The Times, 9th March 1999

The name of the footballer cited in literary mystery

from Richard Owen in Rome

A FORMER Watford and England footballer is at the centre of a literary mystery in Italy involving the novelist Umberto Eco and a group of anarchists. The group use the collective identity "Luther Blissett" to hide their identity.
Blissett played - briefly -for AC Milan, but scored only five times in 30 games for the club in 1982, earning him the nickname "Luther Missit" and giving rise to the gibe that Milan had bought "the wrong black Watford player". (The "right" player would have been John Barnes.)
In March 1097 four young Italians accused of travelling on a train without a ticket all answered "Luther Blissett" when asked for their names in court. It emerged that the loosely organised group of self-styled
anarchists had been struck by Blissett in Italy.
In his latest incarnation, "Luther Blissett" has written Q, a 650-page novel set in Renaissance times, with a mixture of real and imaginary characters. It is full of historical and literary allusions in the manner of Eco, author of The Name of the Rose. Described as "a saga of good and evil", the novel is set against a background of espionage, the Inquisition's ruthless struggle to root out heresy, Martin Luther and the
Reformation, holy wars and peasant uprisings.
"Q" is the code name of the hero, a theological student who becomes the righthand man of Gian Pietro
Carafa, the Neapolitan aristocrat who became the fanatical and narrow-minded Pope Paul IV (l555-59), clashing with Elizabeth I and introducing the Index of Forbidden Books.
According to La Repubblica, Q was written by Federico Guglielmi, Luca Di Meo, Giovanni Catabriga and Fabrizio Belletati. They refuse to give biographical details, beyond saying they are all between 26 and 35 and are all from Bolo-gna. II Messaggero said the hook is a "masterful fresco depicting the struggle of the individual to escape from his preordained destiny... a metaphor for the united Europe of to-day".
The authors said they had chosen the 16th century because it "saw the birth of all that is rotten in modern life: Europe, mass communications, the police state, financial capital. It took six months to research the history, another six months to work out the plot, and two years to write it," they said, speaking "collectively".
Collective writing was "like a jazz band - some are virtuoso bits, other parts we play together. Or a video game in which 20 people are credited as authors. We hope Q will be posted on the Internet. A novel
nowadays is like interactive software . . . this is the future of creative writing".
The anarchists said they would end their attempts to cause panic in the sanctuar-ies of power" in 2000, "because as Cary Grant said, it's better to go a minute early, leaving people wanting more, rather than a minute too late, when people are getting bored".
The publishers said they were waiving copyright on the hook, in the spirit of "Luther Blissett". "Anyone can reprint it." Eco, meanwhile, has denied that the hook is an elaborate "joke within a joke", and that he is "Luther Blissett".
The anarchists - their hoaxes include Naomi Campbell's alleged cellulite problem and an exhibition of "chimpanzee art" - say "anyone can use the name to show their anger".
They chose Blissett because he was "a nice Afro-Caribbean guy who had problems with the Italian way of playing foot-ball and became a target of racist jokes. The Luther Blissett project is a way of taking re-venge on stupidity."
Blissett, back on the staff at Watford, said yesterday: "I am not pleased, but what can you do about it?"