Interview with Elliott Turner aka @Futfanatico, Soccer Writer and Author

For some of you, the name Elliott Turner may ring a bell. Perhaps it’s the articles he writes for The Guardian about soccer culture in the United States. Or maybe you’ve seen his witty tweets from his @futfanatico account and blog.

Whether you feel you know him or not, Elliott is a breath of fresh air in world soccer, often making you think or chuckle at his wit or ability to cut through a topic to get to the heart of the discussion.

Recently, I had a chance to interview Elliott about several topics including his recent books about the beautiful game.

Here is the interview:

World Soccer Talk (WST): You’re known as quite a prolific Twitter user who often pens irreverent tweets. Where or who did you get your sense of humor from?

Elliott Turner (ET): Both my parents are medical professionals and have gallows humor, a necessity for keeping sane in the ER. My father also loves Monty Python and I was raised on it, so sarcasm and dry humor were spoonfed to me at a young age. Twitter has actually been a bit tough as my following has grown to people the world over – some jokes require a US background, and I really have toned things down to respect cultural sensibilities. At the same time, as a half-Mexican and half-American, I feel the need to shed light on the stereotypes, flaws, and humorous nuances of both cultures.

WST: What soccer teams do you support, and how did you fall in love with the Beautiful Game?

ET: I love and have loved Real Madrid since the Hugo Sanchez-era. He was a beacon of hope for Mexico and hero for many Mexicans, and, despite his failures as the coach of El Tri, I love him. In the 1990’s, I had a Paraguayan friend introduce me to Manchester United during the heyday of Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, and Cole, so I’ve followed them closely for a few decades. Of course, I follow closely my hometown team Sporting KC. It’s been exciting seeing some kids like Matt Besler who played for the same youth team I did (but later) blossom and reach dizzying heights.   

WST: Why did you decide to write a book on the rivalry between Real Madrid & Barcelona?

ET: At the time, there was no American author who had written about the rivalry from an American perspective. It struck me as odd – in the US, as in Spain, we have great sports rivalries like the Celtics-Lakers and Yankees-Red Sox, but we’ve also experienced a brutal Civil War as in Spain. I did a Kickstarter to raise some funds and gauge interest, and the result was overwhelming.

WST: What makes your book unique?

ET: In addition to being from an American perspective, two thing stand out. First, Erik Ebeling, a brilliant artist, did original illustrations of key figures in each club’s history. From Cruyff to Koeman, Hugo Sanchez to Di Stefano, they really jump off the page. Secondly, most other authors have written books in a bit of a haphazard episodic form: they jump from one character and incident to another. My book is chronological and easy to follow and thus witness the growth of these two teams and also their animosity.

WST: What was the hardest part about writing the book? 

ET: I do have contacts at both clubs and family in Spain, but wanted to keep a professional distance and objective analysis as possible, and this led to another problem: many of the major earlier books about Spain and these clubs were out of print and only available from collectors. Luckily, my Kickstarter funds allowed me to pay sometimes exorbitant funds for single print run texts from decades ago.

Aside from that, I’m a Real Madrid fan, but had to stay objective and respect the history and success of FC Barcelona. They had a great spell with Kubala, but since Cruyff arrived as a player and then coach in the 70’s, they’ve truly risen to go toe-to-toe with Real. The unique “socio” structure of the clubs was also tough to grasp with at first, but now makes much more sense.

WST: For those who are too busy to read books but have downtime on commutes to and from work, I noticed that one of your books is on Audible. What was the experience like recording an audio version of your eBook?

ET: The experience recording my audiobook was fun but challenging. At first, I tried to find a professional voice. However, I couldn’t find anybody confidently fluent enough in American English and Mexican Spanish. The book obviously uses UK English terms and Spanish terms from all over, but is primarily North American. Thus, I got audio recording equipment and did it myself. Learning about feedback, microphones, and decibels was intimidating at first, but I got the hang of it and am happy with how it turned out.

WST: What is your favorite era from Real Madrid’s history?

ET: Lots of folks will point to the wonder of Di Stefano and Puskas, but, as a Mexican-American, I loved the 1980’s team with Hugo “Hugol” Sanchez and the infamous Quinta del Buitre. They may have never won a European Cup, but they won La Liga in style and scored goals by the boatloads. Erik’s picture of Hugo with a classic 80’s perm-fro just may be my favorite.

WST: What is your favorite era from Barcelona’s history?

ET: It’s a bit trite, but the Helenio Herrera team was fantastic. Again, they didn’t win a European Cup, but Luis Suarez was an amazing playmaker or “regista” and Ladislao Kubala’s freekicks were spectacular. They led me to learn a new soccer term, folha seca, which is Portuguese for “dry leaf” and refers to a wickedly dipping shot.

WST: What makes these two clubs so different from an American sports team like the New York Yankees? 

ET: The success of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona can definitely stack up with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL, the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL, and the New York Yankees of MLB. What makes things so fascinating, though, is how both teams have been so successful while at the same time the unique politics and culture of Spain have created a rivalry beyond sport. In addition to goals, trophies, and players, my book looks closely at the politics of the time and Spain’s unique setup as a federation of proud and distinct regions.

In the US, we can draw a pretty clear line between politics and sport. It’s not the same way in Iberia.

WST: Where can folks get a copy of your book? 

ET: For folks with Kindles, you can grab it for $3.99 at Amazon here.

For folks with iPhones and iPads, you can grab it for $3.99 at iTunes here.

For folks with Nooks, you can grab it for $3.99 at Barnes & Noble here.

A bit to my surprise, the book has also been quite popular in other countries, so it’s for sale at Flipkart here and also the Kobo reader here.

There is no paperback/print edition.

WST: Do you have any more eBooks in the works that you can tell us about?

ET: After all the work I put into Real Madrid & Barcelona: the Making of a Rivalry, I’ve been relaxing and focusing on more proper soccer journalism at various outlets. I’ve also penned some short stories (and outlined a novel) based on my experiences living in the Rio Grande Valley and working with poor migrants at a nonprofit. I don’t know what will come of either, but I’ve been pitching them at the appropriate outlets. Knowing I can self-publish at any time has made me a bit of a stickly negotiator.

Editor’s note: Be sure to follow Elliot on Twitter and read his Futfanatico blog.

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