likely: either a) you know and care nothing of this “soccer” and you’re only here for the book content, what the hell is this, ESPN??, or b) you love soccer deeply and are gutted about the USA failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. At least you’re in good company: 2006 champions Italy, 2010 finalists The Netherlands, and South American perennials Chile all failed to qualify, too. See, don’t you feel better now?

Seeing as everyone at here at Melville House are huge fans of “the soccer” (sounds of multiple coffees being splattered in Brooklyn), we thought we’d come at the tournament from the only angle we can: a literary one. During England’s final pre-tournament warm-up game, a routine win over Costa Rica last week, one name stood out from the Ticos’ squad list: Borges. Celso Borges, admittedly, but a Borges, nonetheless. And that got us thinking: is it possible to make a squad, with substitutes, from players at this year’s tournament with similar literary surnames? We took to the Guardian’s extraordinary guide to every player at the 2018 World Cup to find out… and the answer is: yes. Just. So today, let’s all toot our vuvuzelas for the only team worth supporting: the Melville House Writers’ XI… (XI, dear Americans, is a football soccer thing.)

What’s that? Several of the writers who appear here also feature in our Last Interviews series?! What an unbelievable coincidence!


Starting XI  (For the tactics buffs out there, we’re playing 4-4-2; no nonsense):

Goalkeeper: Pope Francis (Nick Pope, England) — The Pope would love playing the World Cup — though he’s a big Argentina fan, so he might be a little biased if the Writers’ XI comes up against them. That Messi penalty just slipped through your hands, did it, your Holiness?

Right Back: Alice Walker (Kyle Walker, England) — Basically, Alice Walker would not have time for any of this. In fact, she’d be pretty disappointed that none of the Royal Family are attending, depriving her of the chance to expose them for the obvious reptiles that they are.

Full Back: Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sebastián Coates, Uruguay) — I feel like Ta-Nehisi’s probably into the soccer. It’s not clear whether his interest in Russian authors extends to Russian football victories.

Full Back: Shusaku Endo (Waturu Endo, Japan) — Endo’s the kind of guy you want at full-back; if he plays anything like his novels read, you’ll get a solid, dependable, and dignified performance.

Left Back: e.e. cummings (harold cummings, Panama) — cummings would be one of those mercurial defenders who, despite eccentricities in his play, is often pretty reliable. But you can always count on him to make just one mistake. Let’s just hope we’ve got someone sensible on the left wing to cover him, eh? *reads ahead* Uh-oh.

Right Midfield: Jose Luis Borges (Celso Borges, Costa Rica) — As discussed. Borges is so obviously a free-kick specialist that it hardly bears mentioning. Also, he could convincingly argue that his team won even if they lost, through some inscrutable magical-realist logic at which everyone else would go, “yeah, I think I get it…” before wandering off to do something important in the other corner of the room.

Central Midfield: Stieg Larsson (Sebastian Larsson, Sweden) — I can’t think of anyone better to act as a midfield enforcer than Stieg. I mean, he looks a pleasant enough chap, but I bet he’s got a couple of reducers tucked away in the locker. The Guy Who Kicked His Opposite Number Out of the Game, more like.

Central Midfield: Gabriel Garcia Márquez (Rafael Márquez, Mexico) — The creative heart of the team. Could also call down plagues of insomnia on opponents, which might be useful.

Left Midfield: Spike Milligan (Mark Milligan, Australia) — I told you, didn’t I? This might not end well.

Centre Forward: Tibor Fischer (Viktor Fischer, Denmark) — Tibor will give defenders nightmares. I mean, look at him. I don’t care how many playful, experimental and funny novels he’s written! LOOK AT HIM!

Centre Forward: Jaime Hernández (Javier Hernández, Mexico) — Jaime wears glasses, the result of producing genius graphic fiction for most of his life. But don’t let that fool you: he’s quick. He’s deadly. And he knows a lot about wrestling.



Fred Vargas (Camilo Vargas, Colombia); Khaled Hosseini (Majid Hosseini, Iran); Denise Mina (Yerry Mina, Colombia); Lydia Davis (Erick Davis, Panama);

And… the super-sub secret weapon whoc could probably win this thing all by himself: David Foster Wallace (Rodney Wallace, Costa Rica)


So, there you have it — if you dig the soccer, great! Enjoy the World Cup and keep an eye out for our team of luminaries as they pop up. And if you don’t, well… I guess, well done for making it to the end of this article! I would have given up sooner than you. Kudos.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.