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Interview with Jonathan Wilson: I’d be very bad at being a tabloid journalist

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Jonathan Wilson is a renowned British Journalist, who writes for a number of International publications,such as the Independent  Sports Illustrated and the Guardian. He is also the founder and editor of The Blizzard, a quarterly publication that features articles from the best football journalists in the world. He is also the author of Inverting the Pyramid, that was nominated for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

One of our editors described you with the words, “He’s a real football guy. No tabloid journalism from this guy, only serious footballing issues.” Do you agree that it has become increasingly rare to find journalists who would rather write about the serious issues than indulge in tabloid journalism? Why do you think this is happening? Do you think we have seen a shift in the way sports journalism is being perceived by the new generation of writers and journalists?

I think tabloid journalism gets a bad name. There is good tabloid journalism and bad tabloid journalism. There’s no reason why journalism aimed at the mass market (which I guess is ultimately what tabloid journalism is) shouldn’t be respected. There’s just different ways of approaching the same issue. There have been a lot of great stories and revelations to have come from tabloids. Of course at times there’s over-sensationalism and an over-focus on celebrities, but that’s part of modern culture. Personally, I’d be very bad at being a tabloid journalist – making hundreds of phone calls to track down a transfer deal doesn’t interest me, but I see a value in it – and it sells papers. I prefer the more sedate world of analysis and long-form interviews, of spending time in other football cultures to absorb lessons, and it’s my good fortune that I’ve been able to find a way of doing that that makes enough money to live on.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but there’s definitely been a shift in British journalistic culture over the past couple of decades. There’s been a surge in football literature and there’s a new respectability about football, which has brought different people into the job. But the range of approaches is probably more conditioned by the internet; it’s much easier to experiment now, to try something different and see what works. And because the marketplace is now global, it means even niche ideas can attract relatively large followings.

Would you say that the desire to bring serious footballing issues to the fore was one of the reasons you decided to launch The Blizzard? 

Well, ‘serious’ sounds a little judgmental. I’d just say there were issues being overlooked because they wouldn’t be obvious drivers of traffic.

How do you think the reception for The Blizzard has been? Has it surpassed your expectations, taking into account the fact that we are living in a world where sensationalism is the only thing that seems to get people to read football articles?

I’ve been very pleased. Has it exceeded expectations? I suppose it has, but I’ve always been confident there was an appetite for long-form, for the off-beat, the analytical and the quirky.

Your book Inverting the Pyramid has already become a bible for those fascinated with tactics and formations. Were you at any stage surprised or overawed by the reception it received?

Hugely. When I finished it, more than with almost anything else I’ve done, I felt proud of it, that I’d written almost exactly the book I set out to write. When sales started ticking over and reviews came in, that was an enormous bonus.

Can you give us a sneak peek about what to expect from your upcoming book The Outsider? What was your motivation behind writing the book and when will we see it hit the stands?

It’ll be out in early December and it considers the role of the goalkeeper throughout history and across cultures. Essentially in the 19th century we saw him being separated from the rest of the team, and in the 20th there was a gradual reintegration. It’s partly tactical, partly technical, but also about how the goalkeeper has been considered by wider culture. There’s research from Brazil, Argentina, Ghana, Cameroon, Romania, Serbia, Russia… it’s a proper global study.

What does football mean to you? Do you think you’ll ever be able to distance yourself from the sport?

It’s the most universal form of human culture; essentials such as eating and breeding aside, the activity that occupies more of mankind, whether playing the game or watching it, than anything else. That means it has tremendous power, both positive and negative. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘distance myself’. Will it always be my job? Probably. Will I ever stop watching football? Probably not. Do I need breaks from it? Of course – I watch cricket and golf, I read a lot, watch films. Every now and again (less often than I like) I need a complete break and go and climb a mountain or spend a few days drinking, eating and sleeping somewhere nice where football doesn’t really impinge. But where am I happiest? In a restaurant with good food and good wine and good company talking about football.


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