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Snowed Under: A Review of ‘The Blizzard’ Football Magazine

Without a doubt, the writers for The Guardian are some of the best soccer writers in the world. Their podcast is first class. And even for an American like myself their writers and collaborators are well known: Sid Lowe, Jonathan Wilson, Raphael Honigstein, and others. So the fact that they want to contribute more to soccer’s already rich history should be greeted with open arms and excitement. Thus, The Blizzard, a new quarterly football publication.

The story of how the idea for The Blizzard was generated is also quite excellent. Sitting in a pub, watching a soccer match, they agree upon the concept over a pint. I have often tried to replicate that experiment, and have yet to come up with anything as interesting.

The Blizzard is a collection of stories, analyses, and essays on a wide variety of soccer topics. And when I say wide variety, I mean wide variety. You move across the continents and timeline covering everything but the informal soccer league that must exist in Antarctica. Wilson explains that while watching the match he and his colleagues argued over the best format to contribute more in-depth soccer content to the sports world, and he hits on some deeper points that define the problems with the modern media. They dismissed writing a book because the time commitment and length of time to put it together wouldn’t accomplish what they hoped, but a magazine wouldn’t allow the depth needed and required a more solid business plan and regular content. Wilson relates, “I’d come to realise I wasn’t the only one who felt journalism as a whole was missing something, that there should be more space for more in-depth pieces, for detailed reportage, history and analysis. Was there a way, I wondered, to accommodate articles of several thousand words?” Their way was to self-publish a collection of these writings from a variety of excellent writers on topics they enjoyed.

Before critiquing their business model, I want to touch on the content. As a bit of background, my favorite magazine is The Atlantic, because the writers have the freedom to write on a variety of topics and dive in-depth to a degree that newspapers or lighter magazines wouldn’t allow. In many ways The Blizzard emulates this model. The writers take a topic and, no matter how mundane, they dive into it. For example, Andy Brassell dives into the tragic history of Corsica’s football clubs and how the political situation ties into the supporters’ violent behavior. Michael Cox explains how New Labour’s political strategy is like Dennis Bergkamp’s playing style under Arsene Wenger. The kind of conversations we all have at a bar, right?

Of course The Blizzard covers more common topics, like a point/counterpoint between Ouriel Daskal and Raphael Honigstein on the merits of the much-discussed European Super League, with Daskal encouraging the Super League because it would emulate the commercial success of the National Football League. His argument is weak, but there may be some personal bias leaking into my analysis. Regardless, the content is diverse considering the limited writing pool. Europe logically has the most articles (19 out of 25 by this author’s count) but the they do discuss Argentina, the Portland Timbers of MLS, Chinese soccer, and the exploitation of African national teams. There is a fictional account of Iain Macintosh managing a lower division German team, inspired by Football Manager. While all but one of the stories are factual, they range from analysis of matches (Jonathan Wilson breaking down Crvena Zvezda’s historic European Cup semi-final win), rankings (Rob Smyth’s listing of the European Cup’s most unexpected results), and editorial/philosophical musings (Gabriele Marcotti’s thoughts on whether doping is ethical).

Of course no discussion of The Blizzard is complete without a discussion of the pay-for. Let me start by noting that figuring out how to get people to pay for premier content is a struggle for all media types: how to have people pay for (and how much they should pay for) content that is above and beyond anything else that can be found on the Internet. Even the EPL Talk Network is going through this process with EPL Talk Pro: the content behind the pay-wall is far and away better than anything else found on the Internet for free, so how should people compensate the site for that content? The Blizzard’s system is more flexible. Issue Zero was pay what you want; Issue One (coming out in June) has a recommended price of 10 pounds; a subscription of four issues is 30 pounds in Britain, 40 in Europe, and 50 outside of Europe. The digital or recurring rate (one issue every three months) has a recommended price of ten pounds per issue plus shipping costs if you want a hard copy. This is the cost of a full size book and, at least in the U.S., more expensive than a regular magazine.

So, the ten pound question: is it worth it? My answer is very political: possibly. Issue Zero is an excellent read with content beyond what can be found in almost any other medium; even though the writing style was similar throughout, I found myself enjoying every story. I applaud Jonathan Wilson and his colleagues for branching out and trying something different, something to contribute to the soccer library without primarily aiming to line their pockets.

My suggestion for subsequent issues is to diversify the authors even further: bring in a Grant Wahl, Steven Goff, or even some bloggers to diversify the topics beyond Europe. Maybe they are planning to do this. I also want to see if this is sustainable – can these writers continue to pour their efforts into this pursuit without a definite income stream or subscriber base? The price is a bit high, especially when conversion rates are factored for a non-British audience. I may eventually be a consistent subscriber, but for now may send some money for Issues One and Two to see if they have the same high quality of Issue Zero. If they do, I may consider subscribing. For now though I will save Issue Zero and enjoy this wonderful experiment, no matter what comes of it.

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  1. Michael

    April 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    “Secondly, that article by Michael Cox (comparing Blair’s New Labour to Dennis Bergamp’s playing style) sounds just horribly pretentious. Drawing contrived analogies between “something serious” (i.e. politics) and a relatively frivolous personal interest(i.e. football) is the hallmark of weak A-level General Studies essays written by half-assed sixth-formers. Cox might prove me wrong, but right now his essay sounds as promising as “Why the Israel-Palestine issue is just like Liam Gallagher’s squabble with Noel” or “Why Jimmy Carter’s presidency was a bit similar to the second season of Skins on Channel 4?.


    Sorry to hear this – hopefully if you read it (you can pay 1p to have the dubious pleasure of doing so) you’ll change your mind.

    I don’t think it is ‘pretentious’ and it’s certainly not ‘half-arsed’ – and I think there are clear similarities. They both involve ‘strategy’, they both involve the concept space upon a 2D battleground, and actors moving across this space to maximise their own potential. The background knowledge of Downs’ theory was based upon a year of studying rational choice and political science at university, not for an A-levels general studies essay!

    None of these means that the piece is certain to be any good, but please – at least give it a go. If you still think it’s “pretentious” – fair enough, and my apologies for wasting the time you spent reading it, but hey, at least someone’s having a go at doing something different, eh? The point of the magazine is that people can do what they want and go away from the ‘mainstream’ type of articles. I could have simply written ‘Why Messi is better than Maradona’ or something boring like that, but took the opportunity to be a bit ‘ambitious’, I suppose.

    Again, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically any good – but please, at least read it. Don’t judge a book by its cover, and equally, don’t judge a 2000-word article by a sentence summary of it!

    Michael 🙂

  2. Peter Daykin

    March 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Afternoon (/morning, depending on geography) chaps,

    Really interesting to read your take on our little comic. Thanks for all the critique and feedback – good and bad – it’s important to us to know what people are and aren’t enjoying.

    I just wanted to make a couple of points clear if it’s OK.

    1. Cost of printed issue – we’re definitely continuing the pay-what-you-like model with the printed version, partly because we recognise that people have different abilities to pay and partly because we know it’s expensive for lots of you out there in funny parts of the world to receive it in the mail. There will be a minimum price 5GBP (so we don’t lose loads of cash), but at that price, it should hopefully be an option even with the high postage (which we don’t make anything on, btw).

    2. Kindle/digi formats – when we started, the original plan was to launch Issue Zero as download only and then flip to print only from Issue One. We erroneously thought that 190-odd pages would be too much for people to read digitally. Turns out we massively underestimated the demand for kindle/iPad/android versions, and the global appeal (145 countries and counting!) so we’re having to learn fast on that score. As correctly mentioned in the comments, we’re hoping to burst kicking and screaming into the 21st century with Kindle/iOS versions in time for Issue One. Please bear with us, though, we’re making this stuff up as we go along and trying to take advice where we can.

    3. Americans don’t hate soccer. I realise that I’ve probably been living in a cupboard for the last 35 years, but it’s tempting to believe the popular wisdom that you North American types are only interested in stats-driven sports with loads of ad breaks. We’ve been blown away by the level of interest and depth of knowledge of US readers and don’t mind admitting that we’re ignorant, narrow-minded idiots who should have known better. Anyway, even if we didn’t expect it, we’re trying to react to it and as Brad points out above, we’re looking into the possibility of messing up the spellings and producing a US version to be printed and distributed over in your neck of the woods. We’re at a very early stage in all of this, though, so all suggestions, ideas and contacts would be very gratefully received.

    Thanks again for all your support guys, we’re really pleasantly surprised by the reaction from across the pond.

    Rave safe, kids.


  3. Dave C

    March 21, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I haven’t seen anything from the Blizzard yet, and to be honest I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

    Firstly, although I’m massively (perhaps obsessively) interested in football, I’m not sure I could really muster much interest in something like a story about Corsican football. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay ten quid for it.

    Secondly, that article by Michael Cox (comparing Blair’s New Labour to Dennis Bergamp’s playing style) sounds just horribly pretentious. Drawing contrived analogies between “something serious” (i.e. politics) and a relatively frivolous personal interest(i.e. football) is the hallmark of weak A-level General Studies essays written by half-assed sixth-formers. Cox might prove me wrong, but right now his essay sounds as promising as “Why the Israel-Palestine issue is just like Liam Gallagher’s squabble with Noel” or “Why Jimmy Carter’s presidency was a bit similar to the second season of Skins on Channel 4”.

    • bradjmoore48

      March 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      The Michael Cox piece actually does work, even though, yes, it was a little strange when I initially read the description.

      The Blizzard is not for everyone. As I pointed out earlier, the magazine is done in the spirit of Hard Gras, the Dutch literary football magazine. It’s a blend between an academic journal and a BBC World Service-style newsmagazine narrative, and honestly that will not appeal to everyone. The magazine’s mission is to provoke debate and share global views and ideas of the game.

      Here’s the best test to know for sure if you will like The Blizzard: read the Equaliser Blog, In Bed with Maradona and/or Run of Play. If those pieces don’t suit you, you’ll be better saving your money. But if you do like the type of intellectual anoraking that goes on those sites, The Blizzard is worth your money.

  4. bradjmoore48

    March 21, 2011 at 11:28 am

    I’m not as concerned about the the eventual diversity of opinion: Jonathan Wilson has a very extensive network of football contacts globally, based on his travels and the resources used to write Behind the Curtain and Inverting the Pyramid. Plus, with Michael Orr’s piece on the Timbers, I think Wilson chose a better subject for MLS discussion than anything Grant “MLS is the best thing since sliced bread” Wahl could have brought to the table. That to me says Wilson is willing to look outside the usual suspects to get great content, though big names will help sell.

    I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read thus far of Issue Zero. Slightly disappointed it was in PDF format, only because the only PDF reader I have is my iPod touch, but I heard it would be in Kindle format in time for the first issue.

    FYI I paid 3 British pounds, or $5 for Issue Zero. I’ll likely do pay what I want for a few issues, then shell out for a subscription if it’s still good.

    • The Gaffer

      March 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm

      I agree Brad. The one thing I’m disappointed about regarding issue zero is the format. A 200 page PDF is not something I want to read on screen. I printed it out, but the 200 pages look pretty formidable. I’m the type of person that when I buy a book, I read it cover to cover. I have about 7-8 books ahead of The Blizzard. And even though The Blizzard isn’t a book, it’s in my book pile.

      If it was available on a Kindle, I would be able to read it far more easier on my iPhone, Kindle or iPad. But as it is now, it’s going to gather dust until I make time to read it. And in my busy life, it’s unfortunately not going to be any time soon.

      The Gaffer

      • bradjmoore48

        March 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

        I have read on the Blizzard website that, since 1 in 6 of their website visitors comes from North America, the Blizzard is looking into a North American distributor of a print edition, so that it won’t cost $12-$13 dollars to ship on top of the $8 minimum per issue (or $80/year subscription rate) (all roughly converted from the GBP). That might help, but I still think a conversion to Kindle, iOS and Android formats for e-reading would go a long way, and cut down on distribution costs, or even the need for a print distributor in North America.

        From what I understand, almost a decade ago, Simon Kuper tried a similar, Hard Gras type football magazine (I think it was called Perfect Pitch), but failed mostly due to high overhead costs, and that this attempt would likely perform better due to keeping overhead to a minimum with digital distribution. I hope the site follows through on this.

        • The Gaffer

          March 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm

          I remember reading copies of Perfect Pitch in my university library. It’d be great to see how the printed versions of The Blizzard look. But I agree with you, the Kindle format is the way to go in the States.

          The Gaffer

      • Maybee

        March 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

        Gaffer, did you know that you can email a PDF file to your kindle and read it on that? If you own a kindle, your device has an email address, just send the file to that and it will appear on your device.

        • The Gaffer

          March 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

          Brilliant!! I had no idea. I’ll definitely check it out tonight. Thanks Maybee for that tip!!

          The Gaffer

      • KGB

        April 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm

        Just import the PDF to iTunes and put it into the apple books app on your iPad/iPhone. Problem with size and format solved.

        • KGB

          April 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm

          Need to learn to read all of the posts before commenting…

  5. Gaz Hunt

    March 21, 2011 at 9:23 am

    I ran across the site a few weeks ago and ordered the first issue out of curiosity. I think the “In Rainbows” pricing model is a good idea for the digital copy but doubt it will work for the printed version.

    Jon Wilson has some great writing but some is not for me. I felt Inverting the Pyramid, for instance, was too much of an excersize in listing historical data and statistics. I hope the ‘zine opts for the creative writing side of football journalism over this.

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