Mr Iain Macintosh, ladies and gentlemen.
Ian Prior has been vindicated. After taking a Twitter-slapping for his much vaunted Gareth Bale story (and I wouldn’t bet against him having the last laugh on that one come the summer), the Guardian’s sports editor took the bold step of hyping up Sid Lowe’s interview with Xavi. In the dark recesses of the Twitosphere, snarling keyboard warriors cocked their laptops and waited. They shouldn’t have bothered. If anything, Prior didn’t hype it up enough.
Conducting an interview isn’t as simple as turning up with a list of questions and then scribbling down the answers. The subject has to be relaxed, but not too relaxed. Entertained and stimulated, but not overshadowed. Gently coaxed, skilfully wooed, spoiled, flattered and then taken. It is, as a famous car salesman once said, a lot like making love to a beautiful woman. Though in this job, you don’t get funny looks when you record the whole thing and listen back to it on the train home.
Lowe’s interview was wonderful because he and fellow writer Peter Jenson enabled Xavi to be himself. The Barcelona midfielder was free to sound off on his favourite teams, his favourite players, the way that his club operate and the way that he believes football should be played. Throughout it all, from the first word to the last, the interview was practically dripping in liquid fun. Xavi loves football. Lowe and Jenson love football. We all love football. I defy anyone to have come away from that article and not wanted to grab a ball and run for the garden.
This week, more than most, it feels like we’ve forgotten how much fun football is supposed to be. I was honoured to be in the press box at St James Park last weekend for that insane 4-4 draw and I wrote as much in a recent article. The comments section quickly filled up with angry Arsenal fans, grumbling that I didn’t take a pointy stick to Phil Dowd. Apologies for the indoor language here, but I really couldn’t give a flying fuck about Phil Dowd. Not on a day like that. Not on a day when a team comes back from 0-4 down and snatches a point. On a day when the holding midfielder unleashes a late sidewinder from fully 30 yards and blows the roof of the stadium out into the North Sea. Fuck the referee, feel the drama. Feel the fun.
Football’s gone nasty. Not nasty in a 1970s, throwing bricks at each other way, but in a more insidious, socially acceptable way. Grown men lean over advertising hoardings to scream The Bad Word with such venom that the veins stand out on their neck like mooring ropes. Sat next to them, quietly munching £5 burgers, their children watch and learn. Death threats are now de rigueur on the internet. In the place of debate comes an expressed desire for disease. Aids seems to be a popular choice for journalists who dare to criticise. And no-one seems to mind. Nastiness breeds nastiness.
Perhaps the reason that Lowe’s interview was so well received was because it wasn’t nasty. There was no ulterior motive, he wasn’t looking to turn Xavi over, ripping a quote out of context to make the back page. It was just fun. From this, we can all learn a lesson. It’s all very well hammering journalists for going at the meanest angle like Yakubu at a buffet, but if the sales figures weren’t spiking with every scoop, the editors wouldn’t threaten to de-thumb their reporters every time they eschew an easy kicking.
Lowe’s interview smashed its way across the internet like a Victorian ice-breaker . It cleared the drudgery of another day at work, it was a little snatched moment of joy for hundreds of thousands of desk-bound office workers. It was positive, it was pleasant, it was all about the football, all about the fun. The only question now is what we take from this. As journalists and as fans, we could all do with taking this game a little less seriously.
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