Being a London-based football blogger specialising in English and American soccer and a professional digital-type, The Gaffer’s recent post asking why there aren’t more good soccer blogs from England snagged my interest. It’s a subject which has cropped up many times, from my work on football bloggers’ influence to discussions about possible studio guests for my blog’s sister podcast, recorded in London.
The Gaffer’s post, which itself touches upon some crucial factors, has received several comments, most of which carry what I’d consider to be elements of the truth. I wanted to share my thoughts on why there seem to be relatively few England-based football blogs given that we should theoretically be located right at the very heart of the English game. Some of these points have been covered in the aforementioned post, some haven’t. Please feel free to chip in with your comments at the end.
Most of these points compare England to the USA, where I believe the football blogging community is more respected and more valued than it is in any other soccer country in the world.
Most importantly, I think English football supporters were a little slow off the mark when it comes to blogging. We’ve been ensconced in fan communities for years, and they work – supporter message boards are still the thriving, beating heart of UK online fan culture. So it took us time to cotton on to the benefits of blogging, and even longer to work out that it’s (a) an opportunity to disrupt the traditional media and (b) potentially commercially viable.
In England, bloggers are not filling in gaps; we’re trying to knock down brick walls. The football media is well and truly saturated. Every newspaper, local and national, gives over inches and inches of column space to coverage of the game and most are well established. We have a 24-hour rolling news channel which, give or take the odd bit of cricket and rugby coverage, is dedicated to football. Football is everywhere. The Gaffer and some of his comments suggest that this may be a barrier to entry, but for me it makes it more difficult to succeed but doesn’t necessarily prevent people from getting involved.
I think we suffer in England from having too broad a potential audience. “Football fans” in England covers, for all intents and purposes, pretty much everyone. If English bloggers made a sluggish start and lacked focus from the beginning, the absence of a defined target audience hardly helped. Conversely, the US soccer community is a tight-knit niche and although the Premier League viewing public is much larger than the MLS market, the most influential writers Stateside tend to have some interest in domestic matters or, at least, the US national team.
Unlike their English counterparts, American football bloggers are absolutely integral to the culture of the sport in their country. They are important for its growth and development as well as its commentary. This, along with the quality of their work and the under-developed (but thriving and maturing) soccer market in which they operate, affords them access English bloggers could only dream of. It’s not direct access to the Premier League, of course, but they’re able to speak to figures within Major League Soccer, US Soccer and the soccer press in the States. This boosts their standing on all matters football, Premier League included. It’s a real success story for a group of deserving writers.
Despite all this, I truly don’t believe that there is a dearth of good quality English football blogs based in England. A large number of excellent writers are producing regular, compelling content which simply doesn’t achieve the eyeballs it deserves. That’s another issue, and in general I’d say overseas writers were faster to realise that blogging is about more than great content and we must optimise and promote our sites if traffic is more important to us than critical acclaim (in many cases, it isn’t).
In North America in particular football bloggers have found a sweet spot which allows top quality writing to pick up lots of hits. Many UK writers remain guilty of writing brilliant posts and then leaving them to rot.
If you have the time to do some digging around there are tonnes of domestic blogs worth your subscriptions. There are some fantastic writers, like Chris Mann and James Appell, who offer genuine insight at the expense of linkbaiting and traffic-hoarding. They’re targeting a niche market of football geeks, enthusiasts and amateur tacticians and are well respected within those circles because of their understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the game and their superb writing.
It’s writers like these – who will succeed on a more steady, stable growth curve as their stock rises – that create the understandable belief that England is home to fewer ‘good’ football blogs than it should be. But don’t assume mistakenly that there aren’t as many good UK blogs as there are US blogs or blogs from elsewhere. Our market is tough to crack, and it’s even tougher to broaden our work out to address a global audience. Powerhouses like EPL Talk and Soccerlens dominate the landscape because they’re run by writers who knew what they needed to do early on and have a grasp on web business as well as football.
Under the surface, though, English football is covered by some serious domestic talent. In essence, I think the original post could have been spun slightly differently. Yes, the US in particular is disproportionately strong in blogging about top-flight English football, but that’s because the US soccer community has been a roaring success online. We should credit them first and foremost.
Have you read any great English blogs deserving of more recognition? Here’s your chance to give them a plug.