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By Matthew Handley
There’s no doubt that the internet has given us more ways to talk about football. Without the need to make certain profit margins or appeal to the elusive ‘every-man’ to boost viewing figures there is an opportunity to focus on stories which receive less coverage, or approach the sport from a different angle.
Both Jonathan Wilson and Luke Moore have taken this opportunity; the former is the editor of The Blizzard, a quarterly publication of extended football writing, as well as a former OxStu sports editor, whilst the latter is one of the presenters of The Football Ramble podcasts, essentially a weekly pub discussion which, among other things, tracks the whereabouts of Diego Maradona and evokes nostalgia with the ‘Dean Windass Hall of Fame’.
Both believe the internet has affected football writing – blogs have “democratised the process” in Jonathan’s view, giving more people a space to write. He cites Michael Cox, editor of tactics blog Zonal Marking who a year ago was just “a man writing obscure blogs on tactics…now he’s a print journalist”. Luke Moore agrees. “You no longer have to go to London to start a career in journalism” he says, “it’s possible to break into writing just by keeping a blog.”
Has this gone too far though? With so many football blogs out there, good writing has arguably been lost in a sea of inane retweet requests. “There’s always talent to be found” believes Luke, “it’s a bit like football really, there’s a lot of rubbish, but the best will be noticed, even if it takes time.” Jonathan has a similar attitude, arguing that blogs which fill a “niche” will be noticed more easily than “a blog on Manchester United or Chelsea” where the competition is far more numerous, and good writing is harder to identify.
Perhaps one of the best things about The Blizzard is their willingness to give new writers a chance, “we don’t operate on a policy of choosing someone for the name… we would consider someone with one blog post if they were good enough and came up with an interesting concept.” This has allowed bloggers such as Scott Oliver and Michael Cox to appear alongside award winning writers like Simon Kuper, historian Dominic Sandbrook, and Jonathan himself (he won the William Hill Sports book prize for Inverting the Pyramid). Collecting these articles together in a magazine binds the established and the new, giving the project a sense of legitimacy.
The co-operative model means everyone involved with the magazine earns a share of the money. “The writers feel something will be returned” Jonathan says, “when people received their paycheques for the first year everyone was pleasantly surprised.” The pay-what-you-like model has certainly helped the popularity of the magazine, with readers as far flung as India and the USA picking up the digital edition of the magazine, “it’s only a small percentage of the population, but you only need a small percentage of the population when dealing with such big numbers.”
The Ramble has also taken advantage of the internet to gain a world wide fan base. “We’ve never spent a penny on advertising. We’ve always been able to rely on word of mouth publicity,” says Luke. The growth of the show took time though “we were talking to no one for two or three years before we gained some sort of attention.” Even now they’re looking to get ‘bigger’ – a recent sponsorship deal with Kitbag suggests the show is beginning to gain some commercial recognition.
Where The Blizzard and Ramble have excelled is their ability to look at the stories on the margins of football. As Jonathan points out “newspapers always have to appeal to the market but there’s a sense in which quality for the sake of quality is lost.” Unlike national newspapers The Blizzard doesn’t have a particular angle or focus, meaning an article on the differences between Uzbek and Kazakh football comfortably sits alongside an interview with Sir Alex Ferguson.
That’s not to say the mainstream media is inherently worse – as Luke says, “we’re appealing to a different audience. If people are interested in football they can come and find us for free, but most people just want to see goals.” Let’s hope the likes of Jonathan and Luke continue to provide an alternative approach to the beautiful game.
PHOTO//The Football Ramble