Dead easy, this interviewing malarkey. Turn on the recorder, sit back, arrange the gems in some semblance of order and there you have it. At least you do when you speak to someone with the infectious enthusiasm of Martin Cloake. A leading authority on Spurs in print, many books written alongside co-author Adam Powley, his ardent passion for the club as journalist and fan remains undiminished.
His latest venture is an E-book called ‘Danny Blanchflower’, the first in a series of Sports Shots, extended essays that permit the analytical depth of a book but are accessible and readable for those of us without the time or cash to invest in the longer form on a regular basis. It’s new, it’s exciting and Martin is an evangelist for the medium
“What we have is a set of ideas about the growth of e-readers. This series of Spurs E-books which we hope will be part of something bigger, is tapping into people. Longer than an article, shorter than a book.”
Powley and Cloake have spotted a gap in the market. Given the amount about the club on Amazon, Kindle has been slow to catch up. “If you look at the Kindle store, put Tottenham Hotspur in, there’s not a lot of stuff there. It’s a market that people are using. We may be arrogant enough to think we are good enough but we have written books that people buy. We’ve had very good feedback, so we thought let’s put it out there and see how it goes.”
“Blanchflower is the first one, one on Hoddle which has just been completed. We’ll see how they sell and at the moment we’re looking at individual player profiles but depending on how this goes we may expand into other areas. What we don’t want to do is do something that we could do with a publisher. Horses for courses.”
Martin is at pains to stress that he is neither neglecting nor in competition with existing publishing methods. During our discussion he repeatedly emphasises his admiration for Dave Bowler’s book about Blanchflower and for those of us who see the name Cloake or Powley as the kitemark of quality when it comes to Spurs’ writing, the news that they have an excellent relationship with their publishers Vision and Mainstream means there’s probably more of the good stuff to come.
The e-book is something different. “What we can do with the e-books is to get something into the public domain relatively quickly. We are doing a lot of the marketing ourselves anyway. We have the technical expertise to put this up. It’s a much more complicated process than you would imagine”
He’s researched this carefully, noting that whilst there’s some evidence that on desktops people read long-form journalism, on mobile devices they won’t sit and read the 50,000 words in a book. My mind wanders to a blogger’s comment on twitter recently about how he rejected an idea for a post because it would have absorbed 1500 words, whereas readers stop after 300. Which if true means two thirds of anything I’ve written has been a waste of time, including this piece, but Martin’s energy pulls me back from the brink.
“To justify charging, it can’t be a blog post so we’ve gone for about 10 -12,000 words, shorter than a book, longer than an article. We’re still having a debate,” he muses. “Maybe we shouldn’t be obsessed by the length at all. It’s as long as it should be.”
It certainly works for me in terms of price, length and quality of content. It covers both Blanchflower’s career and the character of the man himself, as well as making pertinent links with contemporary football plus an evaluation of his lasting contribution to the game. £2 on my iphone, read on the train, thanks very much. Perfect. This is precisely the author’s intention.
“We will make sure there is plenty of information and some original comment as well. We’re conscious that a lot of content on the web is recycled, it’s easy to stitch stuff together and put it out there. That’s not the way we want to work. Without sounding high-falluting, we seem to have built up a reputation as people who do things that are high quality. It’s hard to build up a reputation and the quality of the content is what we hope is the thing that sells the books. Quick and quality reads that people can hang on to.”
For the first book in the series, Blanchflower was the natural choice because of his influence not only on Spurs but also on Martin as a fan. “I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with Danny Blanchflower. I never saw him play – my first game was 1978, 1-0 against Bolton, Don McAllister diving header” We pause momentarily to consider the frankly frightening prospect that this journeyman defender could have been a formative influence on the young impressionable schoolboy, even at this, his finest moment in a white shirt. Less diving, more toppling earthwards, but who am I to say because we are both sufficiently obsessive to remember it.
Moving on swiftly. “I was aware of Spurs since the early 70s when I lived in Haringey. When I started looking at the history of the club, the Double and Blanchflower comes up fairly quickly. He’s a fascinating figure for me. Working as journalist, it became not just the player but the man himself. His journalism was very good. He was very much of a different generation. If we ever got the chance to sit down together we may not have seen eye to eye but I think he is a fascinating character for football as well as Spurs. You’d be hard pushed to find a more significant figure. Just look at what he was about, what he did and represented.”
“I genuinely do believe that the team was part of something which completely changed the way British football operated. It finished the process started by Arthur Rowe’s push and run team in the early 50s. It changed English football for the better, taking it out of its insularity. Blanchflower was a real thinker and was attracted to us because the club was about changing the way English football was played. He’s a man ahead of his time.”
This boyish passion plus the ability to situate Blanchflower in a broader context makes the e-book compulsive reading. Forget the idea that this is a mere potted biography. It says more about its subject and the English game than a hundred best-selling autobiographies of modern players.
“Football can be self-important and we all slip into it, but Blanchflower wasn’t trying to be important, just a professional getting on with this job who thought about things.” Martin warms to his theme of the bigger picture. “I have 2 young boys. There’s a danger that being clever is seen as wrong, at school we took the pee out of swots. but Danny showed that ordinary people can be very intelligent, that it’s right to search out knowledge to improve things, to be good at something and think about how it was done. There’s a danger that people see intelligence as being elitist, a bit posh, so wrong and dangerous.”
Influential figure that he was, Blanchflower was met with considerable suspicion by chairmen and officialdom in general, threatened by his combination of prestige and intellect. He was overlooked for jobs in the game, including perhaps at Tottenham. Any antipathy was not helped by his public platform in journalism: Martin rates him highly in that respect too.
Blanchflower wasn’t averse to using the press for his own ends. There’s nothing new under the sun and Spurs are juggling with these issues at the moment, except it’s the manager rather than a player who is arguably using the media to influence club policy. Martin felt it was less sophisticated in Blanchflower’s day.
“He would never admit he was using the press but used a nudge and a wink as leverage to get what he wanted. He wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind.”
Inevitably when two Spurs fans get together, the discussion turns to Redknapp. Martin’s sense of dynamics of the club’s history once more enables some context for Harry’s proclamations, which I for one have criticised over the last few months, August in particular.
“The press loved Venables – he always had a quote. He defined his position regarding the chairman, and you can’t blame him for that.” Redknapp is doing the same, in other words. Martin goes on, “Redknapp is unfairly criticised sometimes. His relationship with the media protects us sometimes.”
Compare the reaction to a few bad results this season at, say, the Emirates or Everton with the silence that greeted our run of one win in 13-odd games last season. However, as Martin shrewdly concludes, “As the great philosopher Ronan Keating once said, ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’. It would be fascinating to sit down in a few years time with the present regime, it would be a great interview but I can’t see it happening”.
So how would it turn out if you did a ‘Boys From White Hart Lane’ with the current team? Martin can’t resist the idea but envisages problems that encapsulate the different status of the modern players and their relationship with outsiders.
“ You just wouldn’t be able to do it. You wouldn’t get access to players. They [the BFWHL squad] didn’t earn a lot. We tried to make sure everybody was looked after. These guys don’t need the money and they don’t need to talk to anybody. With the best will in the world they are on a different level. I’d love to sit down with Gareth Bale, watch that guy, you can’t take your eyes off him during a game. He seems fully grounded. Top of my list for BFWHL 2011! Benny is a hugely underrated full back and a fascinating character who understands where he comes from, that football is part of something much bigger. The squad seems to be full of likeable individuals. Luka has blotted his copybook but there are no whinging, unpleasant, offensive characters as in other teams. Van der Vaart seems like a good guy. Gomes, I’d like to sit down with him. No shortage of candidates and if they read your blog and they want to write it, give them my name and address, I would love to do it! I’d really love to get the real story, the inside story.”
Much as I like the idea of Bale or Gomes coming across TOMM and being inspired to unburden themselves, it’s unlikely, but if it does, Martin, you’ll be the first to know. Co-authors, OK?
What’s next? As you would by now expect, there’s no shortage of ideas. “Spurs have a rich history of players and personalities. Read these [i.e the ebooks] and find out a bit about the person, what they were like as a player and what they meant, but also look at the wider influences. I’d like to create a space for a debate, possibly a website for the books, forums maybe. Interactivity – the days when journalists or experts handing down wisdom from on high have gone. It’s about having that conversation with the audience who often know more about particular areas than you do. There’s also the opportunity to stretch the remit to include other teams and their players, other sports too, and perhaps other writers.”
Next up, Glenn Hoddle. “Ask any Spurs fan who was the greatest ever, he’s there but he had a lot more criticism than people care to remember. Spurs fans and football in general used to moan about him because he didn’t tackle back.” Like I say, nothing changes. One of my earliest memories at Spurs was hearing fans pile into Martin Chivers.
“He’s accused of being aloof, but just ask the other players about him. They are a bunch of geezers but they are amazed that there could ever be any animosity. Why would there be? They say he was brilliant and we were there to make sure that he could do the things he did. Good guy, we got on with him.”
I look forward to it.
Danny Blanchflower by Martin Cloake, edited by Adam Crowley, is available on Kindle from Amazon, £2.99