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Clickbait (Life as a Modern Football Fan): an exclusive interview with author Darren Berry

Following is the transcript of a short interview with Gunners Town alumnus Darren Berry – whose “Season Diary” was a huge hit for us when we first launched. Darren has expanded the blog format into a full-length book “Clickbait – Life As A Modern Football Fan” (Legends Publishing) hits the shelves on Monday. Order your copy before then, and you get a signed copy with “Clickbait” message and an anti-clickbait badge.

GT:   I really enjoyed the book – I expected it would be more along the lines of your Twitter persona!

DB:  I wanted it published!

GT:   It’s the ultimate irony. The book is called “Clickbait” and you’ve got us buying it thinking we’re going to get Darren taking the piss out of everybody…

DB:  Funnily enough – that was one of the things that came up with the publisher when we first started talking about the book. I started out writing it about the season – like the Season Diary that I used to write (on Gunners Town) – and we started noticing there was a bit of a theme to it – taking the piss out of idiots that just talk rubbish – so we decided to have a bit of a Clickbait theme going through it as well.

GT:   The black page Clickbait inserts are a lot of fun…

DB:  Otherwise there would have been nothing about clickbait in there and it would have been the ultimate irony as you say: you would have bought the book for something else entirely!

GT:   Darn! Darren has got us again! It should have had the fishing hook on the cover, instead of the finger…

DB:  (laughs)

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GT:   Dave (Seager) and I always loved Season Diary and we were was sad to see you go for the years between then and now. I know you’ve had a lot going on personally, and I was wondering how much of this book was a way of writing yourself back into a place of feeling again…

DB:  Yeah. Yeah. Big time. Because obviously, the way that it’s written, I was writing almost every day for 9 months – like a diary – and having not taken it that seriously for a couple of years you have to write yourself back into it – immerse yourself. To a degree. Only to a degree, otherwise it would drive you mental. 

But yeah. It did help. And writing is something I’ve wanted to do for so long… actually write a book, rather than just a blog, you know.

GT:   Were you influenced by Fever Pitch at all? 

DB:  Well I’ve read it. Years ago… When did it come out?

GT:   Late 80s – early 90s? [1992 – Ed.] I just read it again recently and there is a similar vibe. It’s him responding to the season – match by match, and then the sub-plot of the girlfriend… In your book, you keep touching back on the issues that you were dealing with at the time. It’s very poignant and quite moving to follow your journey.

It could have gone south – Arsenal are a troubling team to support. I’m glad it didn’t tip you over the edge!

DB:  That’s very true. It’s not just so much a journey through the football season, but a journey through 9 months of my life. I try to write in my own style, and sometimes it just sounds like I’m having a chat with myself! It comes across in the writing – I try to give it a down-to-earth kind of vibe, you know? Sometimes the football just goes out the window for a week and I find myself just writing nonsense! The kind of nonsense that people are going to want to read, hopefully!

GT:   Most football fans – and Arsenal fans in particular – have to have a sense of humour, and a lot of what you wrote has a Douglas Adams quality about it… It’s like A Hitchhiker’s Guide To An Arsenal Season if you know what I mean?

DB:  It’s funny:  like I said in the introduction… I’ve seen us win doubles and go a season unbeaten and the first time I decide to write a book the season ends up the way it did… But in a way, that was sort of better as well because from a writing point of view – the way I write, I think sometimes being successful is a bit boring! The whole idea was to capture the vibe of what it’s like going through a season as a football fan. Especially as an Arsenal fan in recent years – and the season ending the way that it did is probably a good thing from a writing point of view! I think the ups and downs of last season were a perfect example of the rollercoaster ride. Going on a 22 game unbeaten run followed by an absolute meltdown culminating in that night in Baku…

GT:   You’re a lot swearier in person and on Twitter… I think you were remarkably constrained.

DB:  I had to tone it down – my publisher would agree – I had to tone it down because there was quite a bit of swearing in there… I was conscious of it, because I like to try and swear in context, where possible!

GT:   I know this about you – and you mention it in the book – you don’t just go out there to make fun of people: it’s something that interests you: the psychology of people’s ability to believe things, or to fall for obvious traps. So it’s experimental for you – you’re not just being provocative… you dangle this worm out there and you say “Wow! These same eleven fish always bite that worm…”

DB:  Exactly. Social media – and football in general – from a humour point of view is fascinating. The amount of people that will literally just believe any shit that they’re fed by anyone… I say ‘fascinating’, but after a while it can be a bit… you have to take it  with a pinch of salt – take it lightly. That’s why I do some of this stuff – because you see that people just go off like complete  lunatics, for instance like they did after my tweet about the (proposed) statue…

GT:   (Laughs) A statue of Mertesacker and Walcott ass-bumping!… Off the ground.

DB:  It would make a great statue though, if I had to be honest with you! 

GT:   I wouldn’t like to stand underneath it.

DB:  The one of Theo would probably go missing every once in a while… Wouldn’t it. At least once every 90 minutes..!

GT:   Who do you think this book is aimed at? There are obviously people who know you from Twitter, and some that know you through Gunners Town and your writing… Where do you feel this book will land – and why do you think somebody should read it? Tough question for an author, I know… 

DB:  Obviously it’s going to be Arsenal fans first and foremost – but the more it began to develop along the Clickbait lines – with the chapter breaks – and not so much completely Arsenal-related it became apparent that it would appeal to football fans in general.My Dad is reading a proof copy of it – he’s a Tottnum fan – and he’s quite enjoying it. I’m not sure he’s got to the bit where we beat them in the North London Derby …

Also – my wife Natalie read parts of it, and said you don’t have to be a football fan to be able to engage with it. So if I could get non-football fans (including Tottnum fans, obviously) to pick up on the vibe that would be great as well! 

I don’t think you have to be an Arsenal fan. I know Arsenal fans assume, as completely mental as some of them… sorry, US… are, that it is unique to your own club. But I’m sure it isn’t. I’m sure every single football supporter goes through the same thing, all season. Probably apart from Man City fans: they just buy it all and win everything.

But you know – normal clubs. (Laughs).

GT:   Clubs that aren’t owned by a country…

DB:  Yeah. (Chuckles.)

But fingers crossed. It remains to be seen. But I think fans of other football clubs – especially those that use social media a lot – will get it. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on around football – not the football or the club itself – the whole community aspect of it… The way that the internet has ruined the world – as well as football, basically… Bunch of absolute idiots!

GT:   Well – I enjoy books that have a sense of humour and don’t take themselves too seriously – there is that Douglas Adams/Nick Hornby feel to it: you don’t have to be an Arsenal fan to enjoy it. You just have to be a human! Some of the observations you make of everyday life are so insightful. I found it quite moving.

DB:  Thanks. I appreciate that. That’s definitely the kind of thing I was going for. I think the way that I wrote it was bound to come through.The job that I was in (before this one) I wasn’t doing a great deal. I was sitting on my ass, knew that I was leaving – that’s when quite a bit of the writing was done.It was very laid back. Obviously as the season went on, it got a lot swearier and more depressing…

GT:   At least it didn’t throw you back into  full-blown depression! You managed to ‘self-medicate’ through it! Did you find the Arsenal community  – as offensive and combative as they can be – did you find them supportive through the process?

Absolutely. Plenty of people I know that are friends of mine… People I met through the online community, as well as people I’d never met or spoken to – they’ve all been brilliant, mate.

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GT:   That’s the interesting part of Twitter: it can be so poisonous and acerbic and confrontational, and yet when something serious happens it puts all that shit aside and shows that it can be ‘real’ and sincere. It’s what keeps me there, in a sense. I know it’s just a game.

DB:  Yeah – there’s good and bad points. Very much so. And I’ll be touching on that in the next book as well…

GT:   You’ve got another book coming?!

DB:  It’s in the pipeline, yeah. The plans are there for it.

GT:   Is it gonna be along the same lines, or are you going to go for something fictional?

DB:  Along the same lines. Writing throughout the season. Basically the Season Diary thing – in book form, but will have a different theme running through it.

GT:   Sorry we can’t afford you here on Gunners Town. Otherwise you could just write it here every week and then publish it at the end of the year! (Nudge nudge, wink wink.)

DB:  Well – if Gunners Town come into any money, just let me know! (Laughs).

GT:   (Laughs). It was awesome talking to you. Thanks for your time…

DB:  You too. I appreciate the chat.

GT:   I hope the book does well. Like I said – it was very touching. It’s a great accomplishment. So well done.

DB:  Thanks, mate. It did get to a point around Christmas – you might notice it when you read the book – where I was like, “We’ve just lost again – I’m gonna get pissed. Screw it.” 

GT:   Well – I’m glad you stuck at it. Thanks again.

DB:  My pleasure.

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