Q&A with Jade Craddock. Part 2 – Football background

FBR has some talented contributors, none more so that Jade Craddock who has been a regular writer for FBR with her insightful book reviews and articles covering the delayed 2020 Euros and the start of the 2021/22 Premier League and Women’s Super League. Jade’s talents have been recognised with a chapter in Football She Wrote. As part of the launch of the book, FBR caught up with Jade to find out a bit more about her football and writing background. This second part of the interview looks at Jade’s connection with the game as  fan and a player.

Q&A Part 1

FBR: What was your first football memory?

JC: My first football memory is probably around the age of seven or eight. I wasn’t really aware of football as a professional sport, or particularly of teams or leagues at this point, and certainly, this would have been just before or around the launch of the Premier League and there just wasn’t the omnipresence of football at that stage. But at primary school, lunchtimes and break times would mean a football – or several – appearing and the boys taking over one half of the playground. Or rather the boys, and me. At this point, I had never had any coaching or been taught to play, but I just naturally gravitated towards football and seemed to know what to do. And the great thing was, despite being the only girl who joined in, there was never any feeling of being marginalised or excluded by the boys but being treated equally and fairly – probably because I held my own. Thankfully, my experience throughout football, whether I was playing at school or casually, continued in this vein.

FBR: Did you continue to play football after leaving school?

JC: As mentioned, I started playing football at primary school, just joining in with the boys in the playground. There was no provision for girls’ football then and no other girls who seemed to be interested, but it never really crossed my mind that girls’/women’s football existed then. When I moved to middle school (it’s a three-tier system where I am), and I was around 10, I discovered some other girls who played football and they told me about their team. This pretty much blew my mind at the time – women’s football was really not visible back then and the idea that there were actual teams that I could play for was incredible. So I joined this local football team, but it had plenty of challenges, because girls’ football was very much still finding its feet (excuse the pun) and getting players involved and then getting to and from games was all tricky, and inevitably after a couple of years that team folded, but I’d already been introduced to the women’s set-up and was regularly training with them when I was 14.

Karen Carney

However, I still wasn’t ready physically for that step-up, so I moved to another nearby girls’ U16 side who’d just been promoted to the top league, which had all of your centre of excellences and academy sides – the likes of Leicester City, Derby County. And that was an eye-opener, especially when we played Birmingham City and I came up against a young Karen Carney. We lined up directly opposite each other as wingers and although I got named player of the match for my team, Karen really was head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch – and indeed every other player I’d come up against before and after! She could use both feet and was skilful and just an amazing talent and it’s been great to follow her career and to see her excel on the world stage.

After that one season with the U16s, I made the step-up to the local women’s team and, honestly, the seasons there were my absolute highlight. We had some really excellent players – I’m not sure how we found them – or they found us – but it seemed as if they had all ended up in this little town in the Midlands at the same time. They were women of all ages who’d played all over, and their experience and quality was really something. There were players there that could have easily gone on to a much higher level had the opportunities been available.

When people talk about how far the women’s game has come on in recent years, I think we have to be careful of disparaging earlier generations. My mum played in the seventies and when she watched my team in the 2000s, the main difference was not that the players were significantly better, but the opportunities had increased, which meant there were more players involved and naturally a higher overall standard. But, individually, there were players in my generation, in my mum’s generation and the generations before that were exceptional; the women’s game simply wasn’t ready. Now, we’re getting there, because the organisation and infrastructure has improved exponentially and there’s a much wider pool of players and better coaching and facilities but put those earlier players in this era and they’d have shone. Indeed, we were incredibly lucky in my team to have had such a strong collection of players and I would have loved some of those players to have had an opportunity to play in this era.

FBR: Do you think playing the game has helped your writing?

Absolutely. I think it gave me an added understanding and appreciation of some of the nuances of the game. Having been in particular situations and matches, I’m more aware of certain things than I think I would have been otherwise. I’m sure I would still have been interested and engaged in football had I not played, but I don’t think I’d have had such an understanding. Although, in truth, I never really had much coaching as such. In those days, training was literally turn up, jog around a bit, a few passing drills of no particular difficulty, then small-sided games! But I like to think I had a fairly natural football intelligence – in fact, I could probably read the game and see it more than I could pull it off!

FBR: So we know a bit about your playing career, but what about who you support?

JC: I grew up and live in the Midlands – my nearest league clubs being Birmingham City and Aston Villa, so obviously I’m an Arsenal fan! I did almost take a couple of different paths though. Villa was very much the club of choice in my school in the nineties – and that green and black Muller kit almost sold them to me, as well as the likes of Tony Daley and Dalian Atkinson, who were probably the first footballers I was really aware of. I also did work experience at Villa when I was 15 and there couldn’t be a nicer footballer than Cesc Fabregas. Alas, even Dion couldn’t sway me to the claret and blue in the end. In the late nineties when I moved to middle school, Liverpool were suddenly all the rage – it probably had something to do with those white suits?! And for a time, Liverpool were somewhat on my radar, not least because of Michael Owen’s heroics at World Cup 1998. But again, it wasn’t to be. When I started playing football myself in earnest and suddenly became much more aware of the game, began watching it religiously and understanding it as more than just a casual observer, there was really only one team at the time that played football the way I dreamt and imagined it should be played at its best – Arsenal. This was the age of Pires and Ljungberg and as a young winger myself, here were two proper attacking wingers. Add to that, the general ethos and style of play under Wenger in that period and the players in that squad and I was hooked. But one man ensured my heart was red – Cesc Fabregas. To me, he was everything that epitomised that Arsenal – stylish, intelligent, committed. He was, and remains, my favourite player. I’d always hoped he’d come back to the Emirates and thought we could have done more to bring him back when he left Barcelona, but even though he ended up at Chelsea, I always felt his heart was at Arsenal and if you took off that blue jersey there’d be a red one underneath – well, that’s what I told myself anyway!

FBR: Than you Jade and good luck with the book.

Q&A with Jade Craddock. Part 1 – Writing and ‘Football She Wrote’ anthology

FBR has some talented contributors, none more so that Jade Craddock who has been a regular writer for FBR with her insightful book reviews and additionally articles covering the delayed 2020 Euros and the start of the 2021/22 Premier League and Women’s Super League. Jade’s talents have been recognised with a chapter in Football She Wrote. As part of the launch of the book, FBR caught up with Jade to find out a bit more about her football and writing background. This first part of the interview looks at Jade’s involvement in writing and Football She Wrote.

FBR: Congratulations on getting published in the anthology. What can you tell us about the book?

Jade Craddock (JC): Thank you. I think I’m right in saying – at least I hope I am! – that Football She Wrote is the first book of its kind, the first anthology of women’s football writing, and that is something that is really exciting to me and something I’m hugely proud to be part of.

FBR: So how did you get involved in the book?

JC: Football She Wrote is the brainchild of Ian Ridley of Floodlit Dreams and Women in Football, who’d spotted a gap in football writing and realised there were plenty of women out there writing about football or wanting to write about it, so they got ten current female football writers on board and then launched a competition to find a further ten new female football writers to create an anthology of twenty new pieces of writing. I came across the competition one day and was inspired to enter. I had never written anything long-form before and never really thought about doing so, but the competition and the chance to be published gave me the motivation to do so. I’ve been writing football book reviews for a couple of years and been immersed in the sport for over twenty years as a player and a fan and spend a lot of time watching and thinking about football, so I figured I’d give the competition a go. If I got chosen, amazing; if I didn’t, I genuinely enjoyed exploring the area I chose to write about. I submitted the piece back in February, cautiously hopeful, and received an email in May to tell me my piece had been selected. From then on, it’s been a mad but exciting experience.

FBR: What is your chapter about and what was the inspiration behind writing it?

JC: I’m often thinking about football and tend to get a bit carried away in my own head, thinking of hypotheticals and different scenarios. I’m not sure what game I was watching or how exactly it came about, but I was wondering how the Premier League would look if instead of an eleven-a-side game, the format was five-a-side. Would the so-called big six still come out on top or actually would condensing the teams down erase the disparity? From there, I began thinking about what the ‘best’ Premier League five-a-side team would look like and realised there would probably be only a handful of names in the mix, but I wondered if there was another way of thinking about possible Premier League five-a-side line-ups that wouldn’t be the same-old, same-old, so I came up with a number of categories – most appearances, youngest, oldest, etc, and it snowballed from there. In the end, because of the word limit, I chose maybe ten or so categories, but I had a whole list of potential line-ups and there’d be some pretty good games in there if they ever came about!

FBR: What impact do you anticipate the book will have?

I just hope it gets seen, that even if people don’t read it or buy it, they may stop and take a look when they’re browsing for books and have a quick glance at what it’s about. That’s not to say I don’t want people to buy it, of course! But the most important thing to me is visibility. When I was younger, women’s football wasn’t visible and that really limited opportunities. Once you were aware of women’s football, it opened up so many more opportunities. In the same way, having a book written by women about football will hopefully make women’s football writing much more visible and open doors for those interested in it.

FBR: How did you get involved in writing?

JC: In truth, I don’t really feel as if I’m involved in writing necessarily. That may sound counterintuitive given that I have a chapter that I’ve written now published in a book, but I don’t suddenly see myself as a writer or part of a writing world. I obviously write book reviews pretty regularly and I have also written a range of pieces for FBR, and this brings me incredible satisfaction and is certainly something I plan to continue and develop, but outside of that I don’t write anything else. Whether that will change going forward, I don’t know. I certainly enjoyed writing this chapter, but it also gave me even greater respect for the authors whose books I review, having now experienced in miniature the time and effort that goes into it. I have lots of ideas but turning those into the finished article is the tricky thing!

FBR: You mentioned you have plenty of ideas, but what book would you most like to see written?

JC: Cesc Fabregas’s autobiography – but only if I can write it! In all honesty, though, football writing – and sports writing more generally – is something I’m really passionate about, but which I also feel is grossly under published. There are a number of dedicated sports publishers, like Floodlit Dreams, Pitch Publishing, Reach Sport, etc, who do an incredible job of finding and publishing sports writing and lead the way, but they can’t do everything, and I think other publishers should be doing more to support sports writing and making sure it continues to grow. There are so many stories out there that just aren’t getting told; you only have to look at the number of football autobiographies published, for instance, and it’s just a tiny fraction of the football world.

Matt Piper: Out of the Darkness – My life in football

I’m a great believer that every player – every person – has a story and they’re just out there waiting to be told. Look at any football club right now, and there’s some 25 to 30 first-team players, multiply that across the Premier League and that’s over 500 players, multiply that across the Football League and it’s over 2,000 players, yet probably only around 10 or 20 autobiographies are published each year. And that doesn’t even take into account the generations of players that have gone before – literally thousands of them. Of course, it may be that players don’t want to share their stories and that’s absolutely their right, but, conversely, I suspect there are a host that do. They may not be the seeming ‘stars’ of the game, but oftentimes these narratives offer the most important and interesting stories. Take Nicklas Bendtner, for example. He is probably not the first name on fans’ lips when it comes to football icons and autobiographies you’d want to read, but his is one of the most engaging, eye-opening and frank football books I’ve read. Similarly, Matty Piper, whose career ended prematurely, may be little known outside Leicester, but his is an incredibly important story about the darker side of football. Neither of these players are ones that would necessarily spring to mind when drafting a list of potential subjects for autobiographies, but they prove that there are a range of stories out there waiting to be told. It shouldn’t just be the big names, the success stories that are published, but books should reflect the many sides and experiences in football; players who’ve been let go, who’ve had to retire early, who’ve moved into different areas of the game, who’ve come back from injury, who’ve played in lower leagues. The best stories are not necessarily the most well-known, the most obvious, and with so many players past and present, the choice really is wide open. Of course, there is a commercial side to it, and I wouldn’t begin to suggest I have any knowledge of that – and, ultimately, books have to sell and make money, but I genuinely think there is a world of unpublished books out there that need to be found, published and promoted.

In terms of picking books that I would like to see published, autobiography-wise, there’s a number of female footballers I’d love to see in print – there’s whole generations of players from the seventies, eighties, nineties and even 2000s that were integral to the development of women’s football that have gone unrecognised and will surely have incredible stories to share.

In terms of men’s football, I’d love to see Freddie Ljungberg and Gilberto Silva, and of current players, Hector Bellerin and Jesse Lingard. I’m also a huge fan of the Micah Richards/Roy Keane bromance and surely there’s a book in that somewhere. Other stories from within clubs would be great to hear too; I know there’s a recipe book coming out shortly by Mona Nemmer – Liverpool’s head of nutrition – for instance, and it’s this sort of innovation and a different way of engaging with the reading public that is really great to see.

As for football writers, I devoured Daniel Gray’s backlist during lockdown and anyone who’s read my reviews on here will know I’m chomping at the bit for another book from him – he’s just a superb writer. So, in a rather convoluted way, my answer to the question is there’s no end of books I’d like to see written and there’s plenty I could suggest, but the best books are maybe not the ones you expect and that’s why the work of football publishers is so crucial.

FBR: To finish – if you were on a desert island what three football books would you take with you?

Patrice Evra – I Love This Game

JC: I’m not really one for re-reading books and it would have to be a pretty amazing book for me to go back to it. There’s plenty of books that I’ve loved but, in truth, only one that I would choose to read again – How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch. That would definitely make the desert island cut, not least because if I’m stuck on a desert island I’m going to need something to lift my spirits, and this is genuinely one of the funniest books I’ve read across all genres. I’m a big fan of stats and love to dive into records and the like, so my second pick would be something like England Players’ Records by Graham Betts. And finally, I’d have to have something new to read, so I’d probably pick Patrice Evra’s forthcoming autobiography, I Love This Game. Although, if I’m going to be stuck on the island for more than a week, I’d somehow have to find a way to get more books delivered, because I’d be lost once I’d finished reading those!

Q&A Part 2

Euro ramblings – Opening Night by Jade Craddock

And so it begins. After a wait of over a year, Euro 2020 (yes, we’re sticking with that) finally kicked off last night in Rome as Italy took on Turkey in Group A, and for once, it didn’t disappoint. It had everything from Nessun Dorma to dodgy offsides to super-size subs benches. But as I sum up some random observations from the opening fixture, there’s only one place to start, remote-controlled cars, naturally…

  1. Remote-controlled cars: I can’t say I’ve often watched the ref walk onto the pitch with the match ball and thought, do you know what this is missing – a bit of pizzazz, a bit of razzmatazz, a toy car. But clearly, UEFA didn’t feel the same. With so much else to do, they thought, let’s lighten the ref’s load and not make him carry the ball and whilst we’re at it let’s inject some showbiz into proceedings. Sadly, the whole thing felt more Toys’R’Us than glamorous as a miniature car whizzed almost to the centre circle, where the ref had to pick up the ball (surely, they could have found a way for the car to eject the ball for at least some wonderment) and then place it on the pitch before the car promptly whizzed back off. I can’t help feeling as if something had gone amiss, perhaps the spectacular jet-pack entrance they had planned went belly up in rehearsal and with just a couple of hours until kick-off and no plan B, the work experience lad was hastily sent out to the nearest Rome toy store, which was just about to drop the shutters for the day but not before offering up the choice of the final three items in store: roller skates, stilts or a remote-controlled car. My vote would have been the stilts, but the groundstaff at the Stadio Olimpico would have most likely kiboshed that, so the car was duly chosen. Luckily, the driver was a pro and injected as much entertainment as is possible with what was essentially an oversized toy, and I guess we just have to be grateful that it wasn’t a rogue driver at the helm who attempted to take out the opposition’s number 9 – although that may have added more excitement to proceedings. It remains to be seen whether this was a one-off as part of opening ceremony spectacular, but if not, perhaps we can look forward to a cannon shooting the ball to the ref in the Wales v Switzerland game, the ball parachuting in for Denmark v Finland or being dropped from above from a hot-air balloon for Belgium v Russia – the possibilities are endless, though I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of that toy car – UEFA and the sponsors have got to get their money’s worth after all.
  2. First goal of the tournament: With the ball safely delivered by the remote-controlled car, thank goodness – you can’t trust those pesky refs to do the job – it was on to the business at hand with the opening game of the tournament and the age-old battle to score the opening goal. At half-time, viewers may have been forgiven for wondering if after a year of waiting this was going to be the proverbial damp squib, but alas after 53 minutes, deadlock was broken, and one man wrote himself into history, joining luminaries such as Rummenigge, Platini, Shearer and Lewandowski in scoring the tournament’s opening goal. Sadly, Turkey’s Merih Demiral didn’t only just score the first goal of Euro 2020, his unfortunate own goal granted him the dubious honour of being the only player to ever score an own goal as the opening goal in a European Championship. If nothing else, he’s secured his place in quizbook history, but I suspect, apart from a few fervent fans who can name every Euro opening scorer from Milan Galic in 1960 to Olivier Giroud in 2016, Merih Demiral’s contribution will soon be forgotten, if not already, thanks to the later efforts of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, and perhaps even a remote-controlled car.
  3. Italy on the offensive: Historically, we’ve come to laud Italy on all things defensive, but whilst their opening showing secured the typical clean sheet, their three-goal triumph secured the Azzurri the largest margin of victory in an opening match in Euros history. Indeed, whilst other opening matches have been higher scoring, with France’s 4-5 defeat to Yugoslavia in 1960 taking top billing, opening matches have tended to be tight affairs, not least 1968 when after a 0-0 draw with the Soviet Union, Italy won on a coin toss – as they also did in the semi-finals against the same opposition. Who needs remote-controlled cars when you can have a coin toss deciding matches? Whoever decided heads or tails in that 1968 Italy team surely deserves some kind of honour, especially as Italy went on to win the whole tournament – without the aid of a coin toss in the final, although it did take a replay to separate the Azzurri from their Yugoslavian contenders. Anyway, I digress, and back to 2021 (or Euro 2020, as it is), and Italy’s 3-0 victory over a young Turkish side made some sit up and take note. It has to be said that Turkey weren’t really at the races and lacked any real energy or pace, but Italy’s display was dominant against the opposition. Could they repeat their only other Euro victory in 1968? Somebody find the man who called Italy’s 1968 coin tosses, he may just come in handy if it comes to choosing ends in a penalty shootout.
  4. No Buffon, no problem?: It’s the year 2000, Billie Piper is top of the charts, Maximus Decimus Meridius had been unleased on the big screen and Erling Haaland has just been born, and it is the last Euros before Gianluigi Buffon takes the helm. Having featured throughout the qualifying campaign, Buffon broke his hand prior to the tournament and missed out on Euro 2000. By 2004, however, Buffon was well and truly installed as Italy’s number one and there he would stay, having assumed the captain’s armband for Euro 2004, until Euro 2016 – an incredible five consecutive tournaments. The prospect of Buffon retiring was unthinkable and yet he confirmed that Euro 2016 was to be his last. Who on earth could ever replace this literal giant of Italian footballer – a player who has not only won innumerable Serie A, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italianas but also twelve Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards and the Golden Glove in the 2006 World Cup when his team were victorious? Buffon’s are amongst the biggest gloves to fill. Step up Gianluigi Donnarumma – a man, nay a boy, who made his debut for AC Milan, one of the biggest clubs in world football, at the age of 16. Indeed, Donnarumma took the honour of being the youngest ever goalkeeper to feature for Italy from Buffon himself at the mere age of 17 years and 189 days. Still just 22, Euro 2021 is Donnarumma’s first major international competition and whilst there was little to judge from in his opening match, he’s certainly one to watch
  5. Pundit wars: And talking of ones to watch, after his successful stint on BBC for the 2018 World Cup, Cesc Fabregas returned as part of the punditry team for the Euros opener and proved himself to be as valuable an asset off the pitch as on it. One of the most intelligent players of the modern era, he brings that football intelligence to his analysis. Well-spoken, perceptive and often spot on, he adds to a strong line-up of BBC Euro 2020 pundits that includes the likes of Micah Richards, Karen Carney and Eric Abidal. And whilst Cesc is certainly a high-class addition, the coup of the season may just be ITV’s potential pairing of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. What better way to add some entertainment to a 0-0 draw than Keane and Vieira sharing a studio?