THOSE of us who like to venture abroad to watch the beautiful game will be aware of the difference in the way football is chronicled by the media in France, Germany, Italy and other countries. There’s something quite fascinating about a foreign football newspaper and although coverage in Britain has improved dramatically since the miserable 1980s when you struggled to even find a team line-up in the paper, you get the feeling that they cater more for the aficianado in places like Milan, Munich and Madrid.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a little fashionable to buy the La Gazetta dello Sport to marvel at Italian football – this was the age of Maradona, the great Milan team and the German-influenced Inter. The pink, gossamer-like paper, the huge pages and the forensic coverage looked incredibly impressive – if you could read Italian, that is. But like James Richardson on TV, to sit in a café with an espresso and the big, fact-filled pages of the Gazetta made you look like an expert – or a pillock.
I have to admit, I was probably in the latter category, or at least that’s what my pals at work used to say. “But I’m interested,” I would plead. “There’s one problem, Neil….you can’t speak Italian.” Maybe, but I did soon learn some terminology, and football, after all is a global language. It breaks down barriers. And I would normally respond, “do YOU know who’s going to win the scudetto this season?”.
I moved on to Germany and the wonderful Kicker magazine. Now my German was better than my Italian and I worked for a German company for 26 years, so I knew by du from my sie. Whenever I came back from a business trip to Frankfurt or Berlin, I would seek out a copy of Kicker and its typically detailed special editions. I religiously have a copy of the Europas Top-Ligen edition on my desk to keep track on fixtures across the continent. “Dad, you can get that information on the internet…in English,” my son, who studied German, kept reminding me, comparing me to a footballing equivalent of Del Boy and his mis-use of French phrases. “Ligue 1, anyone?”.
But now it’s France and I have taken a liking for the new-look France Football. This time it’s different, because I am actually learning French and I thought there’s no better way to get to grips with the language than through football. There’s a bit of added motivation and you have to respect the French for their part in football’s pan-European development – it was L’Equipe, after all, that helped drive the creation of the European Cup and of course, there was Mr Rimet.
I am sure I am not only person who seems attracted to these publications – I have also picked up Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish and Swiss newspapers down the years. I think it represents some kind of a longing for a more cerebral approach to the game. We have World Soccer in Britain and that is excellent, but it does seem that overseas counterparts take a more considered and intelligent view on football. We are too often focused on the sensationalist element of the game in Britain, the gossip, the wham, bam, thank-you ma’am aspect of the sport. We are painfully short of genuinely good quality football publications in Britain. Yes, the newspapers have extensive coverage of domestic football, but the future of daily papers is – sadly – rather bleak.
I think there’s a genuine gap for a European football newspaper, probably for a similar-sized market to non-league football. There’s a lot of folk who make the journey across the channel to seek-out variations on a theme. Wouldn’t it be good to combine some of the positive attributes of the French, Italian, German and Spanish media (to name but a few) to create a publication that provided us with a broad and comprehensive view of the game across the continent? Then perhaps I wouldn’t have to keep buying pretentious foreign journals to satisfy some form of strange and unexplainable craving I have. Ciao.