Editor’s note: The following interview by Matt Jones marks the start of a brand-new series at World Soccer Talk, where we try to get inside the mind of some of the top writers in the business to better understand their art of football writing. Watch for more interviews in the coming weeks.
It’s the dream, isn’t it? Getting paid to watch, talk and write about soccer. What a way to make a living!
Only a very privileged, talented and hardworking crop of writers can list ‘football journalist’ as their full-time job. With this in mind, we got to wondering what it is that sets some of these writers apart. Not just in terms of their obvious writing talents, but a little deeper than that.
So we curbed our wondering and decided to ask a few of our favorite soccer writers about exactly that: the ‘Art of Football Writing’.
We begin our series with the host of the ‘Men In Blazers’ podcast and ESPN FC’s Roger Bennett, as I enquire into to what makes him tick as writer, what his day to day practices are and whether he finds it difficult to escape from the football bubble:
Matt Jones (MJ): Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Roger Bennett (RB): I cover football for ESPN, and with my partner Michael Davies, am co-host of Men In Blazers which has delivered sub-optimal footballing narrative to Grantland and SiriusXM listeners for the last few years.
MJ: What is your specific area of expertise as a writer?
RB: I read a lot Roald Dahl books as a kid and had to read a lot Philip Larkin poetry as a youth so I became hooked on character and narrative which the English Premier League and US Mens’ National Team deliver in spades.
MJ: What are some of your rituals you go through before you start writing each day?
RB: Football to me is a high culture-low culture pursuit, so I read a lot. First thing I do when I wake up is read each country’s newspapers — both the qualities and the tabloids. I really can’t function physically or mentally until I complete that task.
MJ: What music do you listen to when writing (If any)?
RB: I have a Spotify playlist that is 161 songs long. I always play it from the beginning when I am writing a piece and know I am in real trouble if I reach the end. If I lose my way, I play this song and everything instantly feels alright.
MJ: How do you relax away from your writing? Is it sometimes difficult to escape from football?
RB: No. I love watching football, talking about football, writing about football. I find it incredibly fulfilling and relaxing. I adore being with my family but my shins ache sometimes when I am not working.
MJ: How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research on your area of specialization?
RB: Between 3-4 hours a day. My wife has encouraged me to read books in the evening so I engage with something that is not football related at least once a day. I have been on a Le Carre tear this summer.
MJ: What are you moat excited about for the Premier League season?
RB: Personally – to see Roberto Martinez’s new regime at Everton. Football fandom is all about hope, and Evertonians have an unhealthy amount going into this season.
Professionally, to see United, Chelsea, and City’s new managers grapple with the peculiar challenges posed by their new clubs: Mourinho, Moyes, Pellegrini. One will be crowned as king. But each are just as likely to be rejected like a donor organ being repelled by a host body.
MJ: Where can we find your writing?
MJ: Are you working on anything specific at the moment which we can look forward to in the future?
RB: Plenty. Big, big year ahead with a World Cup at season’s end. Men In Blazers is debuting its first live show in New York City next month which we are looking forward to immensely. Our listeners are flying in from all points. Uniting our “Great Friends of the Pod” so we can all be together is going to be a magical experience.