When former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell was 14, his beloved Burnley FC broke their transfer record for a 20-year-old striker named Paul Fletcher. Little did Campbell know, he would one day write a book with him.
Set in the 1970s, an era defined by the terrorist threat posed by the IRA, Saturday Bloody Saturday sees sport and politics collide in a football novel like no other, as we follow the exploits of manager Charlie Gordon and his team on their cup run to a capital unsettled by a general election and an assassination plot.
When the original idea for the novel came to Fletcher, who scored 71 goals in 293 matches for the Clarets in the early ‘70s, he was intrigued by the idea of a football novel incorporating socio-political elements, and so spoke to his friend - former politician Alastair Campbell - about collaborating on the project. Alastair, who for a long time had a signed photo of the Burnley striker scoring an overhead kick against Leeds in on his office wall, agreed.
“I thought I’d try and put a novel together about social history, about what it was like being in the football industry,” said former Burnley CEO Paul. “When the Burnley team used to go down to London in the mid-70s, it was a scary time, because the IRA were bombing the city.”
Having based their narrative around an anonymous football team, the pair explained that they wanted to avoid fan biases by enabling the reader to project their own allegiances into the story, which sees the side face off against Paul’s own opponents from the era: Chelsea’s Peter Osgood, Ron Harris, and Peter Bonetti; Manchester United’s George Best, Nobby Stiles, and Bobby Charlton.
“The problem with football is we all have a favourite team,” said Paul. “If I wrote a book about Burnley, nobody in Blackburn is going to read it! So the team plays against real teams, but the team is whoever the reader supports.
“In every dressing room you’d get all the characters: the drinker, the womaniser, someone who’s tight who won’t spend their money, and one who’s a gambler, so it’s been interesting to pull all these characters out into a novel,” Paul added. “We’re not trying to say football was better or worse back then; football was different.”
Published by Orion, the book is the culmination of a great friendship between the two men, who still go to Turf Moor together to this day.
“We’re good mates,” said Paul. “We take the mickey out of each other because he boasts that he played with Pele and Maradona in charity matches and I boast that I’ve been in dressing rooms he never got to go in!
“Alastair did the political side and I did the football side,” he added. “We had a great partnership and I think we’ve come up with a good book.”