TrawlerMeets: Honigstein

Posted on February 29, 2012 by

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The latest in our In Conversation With series finds German freelance football writer and pundit Raphael Honigstein discussing the Bundesliga, the benefits of approaching English football as an ‘outsider’, and the revolutionary force of Twitter.

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TT: What are your basic journalistic principles when analysing the game of football? What are you starting points, and what kinds of conclusions are you hoping to end up with?

RH: Only one principle: to look at things fairly. That is not to say you have to be always balanced. Some things really are black and white. Most aren’t, of course. It’s also important not to get too comfortable with your own opinions and pre-dispositions. You have to be ready to discard all of it the moment the evidence in front of you  supports a contrarian view. A conclusion is not something you can hope to come up with it, it should follow naturally from your analysis. Working it out backwards always results in inferior work.

Do you believe that coming from Germany to write about the English game helps you to critique and write about it from a different perspective? Are there any downsides to this?

I believe that an outsider’s view is different by definition. You are able to look at things without emotional involvement and bias. You are also forced to ask yourself “what is really happening here?” quite often – and that’s quite  a good starting point as far as reporting is concerned. Downsides? I don’t think so. You are obviously not quite as close to certain clubs or the FA as your English colleagues but you can make up for that by taking advantage of the PL’s  globalised nature, and getting in touch with international players, owners or agents for insight.

Do you find it easier to relate German football to an English audience, of English football to a German audience?

I enjoy both very much and wouldn’t have it any other way. The source material is so rich on either side that it’s fairly easy to do this job.

In your book “Englischer Fussball: A German View Of Our Beautiful Game” you attributed Wayne Rooney’s hero status among English fans to him having an air of “kebabs and urine”. What did you mean by this and if you had to attach a scent to any other players in the English game, who and what would they be? 

Rooney is a boy/man plugged from street. He is a lad, he is the guy frequenting a dodgy hot dog stand in the middle of the night after one or two beers too many. There is nothing artificial or mannered about him, he is who he is. I believe that people really respond to that. Other scents? The rest of them, I’m sure, all  smell really nice.

Considering the current success of David Silva, Luka Modric and, formerly, the likes of Gianfranco Zola in the English league, do you think ‘Englischer Fussball’ overemphasised the physical/dirty aspect of the English game? And did your conclusions receive any criticism from proud/offended Anglophiles?

I honestly don’t think so. I’m looking back at the origins of the game  in the book but at the same time, very much acknowledge that things have indeed changed in recent years – at the very top. Go down a division or two, or to a Sunday league game, and you’ll see that a lot of the antique default positions still exist, however. “Hospital ball”, “put it down the channel”, “up his arse”, etc etc.  The combination of bad pitches, lenient refereeing, lack of technique and an emphasis on character/fighting spirit make an English football game still fairly unique. Every foreign student who comes to the UK and plays their first game here is shocked by what’s going on. It’s a completely different way of playing football. And as much as the PL has become a more continental affair, you can see that some wider discourses remain the same. Note the outrage over Bale’s “dive” v Arsenal or the way that Pulis constantly bemoans everyone going soft and giving his good, honest lads a bad name.

I’d say that overall, the book was well received and reviewed extremely fairly here. I was only a little bit disappointed when one or two critics  I personally know wilfully over-simplified the  argument to miss the bigger picture.

The German league, to a large extent, has a quality of unpredictability about it. Does the varied nature of the Bundesliga make your job as a journalist more enjoyable? or does this aspect hold any negatives?

As Sepp Herberger said: “People like football because they don’t know how the game is going to end”. Unpredictability is a real blessing.

You are primarily a print/online journalist, but also engage in broadcast journalism. What aspects of podcasting and video journalism do you particularly enjoy? are there any negative aspects? How have digital and technological advancements helped your job as a journalist?

As a freelancer, you are forced to work across as many channels as possible, because there is no job security. I enjoy all of it. And Twitter has turned out an incredibly useful tool, both in terms of self-promotion and marketing, as well when it comes to receiving information or collaborating with peers. I’d go as far as to say that it’s really revolutionised the way I’ve been working over the last couple of years.

Raphael recording Football Weekly Live with Barry Glendenning

It is fairly easy to watch the Bundesliga in the U.K, nowadays at least. When did German football become available in the U.K and what changes did that represent for you as a journalist?

Not sure when German football was first on UK TV but I was Alan McInally’s side-kick for Sky in 2002/3. I was able to work as summariser when Setanta had the live rights and now have a tremendous time sitting next to Kaiser Didi in the ESPN studios. Personally, I’ve had a German satellite dish since 1996 and don’t think I could live in the UK without having access to all Bundesliga games via my German Sky box.

Do you think journalists from the individual countries of the global footballing press have their own national identities? And if so, how do German football journalists compare to the rest of the world? 

Of course we have our own identities. Subconsciously or not, your are always comparing English football to the one you’re used to at home. I  can’t really speak for all German football journalists though. If you want generalisations: I don’t think we are that different as a group to UK football writers, but the mode of production is very different – because there is more competition AND cooperation here – and we don’t have that kind of  400k-a-year star culture for print journos. Sadly.

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Englischer Fussball is available on Amazon, and you can find his excellent weekly Guardian column here. He also writes for Sports IllustratedSüddeutsche Zeitung and BBC Sport among others.

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Posted in: Football, Interviews