Author Interview: Luke Dempsey, Club Soccer 101

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Luke Dempsey is a major soccer fan! He grew up in England with a family full of soccer enthusiasts and moved to America 15 years ago. Although his surroundings have changed, his passion for soccer and writing certainly hasn’t! Now, Luke has written a soccer reference book called Club Soccer 101: The Essential Guide to the Stars, Stats, and Stories of 101 of the Greatest Teams in the World. All 464 pages of Club Soccer 101 are bursting with all of the soccer information that you will ever need to know! The book is really funny and fun to read. That’s because all of the little details about the games are described so well that you feel like you were there to witness the action live.

Before you kick off reading this amazing book, read my interview with Luke Dempsey below!

Why did you decide to write a guidebook to soccer clubs around the world?

There is so much soccer on the TV now that I thought it would be interesting, especially for American soccer fans who might not know everything that there is to know about teams around the world and to give them some background on the teams. So if you’re watching a game on a Saturday morning and you don’t really know what everything is or you’re not quite sure about something else while watching, you can just go to the book and read and just sort of checkout their history, the players, and their biggest games. I’ve noticed since I’ve moved to the States in 1995 that in the course of 20 years Americans have become really sophisticated and smart about the game, and I thought a guidebook to the world game would be interesting and it would give people background on clubs that they didn’t really know about. Once I had the idea, we had to decide how many teams to put in. I could’ve written about 500 teams but we decided that 101 might be the way to go.

One hundred and one sounds like a lot of clubs. How many are there in theworld? Why focus on 101? Did you have to leave any out?

I had to leave lots out! That’s a great question about how many there are in the world, I wish I knew the answer to that. I absolutely have no idea. I had to leave lots out. I had to leave out a team called Fulham, a big team in London, and I have been getting some grief from people on Twitter, especially, about that. I had to leave out teams in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Germany. There is a team called Shocker in Germany that I had to leave out and I got a lot of fuss over that. We had to keep it to a certain number so it wasn’t absolutely huge. We picked 101 because it sounded like a preview or a way into the subject. I think that there are thousands of teams in the world because it depends on how far down you go. In England, where I’m from, there are many layers of professional soccer and it goes all the way down.  

How much research did you have to do? What was the process of writing thebook like? How long did it take?

I could not have written this book without YouTube, and that’s a fact. I’ve studied soccer all of my life. I’m 45 years old and I grew up in England where it was all soccer all the time, but they call it football. So, I grew up with football, and writing about the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s was fairly easy because I lived it and watched it and never missed a game. I was really a student of it. But then some of the teams around the world that we had to study, there were some really good books out there that you can read which were really helpful. But YouTube was the greatest help. What I wanted to do was, when there was a big game or a really important goal, I wanted to describe it as though you were there. I think almost every goal or big game I talk about in the book, you can find the highlights on YouTube. I could not have written the book without YouTube. It took about 4 months to write it. I think it’s 125,000 words long. I had a little spreadsheet where I would put down which teams I was going to write about each day. Sometimes I would only do one team a day if it was a big team like Chelsea or some others, it would take at least a day if not longer. I loved every minute of it. It was a treat to be able to write about the sport I love.

What was the hardest part of writing Club Soccer 101?

The hardest part was being nice about teams that I hated. I have a friend who picked up the book and started to read the Liverpool essay and he was really worried that I was going to be really brutal about Liverpool because he knows they are the team that I like the least in the world. But the way that I went into it was to try and write the essays as if they were written by a fan of the team. I think if you read a book and it goes on and on and on about how much a writer hates a certain team, it is kind of rubbish. So I wrote the Liverpool essay, not as though I was a fan, but with great respect for that team and franchise because they are very well respected and have won a lot of trophies. There was a terrible thing called the Hillsborough Disaster, where 96 fans were crushed to death at a game and the government in England sort of hushed the whole thing up. The Liverpool fans fought and fought and fought for 20 years to get the truth out, and I have great respect for them for that. I can’t stand their team and I want them to lose every game, but I really respect their fans.

What made you fall in love with soccer?

I had no choice about that. My father grew up in a house four miles from Old Trafford, where Manchester United play, and he was one of 14 kids. Thirteen of them were Manchester United fans and one of them was a Manchester City fan. So by the time I was born, my entire family, a brother and two sisters, we had no choice. We were going to be huge Manchester United fans and huge soccer fans. Also, growing up in England, not everyone had a team and not everyone watched the game, but it really is the national sport. Probably more so than football or even baseball in America. It’s a smaller country, people live a lot closer to each other, and it is the thing that really ties the entire country together. It’s why every World Cup England fans think that England will win the World Cup or should win the World Cup, even though their team is terrible. So I had no choice whether to be a soccer fan. It was like brown hair, brown eyes, two arms, soccer fan — I just didn’t have a choice!

What’s your favorite part of the game?

My favorite part of the game is sometimes hard to explain to American soccer fans, or sports fans I should say. It’s the numeral draw. We like scoring in American sports and I love scoring, too. I love American football and baseball. But a numeral draw with five minutes to go and your team suddenly scores, and a last-minute goal is just the greatest thing that can ever happen in a football game, I think. The excitement of that goal when it was such a tight game with two good defenses and two good goalkeepers… You’ve tried and tried and tried and you really need to win the game, then your center forwarder breaks free and he’s flying by the goalkeeper and puts the ball in the back of the net. There is nothing better in a sport than that. I think the greatest thing I’ve ever seen is the last two or three minutes in the 1999 European Cup Final, between Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Manchester United was one goal down and were done, and we scored twice in the last three minutes to win the Cup. Even people who didn’t like Manchester United, and there’s plenty of them, think that’s probably one of the most exciting things that has ever happened in a soccer game. That is so much better I think, than Germany beating Brazil 7-1 in whatever it was. To me that game was boring because it was a mismatch and wasn’t great. A tight game and a last minute goal is the best part of soccer.

For kids who love soccer but live in the US, what’s it like growing up in England as a football fan?

The best part was that it was everywhere. I think for young American fans now, you don’t know what it was like in 1996. Before the MLS, there was no professional soccer, and very little soccer on TV. Now, if you want to watch a game, you can see it on TV. Women’s franchise, and the women’s world cup next year, which is going to be great. America is going to win. You have so much soccer now, if not more than I had when I was growing up. Sometimes my brother calls me from the U.K. I have watched games that are on TV that are not on TV in the U.K. Now is the perfect time to be a soccer fan if you are young in America. It’s so great, too, that the women’s game is one of the sports in America where the men are trying to catch up to the women, which is so fantastic if you think about it! The womens’ team almost always wins the World Cup or wins the Olympics. The American men’s team, even though its great, is not winning all of the time. So I think it is a fantastic time to be a soccer fan here. I was very lucky growing up in England because football, as we called it, was everywhere. It is even moreso here now. It’s a small world. You can watch Spanish or Brazilian football, or any league you want, and you can watch a lot of it.

Were you ever tempted to call your book Club Football 101 instead of ClubSoccer 101?

I got a lot of trouble from English people for calling it soccer. I was not tempted to because you have a sport called football, which I love, but you don’t use your foot much during it. It’s a fantastic sport, and you have it. The sport here is called soccer and I don’t have any problems with that. I think that people get really excited about what things are called. Who cares? It used to be called soccer in England for a long time, it’s only recently that English people think that it is a nasty American word and that they should just stop and get over themselves because there is nothing wrong with calling it soccer. I call it soccer. I called it football for 25 years until I moved here. I think if you live in a country, you should try and speak their language as much as you can. If I moved to France I would probably try and learn French because it is respectful. It’s the same with sports. I live in America, so I try to speak American whenever I can. Once in a while I’ll use the wrong word and people will look at me like I have three heads. Then I’ll remember what the correct American word is and its not a big deal.

What advice would you give to kids who want to be authors or sportsreporters?

Watch as much of the sport that you want to write about as possible. Watch it and watch it. I’ve watched so many soccer games in my life. I’ve watched thousands of soccer games. I will pull my car off the road if I see a bunch of kids having a kickaround and I will stand around and watch it. The more you watch it, the more you will understand it and get the nuance of it. The other thing to do is read. I would say that about any writer. The best writers are the best readers. So those are the two things: Watch as much of the sport as possible, whatever sport it is, and read everything there is to read. What you’ll realize is that you write books because the book you want to read isn’t out there. That’s why most writers write a book. They liked a book, but there was something missing, so you try to do it yourself. Also, if you want to be a reporter, be interested in people, put your own feelings aside, and just let people talk.

Photos: David Drake (Dempsey), W.W. Norton (book cover)

luke dempsey club soccer 101