The Author

Michael Barrett

Author
Michael Barrett, the writer and creator of Invincible Books, was born in Deepdale, Preston, just minutes from the North End ground. Here we read what inspired him to write about the Invincibles, as we look at the story behind the book.

I was alone, surrounded by thousands of second hand books in a warehouse on the outskirts of Galway city. Outside a snow blizzard was raging, whilst inside I was wrapped in five layers, with the radio blaring out. I remember that afternoon well, because on the radio an interview was taking place with someone who’d written a historical graphic novel. That was the moment I decided to write about the Invincibles.

The idea struck complete; what a great form the graphic novel would be for such a story! I was both pleased and irritated, pleased I’d had the idea – irritated I’d not had it sooner. And it wasn’t a case of should I write it? It was a definite, I will write it. But I wasn’t in Preston at the time – I wasn’t even in the country, and it would take me some 4 years before I eventually climbed the staircase at the Harris Library, notebook in hand.

The story of the Invincibles had long since taken hold of my imagination, when a mural at the back of the old Pavilion stand first brought them to my attention. I must’ve been only 11 at the time. I’d never heard of them before, but their very name conjured a sense of otherworldly, comic-book heroes. Here, I thought, is something special. Maybe the seed was sown then?

Or maybe it was years later, the 3rd April 1987, to be exact? North End, then in Division 4, were involved in a top of the table, Friday night clash at home to Northampton Town. The old stadium was crammed with over 16,000 fans – it was one of those magical, barmy football nights. An hour or so before kick-off I was playing snooker with a mate from school in the club next to the ground, when another mate walked in and asked us to help out in a hot dog van beneath the Spion Kop. We couldn’t say no, and thus I spent most of the match frying onions! However, I did get to see the last 20 minutes and a famous North End victory. Later, when the stadium was empty and we’d finished cleaning the van, we walked up from beneath the Kop, onto the terrace, and out onto the pitch to exit at the West Stand, where the groundsman was waiting to lock up. The second we stepped onto the pitch, WHOOSH, all the floodlights went out, and we were swamped in darkness, save for the moon. It was quite eerie, surreal, and striding across the pitch I couldn’t help but marvel about the ghosts of games gone past. We were off the field and out of the ground in a minute, but that image of Deepdale bathed in moonlight has stayed with me ever since.

Back then I was 15, with no thoughts of writing about football, my only interest was in playing the game, and the only words I read outside of class were the comics and annuals of Roy of the Rovers! I had no idea those comics were paving my way into the literary world and that one day I’d be collaborating on a book, with the very man whose artwork I followed week in, week out.

I’d better write that bloody book,
before someone else does!

 

 

Fast forward 27 years to November 2013, and I’m in South China, teaching English to 2,000 students a week. My contract is almost up and with a new offer on the table, I’m yet to sign. I love the school, the students are great, but there’s something gnawing at me, something I can’t quite figure, and I have no notion of what to do next. Then one evening I’m walking around the track of the school’s athletics stadium, going over my options. It’s late and getting cold, and I decide to head back in and cut across the football field in the middle of the stadium. I turn off the track, step onto the grass, and… WHOOSH. The floodlights go out.

For the main, an idea is associated with a single light bulb going on. For me, it’s light bulbs going off – lots of them. Once again I’m on a football pitch late at night – swamped in darkness, save for the moon. And BAM! I’m straight back to that night at Deepdale. But there’s no thought of the ghosts of games gone past, only the ghost of an idea; a sudden realisation of what I should do next, and a mild, yet all-consuming panic.

I’d better write that bloody book, before someone else does!

I arrived back in Preston on Christmas Eve, and in early January made my way to the Reference Library at the Harris, to begin my research on all things Invincible. I was sure I’d have it written in under 6 months. I didn’t have a clue.

It’s been a somewhat bumpy ride to get to this stage. Ideally I would’ve loved to have released the book in time for the 125 years celebration of North End’s 1888-89 double win, but life doesn’t always agree to our plans. Nevertheless, here I am, closer to the finish than ever before, and on these few moments listed I can look back with clarity and see how they shaped my path to the now. Significant moments for me, but of little consequence to you, that is of course unless you buy the book and are happy with what you’ve got! If that be the case, then I would have succeeded in my goal, and if not, then I can sincerely say it is not for the want of trying. The story of the Invincibles is truly an incredible tale, and it’s one I feel privileged to have had the chance to study and document in this way. There is still work to be done, but for now, I thank you for your patience, and if you progress to reading the book, then I thank you in advance and sincerely hope you’ll feel I’ve done justice to an amazing time in the wonderful history of Preston North End.

Thank you

Michael Barrett

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