Manchester Football Writing Festival: Words and beautiful game prove entertaining strike partnership

Nobody could ever accuse the people of Manchester of being apathetic towards the Beautiful Game, and the success of the Manchester Football Writing Festival has once again reaffirmed the city’s passion for debate.

The festival, in association with Waterstones Deansgate and the National Football Museum, is just over halfway through its roster of ten debates, spanning topics from Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas to David Moyes’ disastrous tenure as Manchester United boss.

Matt Gardiner, the founder of the festival, which is now into its second year, spoke to MM about the appetite for top quality football writing, with slightly under 1500 people set to have attended by the time he blows for full time on Thursday night.

He admits that the scale of some of the venues has taken even him slightly aback.

“We had five hundred people at Manchester Cathedral on Thursday night… it was quite something,” he said.

Gardiner puts much of the explosion in football writing, which he distinguishes from football journalism, down to the Internet, and, intriguingly, time.

“Last year, we had Mike Calvin, Ian Ridley and Paddy Barclay, and they were saying that real journalism has seen a bit of a decline because of the need to respond immediately to everything that happens.

“The long form, whether it be books or periodicals like The Blizzard, has seen a real positive improvementThe way that people can publish online makes a real difference.”

Gardiner himself has even chaired one discussion, on the corruption behind the Qatar World Cup bid – the scale of which is “beyond belief” – but on other occasions, the prestige of the journalists and the quality of the debate is more than enough to attract people through the door.

While the festival has already hosted discussions on such far-flung topics as the revival of the Bundesliga and, as mentioned, the World Cup in Qatar, the second week contains a strong local flavour.

It is clear, too, that despite the increasing proliferation of economics and politics into football, Gardiner is keen to cater for all interests, lest we forget that football is, at its heart, a game of 11 versus 11.

“We’ve got Jamie Jackson of The Guardian on Monday night talking about his book on post-Fergie United. I imagine a lot of that will be on-the-pitch talk, on what Moyes did wrong. I think the interest is still there in the actual pitch side (of football).”


In a similar vein, the festival rounds off for another year with a discussion on the Manchester derby on Thursday night, and if it’s anything like last year’s tete-a-tete, it should be well worth watching.

“We just wound them up and let them go,” Gardiner says.

With Neil Custis of The Sun joining Simon Mullock, Gary James, and Simon Wadsworth, he reckons that “we should get a fairly outspoken set of panellists.”

It is testament to both Gardiner’s dedication and the success of the festival that booksellers are now coming to him to pitch debates and events, rather than the other way round.

As a result, he seems confident that the festival will continue into a third year.

“There’s certainly the interest there. I’ve already got publishers saying we’ve got this or that book coming out next year which will probably do well… the one that somebody’s mentioned is Rory Smith of The Times.

“Other than that, we’ll see how this one goes and chat with the National Football Museum and decide whether we can do it again, but I’d hope so.”

Gardiner, based at Waterstones Deansgate, organises the events and the speakers, while the museum assists with much of the logistical aspect of things. It’s clear to see that such an event has forged what he describes as “a real partnership.”

Much like Cole and Yorke, or Dickov and Goater, football fans in Manchester should hope that the partnership becomes a long and fruitful one.

The Manchester Football Writing Festival runs until Thursday September 10. For tickets and further information, visit or follow @mcrfwf on Twitter

Main image courtesy of MCR football writing via Twitter, with thanks.

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