Review: The Blizzard, Issue Zero
The Blizzard was announced in the middle of last month and immediately created a fanfare of fuss on the net, with not inconsiderable help from editor Jonathan Wilson’s Twitter following and The Guardian‘s sport desk. Keen amateurs of both the game and the written word, myself and Lanterne Rouge were duly enticed in to taking a peek at the online-only Issue Zero, billed as an amuse-bouche for a forthcoming print edition, due to be published in June. Though, goggle-eyed from the day job and faced with another 184 pages of text, we decided to share the burden between us. The following pantomime-horse of a review is the result of our separate ruminations.
Lanterne Rouge: Overall, it’s an outstanding project as one would expect from the author of Inverting the Pyramid. The richness of the contributions constitute a real feast of football writing – perhaps even a new gold standard. There are so many highlights – even Gabriele Marcotti, whom I usually don’t like much, has come up with a super overview of bioethics and player preparation.
Others I really liked were a geopolitical essay from Andy Brassell on Corsican football, drawing in the successes of the past including Bastia reaching a UEFA Cup Final as well as the lows (the Furiani stadium tragedy), all against a backcloth of Corsica’s unique culture. Two pieces on Bosnian coaches are superb including one from Vladimir Novak that plots the career trajectory of Ćiro Blažević.
The book – and it is surely best described as a book – starts off with a fascinating overview of St. Pauli from Uli Hesse – is the club as countercultural these days as its reputation suggests? Joel Richards does a good job of explaining the frankly quite barmy Argentinian apertura and clausura competitions and Michael Orr looks back fondly to the NASL version of the Portland Timbers, just before the new franchise of the same name plays its first match in Major League Soccer.
One of the best articles is, as you would expect, Simon Kuper’s putting forward the idea that the delaying liberalism of Dutch society is now reflected in a more pragmatic footballing style. It’s a bravura piece, although one that occasionally manipulates detail to avoid obscuring the central argument – Mark van Bommel is very unlikely to form part of a more “moral” Dutch midfield and Holland’s tanking by Russia in Euro 2008 hardly constitutes a “glorious failure”.
The weakest article for me is, conversely, initially the most eye-catching: an interview with Guus Hiddink. In an interview of his own on the website European Football Weekends, Wilson contests convincingly that the only advantage the mainstream media have now is access to players and managers – so to mimic such behaviour in this first issue is odd, especially as the Dutchman tells us little about his current brief with the Turkish national side, surely the only truly uncharted territory of Hiddink’s long career.
Editorially, the sheer excellence of this first issue might present that typical problem – how to follow this up? There are lots of good writers out there and this should be possible, but the intention to publish quarterly indicates a shorter lead up time for Issue One. I also think the Radiohead style pricing structure is ingenious – I feel that the £3 I paid for the first issue was more than worth the money. As someone who is slightly old fashioned though, I’ll be more likely to order the printed version next time out.
Stanley: My high expectations of Issue Zero were more than met by its content. The fact that the pinnacle of my reading was the first article I took in is not a reflection on those that followed, just a result of my admiration for James Horncastle’s sumptuous chronicle of Hellas Verona’s conquest of Serie A in 1984-85. Weaving pen portraits of the key players, such as star man Preben Larsen-Elkjaer and, above all, coach Osvaldo Bagnoli, into the tale of the campaign itself, the triumph of the team from that elegant Veneto city is lovingly evoked, even if the knowledge that it will never be repeated prompted a little sadness for this reader.
The internationalism of this piece is a thread that runs abundantly throughout The Blizzard – for me a valid approach given the parochialism of much football coverage in this country and the range of potential subject matter. A slightly oddball piece on Uli Hoeness’s sausage-making business and one on Garrincha’s illegitimate Swedish son separate Horncastle’s labour of love from the only article of any direct interest for Football League followers, an extended plug by Paul Tomkins for his Pay as You Play (recently reviewed on this blog).
Other notable points were a debate on the merits or otherwise of a European Super League between Israeli football business journalist Ouriel Daskal and the irrepressible Rafa Honigstein (whose attack on the concept so effectively undermines the preceding argument as to leave one in no doubt as to the editor’s own views), an amusing, Football Manager-inspired pastiche of The Damned United by piffle-supplier Iain Macintosh and a lengthy anatomy of the 1991 European Cup semi between Crvena Zvezda (that’s Red Star Belgrade to me) and Bayern by Wilson himself – a detailed account not just of the tactical and physical battles on the pitch, but of the political conflict that was about to engulf the Balkans off it.
It seems almost churlish to criticize, but my editor’s hat is firmly wedged on at all times, it seems. A few errors and inconsistencies grated: the repetition of sentences; the confusion of names; giving Red Star’s name in the vernacular but referring to their Bavarian opponents by the German/English hybrid of Bayern Munich. These things will have to be ironed out to do justice to the high-quality binding and appearance promised for the print debut. But these are minor pedantries set against the finesse – for the most part – of the writing. I’ll most definitely be placing an order for Issue One. And I don’t suppose you can end a review in any fairer way than that.