An Interview with author Robert Endeacott
By Nick Quantrill
Robert Endeacotttalks with Nick Quantrill about his new novel, DisRepute, which chronicles Don Revie's ill-fated spell as England manager, and picks up where his prior novel, Dirty Leeds finished...
Nick : Congratulations on the publication of DisRepute - Revie's England. Is it a follow-up to Dirty Leeds? Tell me a bit about the book, what's the story?
Robert : Thank you very much, Nick. Yes, DisRepute is a follow-up to Dirty Leeds, but not exactly a straightforward sequel. In DL, 'Jimmy' was the main focus of the story and the main protagonist, whereas in DisRepute it is more a case of Jimmy reporting on Don Revie.
The story is in the main Don Revie's time as England manager, about how he joined England, left England and then how he was punished by England, for allegedly bringing the game into disrepute. Also how he lodged an appeal against the consequent 10-year ban the FA imposed on him, and how he won the appeal yet was still slated by the high court judge.
Nick : When you think of football fact-fiction (if that's even a genre...), I suspect the majority of people think of David Peace. Were you already working on 'Dirty Leeds' when 'The Damned United' was published? Do you see similarities with his work, or are you trying to do something quite different? What did you make of 'The Damned United?'
Robert : All I try to do is entertain and inform, so I doubt I'm very different from any other writer on the planet. I think it was pretty obvious that there would be 'accusations' made towards me that I'd tried to copy David Peace's TDU, but the truth is I was already deeply in the midst of writing Dirty Leeds when it came out. David knows the true situation and that to me is more important than any criticism anyway.
He is though a good friend and one of my favourite writers, responsible for three or four books I genuinely regard as classics, and he was very helpful when I was writing Dirty Leeds. He read my synopsis and early drafts of the first few chapters, giving me his honest opinions. At an early stage there was a risk of me writing the story from Revie's perspective which would have been too similar in style to how The Damned United is told, from Clough's point of view.
I needed to be confident enough to write in a new and original 'voice'; David definitely helped me in that respect. And of course there will be similarities with any novels which feature the same institutions and managers, but our books are very different. I love the book but I was far from impressed with the film, I thought it was a wasted opportunity to make a true British classic motion picture.
I would be a very proud man for Dirty Leeds to be compared favourably with The Damned United. But to answer your original question Nick, I can tell you that David Peace had read my One Northern Soul before I'd read any of his books and before we'd even met, so I think that HE needs taking to task actually! But really, a great writer and a great bloke.
Nick : How involved was the research element for the novels? Did you feel a responsibility to capture the characters as they really were? How do you measure if you are successful or not?
Robert : Of course, research is a wonderful tool for book writing and as well as reading many useful and interesting books about England's players, managers and the Football Association hierarchy, I obtained lots of really useful information and revelations from a couple of excellent sources, not to mention genuine documents written by Don Revie and his brilliant sidekick Les Cocker.
I was only an ankle-biter when Revie and Cocker were at the peak of their careers with Leeds and then England, so I didn't really know them personally (I did meet them a few times though) but I know plenty of folk who did know them and I write directly from their opinions and memories and feelings about 'my' characters.
I suppose I measure the success (or failure) of my descriptions on readers' opinions and how they react when they have read the stories or particular incidents involving the characters.
I feel, for me to do the job right, to characterise the subjects vividly and accurately, I have to ask the right questions of people who really knew the subjects involved. Sometimes those questions aren't easy to ask or they're a little too probing but once I've gained their trust, my interviewees seem to know that I'm honest and that I have no ulterior motives, I just want to get the truth down on paper and want to present a fair portrayal.
Nick : In some respects, the novels might be thought of as 'niche'. Was the creation of your fictional character, Jimmy O'Rourke, an attempt to widen their appeal, maybe offering some balance against some difficult real-life individuals? I certainly found myself rooting for Jimmy as I was reading.
Robert : Well, even though Jimmy was born in 1950 and I was born in 1965, much of his personality and character is me really, as are a lot of the things that happen in his life. I don't think I have much choice in 'how' to write a story when the subject matter are so close to me, like my football club, family relationships, childhood heroes and so on.
I'm pretty sure that the ambitions and dreams & despairs of Jimmy O'Rourke are similar to those of thousands of people the world over. I'm very glad you're on Jimmy's side, that's one of the intentions obviously! I feel fulfilled now haha! You'll know too that creating a 'hero' for a story is very much a personal thing, and that that hero must have weaknesses and imperfections, and not be infallible, otherwise it's boring to read as well as to write, and it appears lame and lacking in credibility.
It doesn't matter what 'niche' or genre you're writing, if your characters aren't believable then the whole work suffers and the story might not be worth persevering with or emotionally investing in. It would be wonderful for neutrals to be won over by DisRepute and for them to take notice of the truths and not the myths about Don Revie, and yes I suppose I am hoping for some balance and fairness be given to certain individuals' lives.
Subconsciously I suppose my last two books are attempts at widening the appeal of subjects such as Leeds and Revie, but really, I enjoy the 'tracks' I'm traversing and I write them primarily in the hope that they are high quality as well entertaining and popular.
Nick : It goes without saying that you're a massive Leeds United fan. Did writing the novels surprise you in any way? Were you forced to reassess what you thought you knew about the club's players and past? Did it change your opinion on Revie as a man or a football manager?
Robert : In researching and interviewing people for 'Dirty Leeds', I did learn plenty of new things, mainly because I was born in 1965 and that story is set in 1961 to '74. Before, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about Leeds United and the players and coaches and the various chairmen and of course the manager Don Revie. How wrong I was!
I learned too much in fact, and it was hard work deciding what to leave out of the early manuscript. That's where a good Editor comes in. My opinion on Revie as a football manager probably has changed a little, I must admit. With Leeds his achievements for the club and the city & its people are almost unbelievable, he improved so many things for so many people.
He really was 'The Don' of Elland Road and I genuinely regard him as the best club manager of his era, and that's without any disrespect at all to Messrs Shankly, Busby, Stein, Nicholson and Ramsey et al. Had it not been for Revie or the then chairman Harry Reynolds who gave Revie the job, many people in the world would never have heard of Leeds United, I seriously believe it. Before he took over, the club was an embarrassing blot on the landscape of the city and its reputation.
On to his time as England boss though. When Revie was England manager, I think it became quite evident that the job was too much for him - it was too much for anyone, in truth - and I think he made a few uncharacteristic mistakes along the way. A big problem for him was the lack of opportunity to forge a true spirit of family with the England players.
'Family' was one of the most important aspects of his success with Leeds, but at club level the manager sees his players and coaches and so on, virtually every day, whereas with England he would be lucky to see work with them once a month.
As a man, writing about him and reading about him only reinforced what I knew already: he was a wonderful person, a man who cared deeply about so many people - and those sentiments were reciprocated unquantifiably, if that's a real word - but he WAS only human, he had his foibles and minor faults. And I think some in the media and in the game picked at those small weaknesses and tried to make something sensational out of them.
He wasn't a fame or glory seeker, and I think he was quite uncomfortable in the media and public glare. A lot of rubbish has been said and written about him too, and too frequently as well. Even after his death which is just poor form, though we all do it I suppose. For instance, probably the most common snipe is that he was be obsessed by money and 'on the take' while England manager, and it just was not true.
There has never been evidence of any wrongdoings, only hearsay. Unfortunately, mud sticks. Admittedly, he should have conducted his England exit much more carefully, but his walkout was hardly treachery or spiteful.
Nick : Before the Leeds United books, your website hints at a couple of novels you wrote, which also seem to have some football content. Where these essential stepping stones towards your more recent work? Are there are any particular writers or books which have been an influence. It seems fusing sport and fiction and is a difficult thing to pull off successfully.
Robert : I'd say that my debut 'One Northern Soul' and the sequel 'No More Heroes' aren't really sports fiction, they're more rites of passage 'biopics' about a lad Steve Bottomley (my alter ego really) growing up and happening to be a football supporter.
Those stories are as much about friendships and relationships as they are about football. But I get your point! When I was first told by a publisher that they wanted to produce my work, I was really surprised that anyone other than my family and friends would want to read about my exploits, as they were hardly extraordinary, not for a city boy growing up in the grim 80s.
So from the off I felt very lucky - and I had so much positive response to my first novel that it gradually boosted my confidence. Maybe not enough though. By the time I got around to preparing 'Dirty Leeds' - five or so years later - I'd finally reached the point of believing that a fictionalised history of Leeds United WASN'T too big a challenge.
Big influences for me, in books and in film funnily enough, were always 'Kes', 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner', 'Billy Liar', 'Crime And Punishment' and yes, 'Fever Pitch' though to a much lesser extent. Too many books to mention have hugely impressed me, including a couple of Charles Dickens', but the sad truth of the matter is, I haven't read nearly as much as I should have!
Nick : What's next for you? I wonder if Leeds United's recent fall from grace could form the backdrop of a novel, bring things up to date...?
Robert : I'm currently engrossed (I was going to say asphyxiated) with a Fan book on the history of my favourite band The Stranglers. Really enjoying it but it is hard work involving masses of research and pc-squinting and unfortunately it's preventing me from writing the two or three novels which are gnawing away at my brain.
I'm not being deliberately coy but two of the ideas are I think pretty damned original so I don't want to give the game away. I've still got a few Leeds United ideas up my sleeve as well, though I'm not too keen on writing about Elland Road events involving the recent Premier League years just yet, the memories are still a bit too raw.
I set myself a ridiculous ambition in my writing life: to have one title available per year of my existence.
You know that wise old saying don't you? 'You don't have to be mad to work here but...'
Thanks for the chat, I enjoyed it!
'DisRepute' is published by Tonto Books (available 5th June, 2010).
For more information, see
Robert was talking to Nick Quantrill, whose novel, 'Broken Dreams', is available now through
Caffeine Nights. For more information, see
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