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'Why we Write' - Stephen Constantine in conversation with Owen Amos

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From Delhi to the Den tells the story of Stephen Constantine, the Indian national football team manager and “football’s most-travelled coach”. Here, Stephen and his co-author, BBC website journalist Owen Amos, explain how the book came about…

Stephen Constantine: Owen, can you remember why you first emailed me in 2011?

Owen Amos: I was organising a football tour to Nepal for my local team, Richmond Mavericks FC (another long story). I was looking for contacts, and I remembered reading an article years earlier about an Englishman who managed Nepal. I Googled you, found your site, and sent you an email. I then remember coming home from work one night, having read your Wikipedia page, thinking: “This guy has lived an incredible life, yet he’s barely known in the UK. Someone needs to tell his story.” When I suggested writing a book together, did you ever think it would come off?

SC: To be honest, no, not really. I’ve had so many people joke about it over the years – “There’s a book there, you should write about it.” My usual reply was “Yes, yes – but who has ever heard of Stephen Constantine?” I didn’t play at the top level. I don’t have a big name. Who the hell is going to read it? But your constant “Let’s do this, let’s do this, let me look for a publisher” made me think: “OK – he is not going to find anyone, but let him see what’s out there, and that will be that.” Then three years later I get a call: “Good news – we have found a publisher.” DeCoubertin have put their money where my story is, and I’m very excited. So tell me – why did you want to write my story?

OA: I don’t like blowing smoke up your arse, but I honestly think you’ve led one of the great British lives in recent history. The places you’ve been, the things you’ve achieved, the adversity you’ve overcome – it’s incredible. And when I Googled you, there was basically nothing out there. Bits and bobs on blogs, the occasional piece in the mainstream media, but nothing substantial. As a journalist I thought: “I’ve got a scoop.” Also, I’ve always wanted to write a football book. I grew up reading everything from Tim Parks to Phil Stant, and I wanted to have a go myself. Back to you – I know you found parts of your story hard to tell, especially your family background. Was any part of you reluctant to see it in print?

SC: Yes, actually quite a big bit. Bearing your feelings to people close to you is one thing; telling it in a book is quite another. I was very close to my mum and Aunty Rose, and I can’t tell you how bad I feel that they’re not here today, or were unable to meet the girls and Lucy. Missing my aunty’s funeral (in 1992) is still a source of shame. I have done things to earn a living that I am not particularly proud of. But the reason for it was that I could play or coach football. When you find something you love, you must give your life to it, and I will until my dying day. Owen, I often wondered how you were able to describe my tale in “my way” – how did you manage to get inside my head?

OA: With some difficulty! When I re-read the very early drafts, I don’t like them, because they don’t sound authentic. They don’t sound like you. But over our hundreds of hours of conversations, I learned about your “voice” – your tone, your words, your style, the way you explain things. When I wrote the book, I imagined you reading it out loud. If it didn’t “sound” right, I re-wrote it. That was quite a useful trick. One thing that comes through, I think, is your love of India and Indian people – but you are not entirely uncritical. Are you nervous about how it will be received over there?

SC: You are right – I love India and everything it has given me and my family. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be India manager, not once but twice. So am I nervous? Not nervous – excited, maybe. I feel I have earned the right to give my honest opinion. I have no agenda other than the betterment of Indian football. There have been many people who turn up and criticise India and its people – “They don’t have this or that, it’s better where I come from” – and I really hate that. The thing to ask is: “What can I do to help? How can we make it better?” I have always tried to do that. Yes, I can be critical, but it’s for good reason. I will always do whatever I can to help my association. It’s about repaying their faith in me, and of course leaving behind a legacy. My question to you is – having spent three years with me, what is it you think drives me to do what I do?

OA: I think firstly – and most simply – you’re a football fanatic. I am a football obsessive but you make me look like part-time. You also have a seemingly unshakeable self-belief. Even when things are going wrong you barely doubt yourself. I’m not sure where that comes from. Perhaps when you’ve survived sleeping in burned-out cars, you develop more faith in yourself. That hard upbringing also gives you something to prove. Finally – and this might hurt your tough-guy reputation – you’re a nice bloke. You get a buzz from helping people and seeing them improve. Coaching – at any level – is addictive for you. Last question – when India win the Asian Cup in 2019, will we do an updated version of the book?!

SC: Ha – let’s get there first! Owen, let me end this Q&A by saying I really appreciate you taking the time, and having the interest and patience to get this done. I also need to thank the publishers and in particular James Corbett and Jack Gordon-Brown. I imagine it’s not too hard to sell a book on Liverpool or the legend that is Howard Kendall, but my story requires huge belief in both the writers and the story. I sincerely hope we have lived up to your expectations. I also hope whoever reads this book will finish it and think: “I never thought that would have been possible – it just goes to show if you give yourself to something, anything is possible.”

From Delhi to the Den is available to pre-order here. Free worldwide shipping until 31 July. 

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