Howler Magazine and the New Wave of Soccer Journalism
It’s pretty much become a cultural joke that soccer is the unofficial sport for American hipsters. The New York Times ran a semi-snarky piece on the sport’s popularity in Brooklyn, America’s hipster headquarters, attributing soccer’s success amongst the “creative class” to “the game’s aesthetics, Europhilic allure and fashionable otherness.” There’s a sense that the author of this piece suspects what I do: many people fake their way into the conversation about soccer without truly being a fan. But there are plenty of genuine soccer fans here in America, and yes, often in the young and creative set. This surge has led to an increased output of highbrow soccer works, from film to fiction to magazines. Howler, edited and founded by George Quraishi and Mark Kirby, is one such magazine that shows just what a force soccer fans in American can be.
It’s always nice to hear about success stories in independent publishing. With so many publications going online-only or shutting down altogether, it’s a tough time to be a print lover in an increasingly digital world. But those with command of a niche that has passion and purchasing power can manage victory if the seas are navigated properly. Howler Magazine is one such success story: in June 2012, George Quraishi and Mark Kirby finished the Howler Kickstarter campaign with $69,000–almost $20,000 over their goal. Two years later, they’ve just released their 2014 World Cup issue, which can be bought online or in stores all over the world.
So what makes Howler such a success story? From the beginning, the editors had high hopes for the quality of their product, from the writing to the design of the magazine itself. They wanted it to be an oversized, glossy periodical that is more symbolic of European fashion magazines than anything sports-related. They also wanted established, high-quality authors that shared their passion for the game and would transmit that through their writing. Contributors have included: Franklin Foer (writer and editor of The New Republic), novelist Aleksandar Hemon, ESPN writer David Hirshey, and Jonathan Wilson (writer of many football books, including “Inverting the Pyramid.”). The magazine also has some astounding artwork and design, from the extremely unique and hilariously grotesque cover of Issue 1 to the brilliant “San Zusi” illustration from Issue 4.
Pointing out all of the brilliant pieces from the magazine so far would take up way too much time, so let’s just look at the consistent structure of the magazine and the great writing that’s come out of that, as well as some other standouts. Every issue has a big “timeline feature,” beginning with Manchester United in Issue 1. These pieces are a great introduction to the club (or event, as with the World Cup in Issue 5) featured, providing historical highlights and anecdotes. Big, in-depth profiles are another highlight found in every issue, from Michael Bradley (“Il Giacatore,” issue 3, also featured at Deadspin) to Ray Hudson (“The Romantic,” issue 4). These profiles are phenomenally researched and written, and are often one of the highlights of each issue. As is the trend lately, infographics and illustrated charts are littered throughout each issue of the magazine, often accompanied by photos or relevant text. These are usually good, but occasionally they get too convoluted and hard to decipher. Issue 4’s “Qualified Success” piece is one such infographic that was a little confusing and frankly, a bit pointless. The second half of the two-page spread was better than the first, which attempted to use the famous Soccernomics formula (which posits that population, wealth, and international soccer experience can predict the future powerhouses of the sport) to rank the 2014 World Cup contenders. This, however, was just a little blip in between hordes of amazing articles and illustrations. The “Gramophone” piece in that same issue was nearly as useless but much, much funnier–it attempted to rank various footballers’ interests based on the content of their Instagram photos. For me, it’s this mix of serious journalism and funny, tongue-in-cheek pieces that make Howler such a great magazine.
Howler has managed to do quite a bit in the two years since their inception, and their active web presence has been a big part of that as well. From participating in various soccer-related memes (Full Kit Wanker, a perennial classic) to soliciting photos and feedback from readers and fans all over the world, Howler’s team has done a killer job at building their brand on a limited budget. I do wish that they had a digital option, or at least a mini-version of each issue for tablets, but I appreciate their dedication to print and will happily continue to purchase every issue.
From the Letter to the Editors in issue 1: “We’re big believers that following both the strongest teams in the world as well as your local club is the richest way to experience the sport, so we’ll be covering a lot of global soccer as well. Basically, if there’s a good story in world soccer, we’ll want it in our pages.” I couldn’t ask for anything more from a soccer magazine, really. As an American who loves the sport and loves good writing, Howler is the perfect blend of the two, and it gives a great boost to the image of the sport in America both inside and out. Americans are producing and providing some of the best soccer journalism in the world, surely that’s a good sign about things to come.
More information about Howler Magazine can be found online via its website.