James Leighton talks about Duncan Edwards: The Greatest

In a tweet can you introduce us to Duncan Edwards?

Duncan Edwards played for Manchester United and England in the 1950s and is regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time. Sadly, he died in the 1958 Munich air disaster when he was only 21 years-old.

Where did the title “The Greatest” come from and how did you research the book?

I realised that when people talked about Duncan they generally referred to him as ‘the greatest’. For instance, there is a terrific quote from the Manchester United assistant manager, Jimmy Murphy, who once said ‘Whenever I heard Muhammad Ali on television say he was the greatest, I had to smile. There was only ever one greatest and that was Duncan Edwards.’  Time and time again the word ‘greatest’ kept cropping up and for that reason I thought it would be an appropriate title.

When researching this book one of the key areas for me was to find out how people actually spoke of Duncan Edwards when he was still alive. Since his tragic death many revered figures in the game have said that he was the best ever but I had always wondered whether their judgement had perhaps been clouded by sentiment. Because of this I looked into the old newspaper archives to see what was being said of Duncan when he played and what I found staggered me. It seemed that journalists of the time used every superlative available to describe him. He was truly a boy wonder who people were talking about as the best in the world even before his death.

I also tried to interview as many of Duncan’s surviving friends and team-mates as possible and I had a wonderful response. The likes of Wilf McGuinness, Harry Gregg and Kenny Morgans are just some who were only too happy to talk to me about Duncan and at times our interviews actually became quite emotional. I also placed articles in the local papers in Dudley and Manchester where I asked for any friends of Duncan’s to get in touch with me. Thankfully this proved to be very fruitful. A couple by the name of Dave and Pat Sharrock, who met Duncan at Butlins and eventually introduced him to his fiancée, Molly Leach, contacted me and they had some wonderful stories regarding their friend that had not been known publically before now.

How did you go about finding an agent and getting published?

I think most aspiring authors will tell you that finding an agent, let alone a good agent, is very difficult indeed. When I started out I really didn’t have a clue how to go about it so I purchased the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook as I knew there was a list of agents in it. Having spent hours reviewing the list I decided that Darley Anderson sounded like just the sort of person I would love to work with. He not only had an outstanding reputation in the literary world but also represented some of my favourite authors such as Lee Child and Martina Cole. However, while I was very keen to work with Darley I knew that he was inundated with manuscripts from other hopefuls and recognised that it wouldn’t be an easy task to catch his attention.

Thankfully, having sent Darley a covering letter, and a sample of my book, he called me and offered to represent me. It was a huge thrill. After working so hard on my book it made it all worthwhile to hear that someone like Darley Anderson had liked it.

Once Darley was involved it opened up many doors. Within a few weeks we had a meeting set up with the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, who are world renowned publishers, and shortly afterwards we struck a deal. It was a massive moment in my writing career. There is no doubt that without Darley’s help it might never have happened.

Where do you write?

I generally write in the corner of my bedroom where I have set up a little office. It’s very peaceful but I have to admit that to the naked eye it looks an absolute pigsty. Papers and books are everywhere! I like to think it’s organised chaos, and that I know where everything is, but it’s definitely getting to the point where I need to have a good sort out.

What’s next for you?

Once I had finished writing Duncan Edwards: The Greatest I started to look for another project that would excite me. To date I have written four football books so I thought it would be good to get out of my comfort zone and focus on other interests of mine. I’ve always been a keen amateur poker player and I was aware that there was a huge story in the USA last year concerning online poker so I decided to take a closer look. What I found blew me away. The story read like a thriller.

In short a young Australian whiz kid, by the name of Daniel Tzvetkoff, had become a multi-millionaire illegally processing money for US poker sites. However, after living the jet set life of a playboy he was now being blamed for the collapse of the online poker industry in the USA. It turned out that he was accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from some of the biggest poker sites in the world and that after they tipped off the FBI he was arrested in Las Vegas. Incredibly, after being arrested, he offered to become an informant and the information he gave led to the FBI shutting down every online poker site in the USA last year. At this moment in time Tzvetkoff is said to be in witness protection while the Department of Justice takes the poker companies to court.

Some of the twists and turns in the story are mind-blowing, especially when you consider the amount of money involved. If you tried to write it as fiction no one would believe that this story would be possible. It is a mix of The Social Network and the Leonardo Di Caprio film Catch Me If You Can. I’ve got a hard few months of research ahead of me travelling around the globe trying to uncover as much information as possible but I can’t wait for this book to be released. It’s a story not many people know about at this moment in time but it really is quite incredible.

What was it about Duncan Edwards, and now online poker, that inspired you ?

I suppose I look for stories that I would love to read myself that have not yet been written. I had always wanted to know the full story of Duncan Edwards, and amazingly a definitive biography had never been released, so I was desperate to find out as much as I could about his life.

I actually saw the poker story in the newspaper last year and as soon as I read about it I knew I had to write it. It had a bit of everything in it and really excited me. Thankfully Darley and Simon & Schuster felt the same and gave me the green light to write about it. For now the working title is Alligator Blood and it is set to be released May 2013.

What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

It won’t be a surprise to hear that I spend a lot of my time playing and watching football. To the annoyance of many I am a true fanatic. However, I am also a huge film fan and I really enjoy a trip to the cinema or a night in with my girlfriend watching DVDs. My love of film doesn’t stop there as I am also currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, which unsurprisingly focusses on football! If my old school and university friends are about we try to organise a friendly game of poker, although they are much better than me so it can sometimes be a costly endeavour. When I need to recharge my batteries I love visiting Florida, especially Long Boat Key, which is a wonderfully peaceful place where I can relax on the beach and read a good book.

What are your favourite books or authors?

Growing up I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl but these days I tend to spend most of my time reading thrillers or sport/music books. If you give me a book by Lee Child, Martina Cole, Jeffrey Archer or John Grisham then I know I will be happy. I also try and look out for biographies written by Hunter Davies and Michael Lewis. The Blind Side and Moneyball by Lewis are both excellent but perhaps the best sports book I’ve read in a long time is Engage by Paul Kimmage. I’m not a big rugby fan but that book literally reduced me to tears. It is the story of Matt Hampson, an England U-21 international, who became paralysed from the neck down after a scrum collapsed. It is not just a sad and inspirational story but the writing is fantastic. I’m also a huge Beatles fan so anything written about them I usually snap up.

What would be your top tips for aspiring non-fiction writers hoping to get published?

To find a subject that excites them, research it to death, write and re-write over and over again, then try and get an agent. But most importantly don’t give up. The vast majority of writers suffer numerous rejections in their careers, including the likes of J.K. Rowling. It is the ability to learn from your mistakes and to keep trying that I really think are the keys to success.

And finally, aside from Duncan Edwards, who else would you call “The Greatest”?

Without getting too sentimental about it I can honestly say that my Mum and Dad are the greatest. The lengths they have gone to in order to support me over the years are truly unbelievable. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. We are all very close and still enjoy going on holiday together now, we are like best friends. I am very lucky. Without their help along the way I know it is very unlikely I would be where I am today.

Duncan Edwards: The Greatest, published by Simon & Schuster, is out today!

One Comment Add yours


    having an extensive range of memorabilia of Duncan I am truly grateful for yet another book to
    be published to keep his memory alive….. JOHN JAMES EDWARDS , Duncan.s cousin…one
    thing we hade in common we shared the same grandfather….

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