“A cannonball launched, it’s barely in sight. Tiptoe the line between shadow and light. Some magical control brings the ball under your spell. A sneaky second touch beats the defender as well. Out of the shade and run into the sun. An elegant flick and the game is won.”
Rarely has Dennis Bergkamp’s stunning strike against Argentina, or any goal for that matter, garnered such eloquent recollection as the rhyming verse with which it is remembered by copywriter-turned-author Rob Parker in his ode to some of the beautiful game’s greatest international goals: World At Your Feet.
Adorned from cover to cover with vivid depictions of famous footballers, courtesy of Spanish artist Lawerta, World At Your Feet is a children’s picture book, destined to spend more time in the laps of football-loving parents than in those of the children it was supposedly bought for. It aims to capture all the unforgettable colour, drama and outright magic of a major football tournament and present them in a most charming poetic narration.
Rob Parker, the brains behind the book, recently spoke to These Football Times to chat about how his life as a father inspired his first delve into children’s literature, the pained process of whittling a wealth of stunning international strikes from decades of football down to just 16, and his hopes for the book and what creative ventures may follow it.
When and how did you first conceive the idea for a football picture book aimed at children? Would you say publishing, poetry or children’s books fall comfortably into your preexisting areas of expertise or did this project represent something of a departure from your usual line of work?
“I have identical twin daughters, Carmen and Iris, who were born just before the start of Euro 2016 and, even as newborns, they were quite attracted to watching football on the TV. I suspect it was probably the sounds, colour and movement of the game that grabbed their interest. They are now aged two and continue to enjoy watching football with me. They are also mad about books and stories, so those two fledgeling interests were obviously percolating in my mind.
“The idea for World At Your Feet came to me one night towards the end of 2017. As these these things often do, it landed in my brain as a fully fledged idea: a children’s picture book about memorable goal, written and designed to appeal to football fans of all ages, written in the second person to draw the reader into the various goal-scoring scenarios, and illustrated in such a way as to capture the colour and movement that captivated my daughters.
“The writing part came naturally – I’m a copywriter by trade and I’m used to turning my hand to various types of writing – but everything else was a steep learning curve. Publishing, freight shipping and all the other bits you don’t think about at the start of a project like this were totally new to me.”
How did you go about choosing the 16 goals on which you’d base your wonderful rhyming verses and illustrations? There’s such a wealth of incredible football history from which to pick, what parameters were most important to you when deciding? Also, how did the collaboration with Lawerta come about and, once on board?
“I decided that all the goals would be from previous editions of a tightly-trademarked major international football tournament that took place in Russia this summer. At first I was thinking about the best goals and, on that basis, I picked out around six to eight that would be up there in most football fans’ top 10. It was at that point that I decided to redefine my own brief and focus on memorable or iconic goals.
“I suppose the one that swung it for me was Roger Milla’s goal for Cameroon versus Colombia in 1990. It’s a great goal in its own right but is made more memorable by Milla’s celebration. If you compare that to, for instance, Torsten Frings’ goal for Germany against Costa Rica in 2006, which was in contention but didn’t make the cut, I knew Milla’s goal would make for a more exciting read and be more interesting visually. So they need to be great goals but also memorable and ideally original.
“I knew Lawerta’s work from writing about him on a previous copywriting gig, so I got in touch to see if was interested and available. Thankfully, he was. I’d already picked out the goals and pretty much nailed down the copy when I made that approach because I wanted to have something concrete to show him. And that worked out well because he was excited by the concept and what I’d written. But as I say, I’d already picked goals that I thought would lend themselves to interesting illustration and Lawerta surpassed those expectations.”
Do you have a particular favourite that lent itself to your chosen media most naturally?
“I suppose one that immediately came to mind and was within the batch of six or eight goals I picked out straight away was Bergkamp’s goal for the Netherlands versus Argentina in 1998. That just had everything going for: a skilful and visually impressive goal, blazing sunshine, two of the most iconic kits in world football, and the high stakes of a last-gasp winner. I was also 12 years old at the time, and age definitely plays a part in which goals are etched on your memory.”
What do you feel makes a project like this work as well as it does; whether it be the act of goalscoring, the context of the tournament or the beautiful game itself, why do you think whimsical rhyming verses and charming cartoonish illustrations fit the events and narratives so naturally?
“Without wishing to get too highfalutin – and I must admit this hadn’t even occurred to me until you asked – but I guess all of those things are tied together by a sort of childlike joy and innocence. The emotions of scoring a goal, the act of losing yourself in a football match as a fan or a player, or losing yourself in a piece of art, can briefly strip away life’s problems and leave you with something that’s pure.
“I can’t promise that reading World At Your Feet will strip away life’s problems, but it certainly comes from a place of appreciating the joy and drama of the beautiful game, so I think that’s why it works.”
Given the success of this particular publication, do you see yourselves producing more in the future, perhaps to commemorate other footballing events? And do either of you have any past projects you believe fans of World At Your Feet would especially enjoy discovering?
“I’d like to. I’ll need to take stock of World At Your Feet at some stage and quantify whether there’s an appetite for another publication and, if so, it would be a pleasure to write another one. As I mentioned, this is a bit of a departure from my usual work so I don’t have any past projects of a similar ilk, but if anyone wants to pop their email address into the footer of our website, I’ll keep them in the loop on any future projects.
“As for Lawerta, you could probably lose an afternoon scrolling through his Instagram account. There are loads of great football-related projects he has worked on but I’ll pick out the one that put him on my radar which was his work with Spanish side Levante; he did the typography for their kits for the 2014/15 season.”
By Will Sharp @shillwarp
Thanks to Rob Parker for speaking to These Football Times as part of The Gallery. If you’re an artist for whom football remains the ultimate muse, and you’d like to feature in The Gallery, please email us with examples of your work.