“Quality football journalism is the new rock and roll!”
As the room started to fill up, that tweet was posted by one member of the throng. Looking around at the flurry of football excitement that the launch event for the new issue of The Blizzard had caused, the comment seemed to fit. However, judging from the amount of fluffy face-furniture around (and I include myself in the beardy contingent), it was more a Fleet Foxes brand of “rock and roll” than, say, seventies heyday Kiss.
I was fortunate to be one of around 200 people attending the event in Waterstones Leeds last week and I am already looking forward to future events in the North. Should you wish to read something a little bit different on football from sometimes familiar writers, freed of the constraints of their day job for the national newspapers, or other writers turning their hand to football reportage, then The Blizzard is probably for you.
Brainchild of journalist Jonathan Wilson and a designer friend, accompanying each issue (released quarterly) is a “launch event” which have proved successful, therefore they have started to go on the road.
In Austria in the 1920s and 1930s, coffeehouses were home to philosophers and thinkers on all areas of life, football included. These were explored by Wilson himself in his book “Inverting the Pyramid.” He details how these meeting places became a hotbed of football thinking and inspired new tactics and styles of football. Set up something similar to “Question Time” – refreshments, a panel of writers, a few topics to toss around and open questions to the floor and the twittersphere – the event could be seen as an extension of the coffeehouse culture and could, perhaps, inspire change in football again?
Each member of the panel had their own book to publicise also, of course, but these are perfect events to do so. I may not have taken much of an interest in Antony Clavane’s books on growing up following Leeds United or his latest, “Does your Rabbi know you’re here?” had I not have attended. They are now on my radar.
Marcus Speller of The Football Ramble was the chair. My immediate concern as he marched confidently across the room to his seat was that we might be seeing Tim Lovejoy mark II and the whole event could turn in to a Soccer a.m.-style bash. I needn’t have worried – Speller was a good host, kept things moving along nicely, and bounced off the audience and the panelists well.
He was very much the personification of his chosen team Fulham, compared to Lovejoy’s Chelsea. And we all quite like Fulham, don’t we?
Phillipe Auclair oozed gallic charm, as only a man who mixes being football journalist and biographer of Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry and Tony Blair, with an alter ego that creates french pop-jazz and “creamy pop confections” (according to Rovi music guide) could do.
His amusing take on Joey Barton’s french accent with Anthony Clavane was a joy – Phillipe translating Antony’s French-accented English in to English-accented French.
Anthony Clavane gave insight in to growing up a jewish Leeds fan in the seventies and eighties, his brushes with the National Front presence at matches and eventual return to the stands. He was of particular help to one young audience member who was feeling increasingly uncomfortable attending matches surrounded by large groups of people that he felt no common ground with, other than the football team they supported.
Editor Jonathan Wilson completed the quartet. Almost cast as the football geek in the corner, a more cerebral “Statto” from Fantasy Football League if you will. He enlightened the gathering with his behind the headlines look at the perceived problems of racism in Serbian football and the power struggles of Ultra groups in Argentina.
The whole evening was not merely a love-in between the panelists and a rapt group of followers. Viewpoints were challenged: the Bundesliga is frequently spied jealously at over the fence – but opinions crossed the floor on whether all was actually as rosy in their garden as we think it is; Auclair also asked the room “how many of us can truly say we have never joined in with nasty chants?” (whether about players, their wives, oppostion supporters) when discussing the recent reporting on fan behaviour and thoughts were given on the tribal nature of being a fan and the changes that occur once a group of fans are together in a group dynamic.
The discussions were cutely held in two 45-minute halves. Once over, the four were more than happy to chat with punters and sign books or back-copies of the Blizzard. I caught Wilson himself imparting sage advice to youngsters asking how to get on the football-writing career ladder, looking bashful at comments such as “I’m a really big fan…” by others and he also expertly sidestepped my own fishing on his thoughts of the possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson in the Manchester United hotseat.
There is an alternative to the Crash!Bang!Wallop! of radio phone-ins and Sky Sports News-style reporting that can grate. It may not for everyone, but a healthy mixture of both styles can only be good. If The Blizzard roadshow appears in a city near you, it is certainly worth checking out for an evening with a difference.
Quality football journalism may not actually be the new rock ‘n’ roll, but it certainly struck a chord in Leeds. (bah-dum-tish!)