TrawlerMeets: The Legendinho

Posted on January 30, 2012 by

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Interview with Tim Vickery BBC

We at The Trawler were delighted when the BBC’s Tim Vickery agreed to answer some questions for us about the nature of football writing, and his own distinctive journalistic style. This is the first in a series of articles focusing on some of the most prominent figures in modern football journalism.

If you’re a regular listener to BBC Radio 5 Live’s World Football Phone In, then Tim Vickery’s languid tones have probably soothed you in the wee hours of the morning. He also writes for Sports Illustrated, and authors an excellent weekly blog for the BBC Sport website which has attracted a keen following over the years. Reporting from his base in Rio (where he relocated from London in 1994), the ‘Legendinho’ (or the ‘Vickipedia’) informs and enlightens a primarily British and North American audience about the state of football in South America. If you want to know how Carlos Tévez’s latest indiscretions are being perceived back in the slums of his hometown Buenos Aires, or if you’re looking for some more information on the latest teenage starlet from the Chilean league, then Tim is the best person to ask.

One of his most difficult tasks is to honestly relate football in South America to a British audience in a way that is interesting and entertaining, without overly exoticising or distorting his subject. “Brazil,” he says, “as a country of immigration has been mythologised out of all proportion. The idea that Brazilian football is more interested in having fun than winning, a kind-o-carnival in football boots, is laughably stupid, but repeated by many otherwise intelligent people.”

Vickery possesses an impressive ability to avoid simple and erroneous stereotypes in favour of more accurate, thoughtful comparisons that communicate directly with his audience. “As I never tire of saying, football is a universal language that we speak with different accents.” Indeed, he often seems to play the role of cultural commentator rather than straightforward football journalist. “The different ways that the game is watched and played in different countries is a fascinating area of study,” Vickery admits.

“The brief with the BBC column is to try and make it as accessible to British readers as possible. A column should never be a straight news report – the flexibility of the format allows you to make comparisons, add context and so on. You should be able to see how I’ve been concentrating on doing that during January, when there has been no football in my patch. I’ve introduced a South American incident to try and take the debate on to wider terrain – the amounts that players get paid, the need for foreign coaches, the role of the coach, and so on.”

The Legendinho acknowledges how important it has been to have his own, unique, distinctive style, or niche. “For me, it has been crucial. The way I got into the game was through being – or coming across as – a bit different. Not in any forced or contrived way, but as a result of being able to think for myself.”

He cites as his main journalistic influences the “old style” of the legendary Brian Glanville, whose “international consciousness” always appealed, as well as the “social consciousness” of The Sunday Times’ Hugh McIlvanney.

As something of a Twitter-sceptic, Vickery is fairly unconvinced about the effects of modern technological changes on football journalism. “The essentials,” he says, have remained the same: “thinking about the game, both in terms of stripping the contest down to its essence and the attempt to place it in a cultural context. Technology is all very well, but to do these things you have to think for yourself.”

Traditional football journalism, though, can often be found wanting. According to Vickery “the ‘talking point,’ the refereeing controversy, tends to be elevated way above all others. The basic post match question is rarely put – namely, ‘what did you send your team out to do, and to what extent do you think you were successful?’”

For Vickery, “good style in journalistic writing is a simple topic – have something to say and say it clearly.”

You can read Tim Vickery’s latest column in World Soccer Magazine, out 10th February.

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