Tom (left) and Matt Oldfield, and the cover of their book about Wayne Rooney
Tom and Matt Oldfield are two major soccer enthusiasts. Born and raised in Southampton, England, the brothers grew up playing, watching and talking soccer. Today, as adults, they’ve turned that love of the game into a series of young adult novels about some of soccer’s biggest names. The books focus on Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney, and Raheem Sterling, and they paint a picture of how each of the players grew up and overcame challenges to become Premier League stars.
Tom is a freelance author who lives in Toronto, Canada. He writes biographies on major sports figures. He has written books on Cristiano Ronaldo, Arsene Wenger, and Rafael Nadal. He has been writing for a while. Matt, meanwhile, lives in London and is the editor-in-chief of Of Pitch and Page, a website “celebrating the best football books around.” The books on Bale, Rooney and Sterling are his very first children's books.
In an interview with SI Kids, Tom and Matt talked about their love of soccer, writing fictionalized accounts of real players’ lives, and what they hope kids take away from reading their books.
Out of all of the sports, why did you choose to write about soccer (football)?
Tom: Growing up in England, it was the obvious choice — watching it on TV, playing it, and talking to people about it. It was such a big part of growing up. That was all we did.
Matt: It was the biggest part of our lives, if we weren't playing it, we were talking about it.
What is it like to work together as brothers?
Matt: It is fun to write with my brother. We have three books out, and we are working on three more.
Tom: Sadly, there has been no drama so far. It has all been very nice and calm. I can’t really think of any time at all. We have had good conversations on what to include, what not to include. We have disagreed on a few things, but no big heated arguments.
Matt: We have definitely been in touch more over the last year, than we had for the last few. It has been a nice bonding experience.
Tom: Being on different continents ... I am in Canada and Matt is in England... we are in touch regularly, but it was nice to have an extra reason to be in touch regularly while we work on these.
Why did you focus on these three players? What was special about them?
Tom: Honestly, those were the three that ours publishers [recommended]. They had done some surveys of kids in 9-12 years old age to see which players, in England particularly, will be the most popular players to write about. Rooney and Bale we were expecting. Sterling was maybe a bit surprising. The publisher did most of the research on which ones should we do. They mentioned them to us to get our reaction. The project was exciting even before we found out who the players were going to be, so we were on board by that stage.
Matt: We were really happy with the selection of players. Gareth Bale in particular was someone I was really excited to write about, especially with the Southampton links, and we have got some Welsh family links as well. All in all, it was really nice one to write about.
Your books are fictionalized accounts of these players' lives. How does that portrayal help you in writing about them? What challenges does it pose?
Matt: Tom previously wrote football biographies for adults. Personally, I found the early childhood a bit more fictionalized. As Tom was saying, the adult bit where they are playing football, people already know about. I found being able to have a bit of freedom and creativity with the childhood characters was a lot of fun. We always base everything on facts and things that we found in our research. But we did have that extra bit where could try to make it more fun and interesting. Things that were a little more challenging were the conversations where the young Rooney or the young Bale is talking to his brother or his friend or his parents. It is definitely fun to be able to create things, but definitely more challenging than when you have facts in front of you. A lot our other writing is more serious and fact-based. This gave us the freedom to create and tell a story in a way we wouldn't have done if all the facts had been handed to us. It would have read more like a written description of their career rather than a story that a 9- or 10-year-old could imagine being a character in.
Are you trying to show to kids that you can follow your dreams?
Tom: That is certainly a big part for us. It was fun to write about kids that were chasing their dreams, while we were pursuing something that was a dream for us too: to get to write a book together. There was a nice connection to that. So definitely encouraging kids to go after their dreams was a part of it.
Thinking back to when we were going growing up and how much we watched and played. I don’t really have memories of reading books related to soccer and sports when we were younger. For us, that was a part of it too. We are encouraging them to chase their dreams, but we were also encouraging them to sit down and read. Getting a 9 or 10 year old to read a book [was our goal]. Matt and I were keen readers. Even for us to sit down and read a book for long enough was quite a challenge. So to have something that connects reading with sports... I don't really remember having that. If you are a 9 or 10 year old, you want to read, and you are not in interested in other things, but you love sports – these books caters to that.
Why are you interested in encouraging kids to read? Why do you want kids to read your books?
Matt: It is so important to read. It helps to stir the imagination. It gets your brain going and you learn things. You are learning about the world, about the ideas and the story telling. There is a real educational element to the whole book, whether it learning about Gareth Bale or wider messages about growing up and chasing your dreams. There is a lot of inspirational stuff in there, hopefully.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of writing books for kids?
Tom: [It will be rewarding] if it encourages a handful of kids that read these books to believe that they can make it, whether as a soccer player or in sports in general. It is special for us to think that someone out there is reading these books thinking “why not me.” It is rewarding to know that people are buying these books in different countries and kids are sitting down to read. Like Matt said, reading and what you learn is such a gift. It is a proud thing for us to be a part of.
What is your advice to your readers who want play soccer or who want to become writers?
Matt: As a general point, whether it is passion for writing or passion for soccer, don't doubt yourself. If you want it enough and you are willing to work hard enough, you can absolutely achieve your goals. You look at all three of these players, they come from largely situations where the odds are stacked against them. They have this talent, but there are number of other factors that are working against. It is only really through their hard work, support of others, continuing to believe that you can make it regardless of whatever happens, that they succeeded. The inspiring thing about this is that with hard work you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo: courtesy Tom and Matt Oldfield (authors image)