Saturday, 15 May 2010

Sid Lowe

Hang on a minute....

Occasionally here at EFW HQ I get to wind my neck in for ten minutes and let someone who knows what they're talking about take to the stage. Stepping up to the mic today is Spanish football guru Sid Lowe, who - in between penning articles for the Guardian, Four Four Two, World Soccer Magazine and talking down the phone on the Football Weekly Podcast - was good enough to give us some of his time.

Sid has been reporting back from Spain for the thick end of ten years in which time he's translated for David Beckham, Michael Owen and Thomas Gravesen at Real Madrid, worked on Real Madrid TV and occupied a seat in every press box in La Liga and beyond. He's often mocked on the Football Weekly Podcast for continued usage of the phrases 'Rubbish', 'Caveat' and 'Hang on minute' whilst trying to control his dog in the background.

So pour yourself a caña, have a nice long siesta before waking up and reading Sid explain why Michael Owen isn't gay, Barry Glendenning is screwed, that Real Madrid bike, his recent Twitter addiction and why he will shortly be receiving Five FIFA stars in the post from EFW for laying the boot into Formula One.

Fans outside of Spain who travel to the Bernabéu and Camp Nou often complain about the lack of atmosphere, is there a game in Spain you can recommend that raises the roof in terms of noise? The Bernabéu and the Camp Nou can make a hell of lot of noise on big occasions (with 78,000 and 93,000 capacities how could they not?), but yeah I agree … Sevilla, Sporting Gijón, and Athletic Bilbao’s San Mamés are usually pretty good. Sevilla against Real Madrid (and, naturally Betis – who also tend to pretty noisy) is fantastic. And Madrid’s trip to San Mamés is always fantastic. Since returning from a decade away, Sporting’s fans have introduced the first division to a new phenomenon: away fans. Speaking of Sporting, it’s worth mentioning the Asturias derby too: Real Oviedo versus Sporting’s B team in the Second Division B (a level below the Second Division and made up of four twenty-team divisions, essentially a kind of Conference level) had over 16,000 this year. That was more than six first division games that same weekend. There are some others that stand out: Osasuna: close to the pitch, hostile, and very loud. Cádiz: funny. Similar at Xérez. And Tenerife’s fans have been great this season. Atlético: there are few noises like the Calderón launching into an big deep roar of: “Atlééééééééééééti”. And the return to a stadium of their own has made a real difference for Espanyol. Earlier this season Getafe were presented by the LFP with the award for the best fans in the league … in front of an empty stadium. Which says it all. I went to six consecutive Getafe games earlier this season. I think that makes me about their most loyal supporter. And I don’t even support them. I sometimes think the LFP are deliberately taking the piss.

Getafe fans collect their LFP 'best fans in La Liga' prize.

In my experience, Real Madrid fans aren't the most vocal in Spain, in fact, there aren't even the best in Madrid (Atléti and even Rayo Vallecano fans create more atmosphere). Has the fan base at the Bernabéu noticeably changed in recent seasons? Yes, to an extent. It’s got a lot more expensive and to some extent more gentrified. It is full most matches now but rarely makes as much noise as you might expect. There is a theory that says that one of the reasons why there is more noise on Champions League nights is that season ticket holders (who don’t necessarily chose the European option) don’t go so Madrid fans from all over Spain do (bear in mind that you can prepare a trip to the Champions League games and you can’t for league games because the LFP doesn’t even fix kick off times or dates until eight days before) and they are noisier and, as less regular visitors, more up for it. It’s also true that because of UEFA rules there is much better banter because there are actually away fans there – and lots of them. Taking away standing areas of course makes a difference too. the first game I ever went to in Spain was at the Bernabéu with 115,000 there against Zaragoza. Now, that was noisy.

I went to see Getafe play over Christmas and was astonished at the cost of match tickets. €40-80 to see them play Valladolid. Spain must be one of the most expensive countries in Europe to watch football nowadays no? Yes, it’s changed massively. A few years ago I bought a Rayo season ticket for the equivalent of £38. Madrid and Barcelona in particular have really increased but other clubs too. There is no uniform pricing structure either so smaller clubs hike prices like mad (and adopt the truly criminal policy of Día del Club whereby even season ticket holders are obliged to buy their seats) against the big two. All they achieve is a half empty stadium, and the half that is there supports the other team. Oh, and pissed off fans. Getafe are amongst the worst, price-wise.

Is it true that there is more Live English Premiership football than Spanish La Liga coverage on Spanish terrestrial television? On terrestrial TV in Spain you get one La Liga game a week: on La Sexta/autonomous region channels on Saturday night. And you normally get two English games: one on TVE and one on Teledeporte. If you buy Gol television you get a whole load more English games but you also get more Spanish league games – as many as four more per week. *interviewer rushes off to ring Spanish father in law*

The Marca and AS (predominantly) football papers are incredibly popular in Spain. Their output leans towards the English version of a tabloid, whereas El Mundo and El País don't really cover football in depth. Where do you head for intelligent football debate in Spain? Good question … actually, in fairness El Mundo and El País have increased their coverage recently and it is mostly very good. El Mundo now have a Monday sports supplement. I’m very impressed with a lot of the writers on those papers – Diego Torres, David Gistau, Cayetano Ros and more … Santo Segurola is at Marca, too, and he’s excellent. The problem with Marca and AS or El Mundo Deportivo and Sport is, in my onion, not so much that they are tabloid in style (they’re not always) but that they have sides. And that they have agendas that are so comically obvious, so utterly shameless, that you wonder if it’s all a big wind-up. Marca has taken a massive nose-dive lately. It is worth adding something here: those papers are mostly very good at what they do. Much as I dislike certain things about their editorial line, their self-importance, and the ludicrous ‘Villarato’ campaign (in which they accuse the refs of being in cahoots with Barcelona), AS is an impressive paper in some ways.

The actual dates and kick off times of matches in Spain are only decided a week or so before they take place. This makes any sort of pre-planning a logistical nightmare for fans. Is that why there are virtually no away fans at most matches? It certainly doesn’t help. I think it’s a complete shambles. But it’s also partly a cultural thing, partly the fact that Spain is so much bigger than, say, England. Spain is very passionate about football but that does not necessarily translate into attendance at games.

You've worked as a translator for Becks and Michael Owen. Any anecdotes about those two you'd care to share with EFW? Tragically, the best one has already become public and has done the rounds on Spanish telly. Basically, I used the wrong form of the verb ‘to be’ and had Michael Owen saying that Frank Lampard was, well, sexy. I suppose the best, nearly right but importantly still very wrong comparison would be me having Owen saying “Lampard is fit” but not meaning that kind of fit. Everyone fell about. One magazine asked the question: Is Owen Gay? No, it said, asking its own question, but his translator might be. I saw Michael in England a few months after he had signed for Newcastle and pretty much the first thing he said to me was: “hey, tell my dad what it was you said about Lampard.” David was always keen to do as much as he could in Spanish and actually worked at getting it right in preparation for press conferences but wasn’t comfortable in Spanish – not in front of a big audience anyway. He did try. The one that I found the funniest was translating for Tommy Gravesen. He just kind of growled angrily at everyone. It hardly needed translating and I was trying very hard not to laugh.

It wasn't too hard for EFW to track down Sid.

Real Madrid also gave you a fold-away bike did they not? Have any other gifts been forthcoming? Bizarrely, yes. At Christmas press meals they always give presents out. Mostly it’s relevant stuff – pens, phones, books, that sort of thing. And then one year Calderón handed out fold-up bikes. He must have had a job lot of them knocking about somewhere that he couldn’t shift. Should I admit that I haven’t used it? (Yeah, it's no big deal, we've all got Real Madrid bikes knocking about in the shed - Ed).

They've started playing "Sid Lowe Bingo" on the Football Weekly Podcast and Barry Glendenning told me (in jest before anyone writes in) to "defunny" your answers in this interview. Do you have a message for the boys back home? Well, that’s Barry screwed then, isn’t it? I deliberately defunnied my own answers so he wouldn’t have that satisfaction. If I remember rightly, the bingo didn’t go too well, despite them trying to take me down lots of dark alleys and serve up some caveats, woofs and hang on a minutes. The other day I was watching the elections on UK TV, by the way, and it was a caveat landslide. They were all at it. Dimpleby, that arrogant, argumentative tosser on Sky, even Mandelson. I’m just claiming back a much maligned word. Or maybe I missed my real calling? In truth, it comes from living in Spain. Caveat is the best translation of ‘matiz’ which in Spanish sounds nowhere near as poncey as it does in English. Someone mentioned to me the other day that they had used it twice in a Masters degree thanks to me … I was proud. Or at least I was until I checked my PhD and found that I hadn’t used it. Not bloody once in 147,000 words. I didn’t eat for days. As for the pod: I’m at an unfair disadvantage: I’m just down the phone, the sneaky bastards. And then they get producer Ben or Pete to edit it so they look good. And sabotage me. Now, that is when Barry defunnies my answers.

You've finally got onboard the good ship Twitter. Good fun or a pain in the arse? A bit of both. I’ve got to stop. It gets addictive but, as I have found out recently to my immense cost, it can be, well, costly.

Do you report or are in you interested in any other sports? I’d love to say yeah I’m an all-rounder me but not really. When I was younger I had spells of being really into tennis and even a bit of cricket, although I haven’t played either for over a decade. I used to do a lot of running too – cross-country and track but my interest in athletics as a spectator sport has largely faded. At moments, I can watch most sports and almost get excited. I went to the Olympics in Athens and absolutely loved it. But that was partly the event itself and partly the sense of discovery with some sports. I was trying to work out what it was that made me like sports or not and I think I came to the conclusion that I liked fast, aggressive sports: the water-polo was sensational. I hadn’t realised how bloody dirty it was. Volleyball was very enjoyable, even handball. And I loved track cycling. On the roads I find it a bit dull – they just fly past you – but on the track I found it fascinating. I have always liked basketball (mainly because my brother played properly and I used to be a regular at the Sheffield Forgers/Sharks), so it was fantastic to get to see the US team play. But the king of sports is weight lifting. And I really do mean that. It was just brilliant. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s great drama … you can see the pressure all over their faces which look like they’re going to explode. And then afterwards, they were in the bar smoking tabs and drinking beer. Brilliant. Actually, am I allowed to plug an old piece of mine here? (Oh go on then - Ed) I loved it. I still wear my weightlifting t-shirt with pride. But I also actively dislike some ‘sports’. Like Formula 1, for instance. Which is bollocks. When Hamilton and Alonso were having that spat, I kept getting asked about it and had to show some vague interest but not only did I think it was tedious, distasteful (the way the two presses handled it struck me as embarrassing – so much so that I found it hilarious when NEITHER of them won) and vaguely pathetic, I also just didn’t give a toss. Then there’s that horsey thing in the Olympics when all the horse does is ponce about a field wearing a pretty bow and occasionally cocking its leg. What’s that for?

"..there are few noises like the Calderón launching into an big deep roar of: “Atlééééééééééééti”

Do you have a view on bullfighting? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a view on it in the sense that it doesn’t massively preoccupy me. But, put it this way, I have lived in Spain for a decade and never been to a plaza de toros … at least not to watch a corrida. I’ve seen a few concerts.

In retrospect, the Spanish Olympic basketball teams "eye-catching faux pas" was a little ill conceived no? I thought so. Although it is also true that my handling of it might have been too. The removal of one key paragraph from the reporting on it didn’t help, either. Pau Gasol made one very interesting remark that went almost unreported but I thought was significant: “We didn’t think it was a good idea but the sponsor insisted and insisted.”

Do you support a Spanish or English football team? Yes. Both.

Oh, Which Spanish ground do you most enjoy reporting from then? Oh, ok, the answer to the last question is Real Oviedo. And in England, I think I’ll hold my peace. But most people know. There is a point that’s worth making here, mind you: in most cases, who journalists support really isn’t relevant. I’m not sure I understand the obsession with working out who we support. I’ve been accused of being blatantly pro-Madrid and obviously anti-them, rabidly Barcelona-biased and a Catalan hater… I’ve got it in for Atlético, I clearly love Atlético, and so on and so on … all of which might be a good sign. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, bias is even more. Andoni Zubizarreta said something this season: “As fans we demand accuracy and fairness … but with one caveat [yes, he did say caveat. Well, matiz]: that it is in out favour.” He was talking about refereeing but he could just as well have been talking about readers. I think it’s a brilliant quote. He wasn’t a bad goalkeeper either.

Rabidly Barcelona-biased? Catalan hater? Neither, he's just a bloody good journalist.

How much Spanish football do you watch each week? Far, far too much. Usually four live La Liga games plus everything that happens mid-week. And sometimes it’s dreadful.

You've waxed lyrical about Danny Alves and Racing Santander's wonderkid Sergio Canales, any predictions on the next star to illuminate La Liga? I’m not sure how unknown they are but I do like the look of Ander Herrera at Real Zaragoza and although most people have seen a lot of him by now Javi Martínez at Athletic is very, very good. Keep an eye for that Leo Messi kid too: he’s pretty special.

Talking of predictions, Spain should win the 2010 World Cup shouldn't they They should. But, hey, shit happens … one slip and they could be out. Del Bosque said something very important: Spain shouldn’t let themselves get into a dangerous state where it’s either win the tournament of be a failure. I think they are the best side in the world but who knows if they will actually win it. Torres and Villa will be vital.

What do you make of England's chances? I have a feeling that England might go one step further than normal this time. So, quarters or semis, then. We might actually beat one genuinely good team. I wrote about this earlier this season and I find it hard to avoid the feeling that with England success or failure depends on the teams that await once it gets to knock out rounds, rather than how well we really play. I wrote:

The bottom line is that England have not beaten a ‘big’ country in a knock out game at the World Cup for years. England have been remarkably consistent at the World Cup and yet the reactions have been very different. In 1998 they fell at the first hurdle. In 1990 they were gloriously close to the final. There’s always a hardluck story; a robbery, a villain but there is also an inescapable fact. Since 1986 (in 1982 the format was different), England have gone out to the first ‘good’ side they have played. Argentina in 86, Germany in 90, not even there in 94, Argentina in 98, Brazil in 02 Portugal in 06. The sides they had beaten in knock out games? Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, Ecuador. It’s not really glorious. Yet 1998 was a failure, 1990 a triumph. The difference is who they played. In 1990, after a dreadful group phase, a late goal from a set-play took England through against Belgium and a couple of dodgy penalties beat Cameroon. Then it was Germany and Arriverderchi. But it was a glorious, heady summer in England.

Rooney or Ronaldo? Ronaldo. I think he takes bad decisions but is such an astonishingly talented and physical imposing figure that he is genuinely special.

That's it Sid, thanks a million for speaking to EFW and muchas gracias por todo and especially for putting some meat on the bones of our La Liga coverage. Pleasure.

You can follow Sid on Twitter at @sidlowe

You can read his work in The Guardian HERE and also catch him in Four Four Two and World Soccer Magazine.

You'd be bonkers not to listen to the Football Weekly Podcast

Read the EFW interview with Barry Glendenning HERE and our Spanish reports at AD Alcorcón, Alicante, Atletico Madrid, Barakaldo, Barcelona Athletic, Barcelona, Gava, Getafe, Portugalete, Rayo Vallecano & Real Madrid, Real Mallorca.
- Feel free to comment below -


Webbie @ Football and Music said...

"Rubbish !"

No I am not playing the bingo any more.
I decided to turn it into a drinking game and now every time after listening to Sid on the pod I find that I am very, very drunk.

Webbie @ Football and Music said...

and here what's with you getting all these well known names for interviews Danny ? How do you pull that off ?
I'll have to start doing this sort of thing myself.

(Does anybody have the phone number for wee Jimmy Krankie...?)

Danny Last said...

How do I get the big names? I had to promise Sid a weeks worth of chocolate con churros and as for Barry Glendenning - he did it for 40 Marlboro lights and a couple of pints.

Seriously, both of them were a joy to deal with. They always follow up their work on The Guardian website by chipping in with the conversation on the comments section. They're not aloof or up their own arse.

In my experience, dealing with journalists is a whole lot more rewarding and enjoyable than dealing with footballers.

That's my Frank Lampard exclusive out the window then. Ho hum....

Anders said...

Great stuff Danny! You and Sid play your own league! Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

I hate journalists...Why they used to speak without any idea of the deal? Bernabeu, Camp Nou...Hell of noise? jajaja..going to this stadiums to enjoy a footbaal match is the most similar thing to go to the Theater...imagine, both stadiums use to be full of foreign journalists, japanesse tourists, posh people...if you wanna feel a real football ambient in Spain you must go to Bilbao, Madrid of course (but not with Real, with Atletico), even Sevilla.
If i would have to choose one club from Spain...Atletico de Madrid, is the best by far.

Anonymous said...

... yeah, and journalist probably hate you too Anonymous. Did you even bother read what he actually said?

You said: "Bernabeu, Camp Nou...Hell of noise? jajaja..going to this stadiums to enjoy a footbaal match is the most similar thing to go to the Theater...if you wanna feel a real football ambient in Spain you must go to Bilbao, Madrid of course (but not with Real, with Atletico), even Sevilla."

Which, I think you'll find, is almost exactly what he said.

You really are a tool. Or maybe you just can't read. Probably both.

Danny Last said...

Here's a quality article from Sid from the Sports Illustrated website in USA! USA! USA! on collecting football stickers. The "someone" he mentions who told him where to get them from in Madrid was me *hangs head in shame*