TEAMtalk talks exclusively to West Ham fan Scott Allen to get the low-down on Llama United, a book about 11 Llamas with the footballing world at their feet.
The premise of the book is simple: 11 llamas chow down the scattered Ashes of one of the world’s greatest players while grazing in a field, inherit his footballing prowess, and get managed by 11-year-olds called Tim and Cairo as well as a grumpy Scotsman called McCloud. The team then go on an incident-packed run to the cup final.
The story is told from the point of Arthur Muckluck, the world’s greatest footballer, who says this of himself: “What do you mean you’ve never heard of me? I’m Arthur Muckluck: over fifty England caps, three Cup winners’ medals, two Division One league titles and a World Cup winner. A creative genius, rocket quick, brilliant in the air, composed in front of goal and never scared to make crucial, crunching tackles. I even went in goal on two separate occasions – saved two penalties and kept two clean sheets. They used to call me ‘The Legend’…”
The book is aimed at your football-loving sons and daughters, but is a quick, easy read for adult football fans too – TEAMtalk whizzed through it in two days as the chapters fly by at a good pace.
Its tone has a touch of Roald Dahl to it. Muckluck played when ‘footballs were as heavy as cannonballs, boots were made out of leather as thick as rump steaks, and football kits were exactly the same as the horrible chunky jumpers your gran knits for Christmas’.
And TEAMtalk sat down with the author to see what inspired him to concoct the story.
TEAMtalk: Scott, you’re a West Ham fan, and the goalkeeping llama is called Ludo (presumably after the legendary Mr Miklosko). Are the other llamas based on former or current players?
Scott Allen: You are right, he is named after Ludek Miklosko, who, as the excellent West Ham song goes, ‘comes from near Moscow’. Lots of the players in the book, both human and llama, have slight nods to real players. The Duke celebrates goals a bit like Ronaldo for example.
TEAMtalk: We’ll talk a lot about the book – but I’m keen to talk West Ham and football to mix things up too. What’s your most memorable moment as an Irons fan?
Scott Allen: To be brutally honest not many. Bar the 1985/86 season, stopping Man Utd win the Premier League twice, a few promotions and the odd victory over Chelsea or Spurs it has been slim pickings. It’s mainly pain and torture, the worst being the FA Cup final defeat in 2006, which is still burnt on my soul. Why didn’t Scaloni just hoof it into the crowd. Sob.
TEAMtalk: OK back to the book. McCloud is the best character. Is he a hybrid of managers? Any ones in particular? What’s with all the random Scottish club nicknames he uses?
Scott Allen: As a young journalist I spent a couple of seasons covering the Scottish leagues beneath the SPL for the Scottish papers, internet and Teletext (yes it was long ago). I interviewed loads of Scottish managers and heard all their stories. It’s tough in Scottish League Division Two. One that stood out was the then Stranraer manager Billy McLaren who you could only speak to for team news after 1030pm on a Thursday night. He used to growl a lot and say things like ‘nothing intimidates me, I’m six foot four!’.
The random Scottish club nicknames McCloud uses replaces swear words. It’s a children’s book after all.
TEAMtalk: This is your first book, but you’ve been a journalist for PA Sport and Orange. How did you find the process of writing a book instead of a match report? Did it flow easily?
Scott Allen: Writing a book is not easy, even if you’ve worked in journalism for a long time. Children’s publishing and sports journalism are quite far apart and I’ve learnt so much more in this process working with my agent (Gemma) and editors (Lucy and Rachel). The easiest bits to write in Llama United were the match reports as that was a bit like riding a bike.
TEAMtalk: Planet Sport recently launched a new football site called Planet Football, which is a celebration of all that’s great about the beautiful game. Who are your footballing heroes and why?
Scott Allen: I’ve supported West Ham since the early 80s, but it was the team of 1985/86 season that really captured my heart. We finished third, West Ham’s best ever finish in the top flight. Which is actually a bit sad considering we’ve been going since 1895. As I have little talent for football myself and spent most of my playing time kicking opposition in the air I naturally gravitated to the tougher players like Billy Bonds and Julian Dicks. However as a West Ham fan it’s the creative ones that also inspired me; Sir Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Paolo Di Canio and Ian Bishop to name but a few.
TEAMtalk: Llama United was written under the radar – but you’ve been commissioned to write a follow-up on a World Cup campaign. Has it been easier or harder to write knowing you’ve now got an agent and publishing house?
Scott Allen: There is a lot more pressure and tougher deadlines to hit. Plus we are always trying to think months and months ahead. My editor and I are currently embroiled in editing for Book 2, which is due out after Christmas. While my agent is thinking even longer term than that!
TEAMtalk: Let’s have a final word on football. Do you want Slaven Bilic to stay long-term? Who do you want West Ham to sign this summer?
Scott Allen: I’m very much on the fence with Slav at the moment. He has the passion, seems like a nice guy (although I was very upset when he left us for Everton as a player) and has been really unlucky with injuries and the Payet situation. However I do worry about his tactical nous, we don’t seem to have a plan B and he keeps playing our best players (Antonio and Kouyate) out of position. He’s not been great in the transfer market either, arguably everyone we brought in since last summer has been a flop. However, the owners are not big on sacking managers so I’d give him until autumn next season and reassess how he is getting on.
Llama United is available to buy on May 4 from all good bookshops. You can also order copies online here.