To celebrate the release of their 10th issue this Fall, The Blizzard has asked readers to submit their 10 favorite stories from Issues 0-9. If you aren’t familiar with The Blizzard, you should be. While international shipping prices and the exchange rate can make hard copies a bit expensive in the US, the pay-what-you-like digital download (recommended £3.00) means that anything that looks interesting below is imminently affordable. Given how difficult it was for me to winnow my list down to ten, I guarantee that if you buy an issue to check out one of the stories below, you’ll find plenty of other riches as well. (For that matter, the full contents of all issues are listed on the magazine’s Wikipedia page if you want see more.)
In any case, here’s my list of ten. Enjoy, and do consider picking up an issue. You won’t regret it.
UPDATE (Sept. 6th): The Blizzard has posted the results of their fans Top Ten Favorites. Only two of those appear on my list, but four others were on my short list (and all of the recommendations are good ones). In particular, the pieces on St. Pauli and Borussia Dortmund–written before it was hip to write about Dortmund–are worth checking out.
10. Jonathan Wilson, “Crvena Svezda 2 Bayern Munich 2” (Greatest Games), Issue Zero. Each issue contains as it’s penultimate article, a lengthy account of an important and/or interesting game of soccer. They are nearly always excellent, but Jonathan Wilson’s account of the second leg of the European Cup tie between Yugoslavian champions Crvena Svezda (Red Star Belgrade) and Bayern Munich on 24 April 1991 set the model. A match played as the country was in the process of disintegrating, Wilson helps to illuminate the greater context and meaning of the match without sacrificing a careful account of the game itself.
9. Igor Rabiner, “Fallen Idol,” Issue Three. Just as Wilson’s account of a critical game opened up a small window into the world of Balkan football, Igor Rabiner offers a fan’s account of the rise and fall of the “people’s” team in Russia, Spartak Moscow. Though he focuses on the career of coach Oleg Romantsev, Rabiner also succeeds in sketching a broader picture of the footballing world in Russia. A lot of The Blizzard, in fact, is devoted to exploring the wider world of football. It’s included articles on Israel (Issue Three), Iran (Issue Nine), Corsica (Issue Zero), Cyprus (Issue Eight), Japan (Issue Five), and even a good article on the number of injuries in MLS (Issue Two).
8. Anthony Clavane, “That Grandish Pile of Swank,” Issue Nine. Clavane is always a welcome contributor, but this brief cultural history of Leeds and the critical role football has played in it is my favorite. Placing Don Revie’s Leeds United (and its depressing aftermath) alongside Tony Harrison’s V, Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar (and the John Schlesinger film adaptation), and the novels of David Peace, Clavane considers the team as an artistic expression of Northern Realism.
7. Carl Worswick, “The Ball and the Gun,” Issue Seven. Worswick takes us back in time to the brief but glorious hey day of Columbian football in the late 40s and early 50s, when an outlaw league bucked FIFA rules and brought in many of the world’s most talented players. His story is accompanied by a photo collection gathered by himself and the Septima agency, and it helps to further bring the story to life.
6. Lars Sivertsen, “The Mountain has Minds,” Issue Three. Interviews with managers are a regular feature in The Blizzard, and they are routinely excellent. Alex Ferguson, Guus Hiddink, Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, and a conversation between Didier Deschamps and Jean-Claude Suaudeau are only some of the managers to feature in interviews (to say nothing of the many fine articles about coaches). They are almost all illuminating, and many were on my initial list of favorites. But none is quite as surprising as this interview with long-ball devotee and latter-day Charles Reep disciple Egil Olsen. I will confess that I was not convinced by Olsen’s philosophy, but the interview makes for truly fascinating reading. And you will learn the tallest mountain in Slovenia.
5. Philippe Auclair, “What Makes a Nation?”, Issue Two. Auclair is one of the most frequent contributors to The Blizzard and is particularly responsible for a steady stream of excellent interviews (including all all of those with managers listed above as well as a host of others). But this piece, written in response to the racist backlash following France’s embarrassing disaster at the 2010 World Cup, is one of my favorites. Though included in an opening section on Le Blues, it could just as easily have fit into the “Polemics” section which is a regular feature of the magazine. In it, Auclair highlights the long and proud multicultural tradition of French football and links it to the founding ideals of the Republic.
4. Simon Kuper, “The Pillars of the Earth,” Issue One. My biggest regret on this list is not being able to fit in one of Gabriele Marcotti’s excellent thought-pieces: his questioning of conventional reactions to performance enhancement in Issue Zero and his reflections on racism and racial condemnation in the game from Issue Three were both hard not to include. They share with this Simon Kuper polemic a refusal to take for granted the things we “already know” to be true. In this case, Kuper directs his trenchant wit at the truism that money is destroying the Premier League, suggesting that neither rising debt nor the spectre of financial fair play will do anything to diminish the bright lights of the world’s favorite league. For a similarly thoughtful look at the economic side of the Premier League, you might also want to check out Zach Slaton’s case for Arsene Wenger’s successful management of post-trophy Arsenal in Issue Seven.
3. James Horncastle, “St. Étienne 3 Dynamo Kiev 0 (aet)” (Greatest Games), Issue Two. It may be that as an American of effectively the last generation to experience the Cold War (I was in college when the Wall came down), I cannot escape the entanglement of sports and the Soviet Union. Without any personal experience of real Cold War conflict, the Olympics and Rocky movies form my strongest memories of that aspect of my childhood (excepting the made-for-TV movie, The Day After). All of which is simply to say that I can’t promise my response to James Horncastle’s account of this European Cup quarter-final second-leg (17 March 1976) isn’t determined by that experience. What I do know is that he brings the game alive, and his recounting of the game’s culminating moment, its critical turn, sent me straight to youtube to see for myself. A great account of an important and riveting game.
2. David Winner, “Dennis Bergkamp” (interview), Issue One. While managers are the most frequent subjects of interviews in The Blizzard, others do make the cut as well. FIFA executives, football writers, and even players have their say. They all have their appeal, and some of the best are the eccentric and unexpected (like Egil Olsen, or Paolo Bandini’s Issue Seven interview with Epsen Baardsen, who retired from football at 25 to pursue a career in finance). But sometimes, the greats really are the greatest. Winner’s interview with Bergkamp articulates the striker’s unconventional thinking off the pitch as well as on it. Plus, Bergkamp reveals his favorite goal–and it’s not the one you think. Reading his explanation, you might just change your mind as well.
1. Alexander Jackson, “Smash and Thunder,” Issue Three. As a number of my previous favorites reveal, one of the things I value most in The Blizzard is its historical breadth, its willingness (like that of its editor, Jonathan Wilson) to care about the football played before the springtime of our youth (which will naturally vary, but won’t reach past the mid-seventies for many of us these days). Issue Seven had a great section devoted to football in the Victorian age, and Philippe Auclair’s interview with Brain Glanville in Issue Eight covered similar ground in Glanville’s recollections of the sports writing of his youth. But this article by a collections officer at the National Football Museum tops my list by linking that historical interest to modern discussions of tactics. As Jackson demonstrates, tactical thinking is hardly a new phenomenon in football. Coming just over two months after a Guardian piece by Jonathan Wilson announced a precursor to Herbert Chapman’s use of the W-M formation, Jackson’s fabulous account of how a tactical shift allowed Newcastle United to finally win the 1910 FA Cup confirmed the perennial nature of tactical innovation. He also showed that 2-3-5 was no less rich or varied a paradigm than later ones. Here’s hoping for more of the same for many years to come.
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