I've Had 100 Books Published, but Just as Many Rejected-Including One about Football's Origins: I Had an Idea I Thought Was Brilliant, the Story of Two Things That Began in the Same Year, 1863-The London Underground and the Football Association

By Davies, Hunter | New Statesman (1996), April 12, 2019 | Go to article overview

I've Had 100 Books Published, but Just as Many Rejected-Including One about Football's Origins: I Had an Idea I Thought Was Brilliant, the Story of Two Things That Began in the Same Year, 1863-The London Underground and the Football Association


Davies, Hunter, New Statesman (1996)


I have just had my 100th book published. Well, I have been at it a long time. I have included titles my wife used to describe as non-books, such as collections of columns or interviews. It is my list. I can count what I like. Over the decades, friends have sneered: "How many books you written this week, Hunt? Har har. Easy for you, with your contacts." Strange how people mock the prolific.

I have also had at least 100 books turned down, proposals I sweated over to con (sorry, I mean persuade) publishers to commission them. I longed to do a biography of Canon Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, but they all said "don't bother us".

There was one idea I thought was brilliant, the story of two things that began in the same year, 1863--the London Underground and the Football Association. It often happens in fiction that an author takes two characters, not apparently connected, and follows them until they come together, or not. I don't think I have seen it done in non-fiction. All my publishers turned it down, bastards. So much for contacts. One suggested two separate books, but I had set my heart on doing a combined biography. Potty, I know.

There is nothing obviously connecting the two, except the year of their birth, but in my mind I was going to trace their effects on our social, economic and artistic life over 150 years, including their influence on art and architecture. They did at one time come together. In 1932, Herbert Chapman, Arsenal's manager, got the London Underground to change the name of the local tube station from Gillespie Road to Arsenal.

I started collecting old Tube maps, back to 1863, and I even managed to acquire some of the original artwork by Harry Beck. Come on, you must have heard of him? He designed the map we still use, first mass-published in 1933 and now studied in every graphic art department in the world as a design icon. Until Harry Beck, the Tube map was like a bowl of spaghetti. He made it so simple.

The FA had its first meeting at the Freemasons' Tavern near Lincoln's Inn Fields in London on 26 October 1863. Twelve London-based clubs attended, mostly composed of public school boys and Oxbridge graduates, many of them clerics. …

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