Interview to Football Journalist J. Wilson
La seguente è un’intervista in lingua originale al giornalista sportivo inglese Jonathan Wilson. Per la versione italiana, potete cliccare sul seguente link al sito Storie di Sport.
“My parents loved Yugoslavia. They took me to Slovenia on my first holiday abroad as a kid. It may not be the furthest corner of the world, but for me sitting in all those cafés with Tito’s picture was nonetheless a very different experience from what I normally saw back home in Britain. Some years later, in 1992, I also went to Russia on a student exchange programme. A coup had overthrown Mikhail Gorbachev only a few months before, which made it a great opportunity for me to experience Russia in that crucial period.”
Eastern Europe has always been in the destiny of 37-year-old Sunderland-based football journalist and writer Jonathan Wilson, today a popular columnist for The Guardian and Sports Illustrated and editor of the quarterly football magazine The Blizzard. If at present his professional career seems to be on the right track and his seventh book, The Anatomy of Liverpool: A History in Ten Matches, has just been published, Wilson is quick to reveal that it his past as a journalist was not always as rosy as now.
“At the end of 2002 I was a young freelance looking for work everywhere, but things weren’t easy at all. At that time there were already too many experts on Western European and English football, so in order to get some articles published I needed to look for unexplored horizons. Eastern borders had been re-defined by the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing conflicts, and there was a strong demand for pieces about, say, Macedonia or other “new” countries. It was then that I decided to use my contacts and my passion for Eastern European football, travel from one country to another and see if that could lead me somewhere.”
The clips and interviews with legendary players and managers such as Dejan Savicevic or Mircea Lucescu gathered by Wilson were put together in a book, Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football, which marked a turning point in the young journalist’s career. Published in 2006, Behind the Curtain is a journey throughout Europe’s former Socialist countries where at times soccer, politics and power became as one.
“History and football are definitely interlinked. Think about the former Yugoslavia, for instance. The infamous war criminal Arkan recruited most of his Serbian paramilitary army, the Tigers, who performed ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav War, from a group of Red Star Belgrade fans called Delije, one of Europe’s most feared firms. In a similar fashion, the violent clashes between Dinamo Zagreb’s and Red Star’s supporters in 1990 hinted at the inevitability of the outbreak of the Croatian War of Independence one year later. Another example is Hungary, whose national squad trounced England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953. The goalkeeper, Gyula Grosics, claimed that he understood that revolution was possible when at the team’s arrival in Budapest he saw that the police couldn’t contain the crowd that was welcoming the players.
More generally speaking, we could say that a country’s cultural traits and style of playing football are linked: even though it’s sometimes exaggerated, it’s undeniable that there is a connection between the way you grow up and the way you play football.”
Far from the cold, robot-like image of Eastern European characters often depicted in anti-Socialist propaganda Hollywood films such as Danko, Rocky IV and the like, Wilson found numerous laid-back people willing to help him.
“It may sound paradoxical, but for me, despite being English and writing for a magazine like Sports Illustrated, it’s more difficult to speak to players in England than in Eastern Europe, and a decade ago things were even easier! A good example is my interview with Slaven Bilic, a former Croatian national team and Premier League defender. While I was in a hotel in Split he came to pick me up and personally drove me to a restaurant where we spent a few hours chatting about the book, of which he was really enthusiastic. After finishing our lunch he drove me back to the city centre, where he introduced me to other journalists who could provide me with new contacts or juicy anecdotes.”
Only a few years have passed, but the recent boom of the new media has changed the way we have access to football. The same teams and players that could once be surrounded by an aura of mystery are no longer as secret.
“Because of the Internet and satellite televisions the game has lost its sense of legend. I remember when as a child I watched the 1986 World Cup. Brazil lined up a right-back called Josimar: no one knew about or had ever heard of this amazing player who could run from box to box, possessed beautiful technique and could shoot from 30 yards. He produced a wow effect which could never be reached today. Given the 24/7 access to whatever football we currently get, no more Josimars can be discovered.
There is also more crossover in the way football is played as most European clubs sign players and managers from different countries or even continents. As a consequence, the national features that differentiated one team from another have become more blurred. The sensation caused by a team playing a totally new type of football such as the Netherlands in 1974 could not be repeated because today we can see every novelty in its genesis.
It’s also a bit sad that when there is a competition like the African Cup of Nation the stadiums are empty even though the tournament is the only chance for the local people to see their football stars. Many African fans say that they can watch them on tv, so why bother to go to the game? However, having recently taken part in a Q&A session for The Blizzard, I was relieved to note that a good share of the public has not lost its most authentic passion and is still asking for in-depth articles and detailed football reportage.”
The British entrepreneur Peter Jones has claimed: “If I had to start from scratch again, I would look to what I know well and where I have good relationships and experience, and start from there.” Jonathan Wilson has successfully put this statement in practice.