Thursday, 6 January 2011

In Bed With Maradona

EFW meets IBWM

You would own a collection of bruised fingers if you clapped every quality article that appeared on the pages of the delightfully named football blog In Bed With Maradona.

Not many days go by with some form of mutual backslapping and high fiving between European Football Weekends (EFW) and In bed with Maradona (IBWM). This is a mutual appreciation society (MAS) that borders on the lunacy (BOTL). We're like one of those sickly friendships between teams made popular in German football. We haven't quite got around to releasing joint scarves in our respective club shops, but it might not be long before someone in Taiwan is weaving a stitch in that direction.

IBWM is a website that thinks outside the box. They've assembled a team of writers, all of whom provide thought provoking, entertaining articles on a daily basis. It's not just me who has acknowledged them, they've scooped a host of awards and had praise heaped upon them from all quarters.

So step forward Jeff, editor of IBWM, a man who knows his blogging onions and a chap who was quick off the mark in paying tribute to my knitwear of choice for the interview:

Many of the best writers in the business have hopped on-board the IBWM bandwagon. Do you head hunt those, or do they come tugging on your coat to volunteer. Right, first off, can I just say how fantastic it is to be interviewed on EFW, I am a HUGE fan of the website. Is this the seat that Sid Lowe sat in? Wow! You're quite coy on this place aren't you Danny. Do your readers know that EFW is run from a narrowboat called the Rosie Jimbo? And that you visit all of these great places via the canals and waterways of Europe? Very impressive it is. Nice aran sweater by the way. Not sure about the pipe though.

Get on with it Jeff.... It's a mix to be honest. I've asked some writers to work with us and others have been in touch saying they would like to contribute. I'm always keen to increase the number of writers we work worth so it's an open door.

How many people are on the editorial team, and who do you all support? Three of us, including me. I'm from Newcastle, and that's the team that I've watched most down the years, but I'm passionate about football more than any one club. I can just as easily cheer for Sunderland, which makes me a bit of oddity in the North East! Originally, IBWM was just me, but things were getting a bit out of hand so the editorial team now includes Ben Shave and Dave Hartrick. They are tremendously talented writers and have really brought a lot to IBWM over the last few months. Dave is a Brighton fan based in West Yorkshire and he has a very dry sense of humour and a fantastic knowledge of football history. He's writing a book now, which I've been privileged to have a look at and it's excellent. Ben is a Watford fan based in Pinner and I think he is one of the most exciting football writers around. He really knows his onions when it comes to Portuguese football, as well as other areas too. He's on his way to the very top.

Do you all get out to games, or are you chained to your laptops 24/7? Not chained as such, but I probably watch a lot more football on TV or via streaming than actually going to games these days. I know Ben gets to watch Watford as much as he can and Dave likes to get to whatever games he can, regardless of who is playing.

Did you do any writing or contribute to any blogs prior to IBWM or is this your first effort? I've written for magazines, fanzines and other websites down the years, but IBWM has been my first project like this.

You must have punched the air with delight when you came up with the name for the site, no? Originally, this was going to be a blog centered on the World Cup called 'three months with Diego' but that never felt right. I was watching Argentina in a World Cup qualifier on my laptop while lying in bed in the wee small hours and the good lady wife turned over to me and said, "you spend more time in bed with Maradona than you do with me", well, that was it! I thought it was genius, a title that worked on several different levels. I point this out to my wife and her solicitor on a regular basis but they never see the funny side. Shame.

Depression and homophobia in football, the Uruguay national team and Dion Dublin's instrument. These aren't mainstream topics, and yet you get thousands of hits everyday. People want to read about more than just the EPL don't they? I think so. I've no great problem with the Premier League as I watch a lot of games myself and can understand it's appeal, but football is a beautiful game the world over and has so many layers to it. Each week across the planet, football consumes millions of people and there are so many side stories and emotions apart from the games themselves. I often feel like 99.9% of football coverage looks at 0.01% of what is going on out there. I want IBWM to address that imbalance.

Is there one article you'd point to as breaking you into the big time? The big time? Behave yourself! I think Iain Macintosh coming on board and writing his first piece for us was a defining moment. Iain is a fantastic writer and has such a huge following that it opened IBWM to a much bigger audience. Iain's first article was a critique of MotD, which was perfectly timed, and he really nailed the subject. Getting Dan Brennan to join in was a real coup for us and we've been fortunate enough to publish some outstanding articles from brilliant writers that have really helped build IBWM's reputation.

Which article has been the most popular? Three stand out. Earlier in 2010 I was trying to decide which direction to take IBWM and considered looking at transfer stories that were being reported by reputable sources in other countries. I'd already decided that this wasn't the way I wanted IBWM to go, but took a call from a former colleague who told me that Hatem Ben Arfa was 100% on his way to Newcastle United. It was bit of a scoop as the UK press had already called this a non-starter following a press conference dismissal by Chris Hughton. I was satisfied that this wasn't just speculation so wrote something and L'Equipe actually backed everything up in their own version five minutes before I published This took some of the scoop element away, but backed up the story. It went up on a Friday and just went nuts. The article was read by about 13,000 people and is still picking up around 200 reads each week, which is a touch bizarre, but it did bring an awful lot of people to IBWM who hadn't been before. Michal Zachodny's piece on Krzysztof Dowhań the Polish goalkeeping coach was another groundbreaker because it was an excellent story that wasn't picked up outside of Poland. That really demonstrated the importance of having someone in location to deliver this sort of stuff. Another article that has been immense is Greg Theoharis' 'Facing up to Gazza's death' . It's a real heartfelt piece and while quite a morbid subject, I think Greg captures the feelings/fears of millions of football fans.

The critical acclaim that swung your way towards the end of 2010 must have been most welcome? Receiving any sort acclaim is always nice but to read some of the comments that IBWM has received from people that I admire and respect has been amazing. In July 1989 I was on a caravan holiday in North Wales and it was tipping down, my only salvation came from De La Soul on my walkman and two magazines I had with me. One was the Viz, which I had been reading for years, and the other was When Saturday Comes, which I'd bought for the first time. A love affair started there with WSC, so to see IBWM mentioned in the magazine has been a real highlight. Seeing IBWM mentioned in the Guardian a few times has also been fantastic as it has been my newspaper of choice for many years.

The aforementioned Iain Macintosh recently said that there's a strong chance that the larger blogging communities will become something of a talent pool for traditional media. Have any of you been approached to write for cash, and is that a long-term goal? Iain has made a good point there. Journalism is a very demanding profession and especially difficult to break into so editors want to see examples of what a writer can offer rather than just reading from a CV. It's 20 years since I first stepped into a newspaper office and while you still need to learn your trade, it's important to keep your profile high. We have been approached by TalkSport, the BBC and World Soccer magazine about our writers and articles so I think it's fair to say writing for IBWM does no harm if you want to be noticed. Having work published somewhere regularly is essential for building a portfolio and several of our regular writers have received paid work. On the subject of traditional media, credit has to go to the Guardian sports team for the way they have embraced blogging culture. It's one of many reasons that they are the best at what they do. James Dart's 100 blogs for 2011 was an absolute revelation and it demonstrates the way that the Guardian interacts with bloggers.

Can we expect any new innovations or surprises on IBWM for 2011? Right now IBWM is 1% of what I want it to be. We have some amazing things lined up for 2011 and we will continue to do things differently with moves into new directions, so keep watching. I really want to create something that reflects what a truly beautiful game this is. Football is a religion and I want IBWM to celebrate that. There are a myriad of stories created each week and I want to look at all levels and emotions of the game. Articles, analysis, opinion, films, photography, artwork, music, poetry, multi-layered and interwoven, all with the common theme of football set out across a website that looks and feels like nothing else. I'm talking to web designers that will help me transmit what's in my head onto a pc, which is a scary thought I'll grant you, but it will be worth seeing when I get IBWM to where I want it.

I've always thought the type of content you deliver would make for a perfect podcast. Is that something you'd consider investing time in? A podcast is something that we have discussed and Dave is especially keen to get this going. For my part, I'm quite guarded as I want an IBWM podcast to be a truly majestic experience, with orchestras and choirs that offers something way different to anything else out there. Basically I'm Brian Wilson trying to create Pet Sounds, while Dave and Ben are of a 'Jeff, this is just a podcast, we'll not get too hung up on it' train of thought. If it is left up to me an IBWM podcast will be 5 years in production so something will have to give, they'll inevitably talk me into it.

Have you ever thought of going down the match report route? It is possible, but to deliver something comprehensive you really need to be running things full time and be resourced to hit deadlines. We're unlikely to ever be in that position so league tables, results and match reports are something that we'll leave to others. Never say never though.

The alternative Queen's speech from Kay Murray on Christmas Day was a stroke of genius. All the big names want a piece of the IBWM pie these days don't they? They are most welcome to a slice of that pie and we'd love to have them collaborate with us! I'd been talking to Kay for quite a while about doing something together and had the idea of an alternative queen's speech. We wanted something visual and Kay was the perfect choice. The video is superb and really highlights what a huge talent she is. Kay is without question going to be one of the biggest names in television in the next decade, so it has been great to have an opportunity to work with her. Now the video is done and dusted, I've promised to honour the restraining order. Good news all round.

You were the expert journalist on the Total Sport programme on BBC Newcastle recently. How was that experience? It was great actually! My day job means I've done hundreds of radio interviews down the years but not about football, so it was really enjoyable, even though my voice was just about hanging on in there. I've worked with lots of footballers in the past but having John Anderson make me a coffee was a bit special. He told me some great stories about Jack Charlton and the 1988 Republic of Ireland squad, a true gent.

Did you really mean it when you said you would do Mike Ashley's PR for free? Jeez, did I say that? Why do I say these things? The point I was trying to make - and this isn't something that is exclusive to Mike Ashley, it happens at plenty of other clubs - is that I hate to see supporters brushed aside by owners. It might not necessarily always be the intention to antagonise and provoke, but if I had been responsible for Mike Ashley's PR, the ad on the website saying the club was for sale and many other things that have involved shooting one's own foot wouldn't have happened on my watch. I would make sure that direct communication with the fans was paramount; they have invested their lives into your club after all. Actually, if I did the PR for Mike Ashley the first thing I would do would be to issue Swiss Ramble's article on NUFC's finances as a News Release. Kieron has captured the reality of Mike Ashley and NUFC perfectly via the balance sheet. It's the most definitive article I've read on any club in the last 30 years and I'm a huge fan of his site.

Do you think you'll ever make any money from IBWM? If you get involved in this malarkey with the sole intent of making cash then you'll be disappointed. It would be great to make a living from running a website, but you have to be realistic, it should be something you care about rather than a means to an end. I'm talking to different people about developing the website further, but I've no interest in coating IBWM with irrelevant ads or pop ups, so we're unlikely to ever get rich from that! I'm more interested in ensuring that our writers get the opportunity of paid work and this is something that we always push when we talk to other media outlets. The sole aims of IBWM are to provide a website with lots of good content and give writers - whether established or new - maximum exposure.

Doesn't it grate a little that you give out all this great content for free? Not at all, writing is an art and good writers are talented artists, so I look on IBWM as a gallery to display creative talent. Writers at IBWM have the freedom to express themselves and write what they want without the shackles of a specific topic, word count or deadline. IBWM does what it does and can act as a stepping-stone for anyone that wants to make a living from writing, or provide somewhere to show off your best work. We will push the case to get our writers paid gigs but we'll not charge anyone to visit IBWM! If you are running a website as a business then you need to 'maximise your revenue streams' so that's when subscriptions come into play, but I've no interest in that; it's not really the spirit of rock n' roll is it?

Do you get time to read other football blogs? Hell yes, I'm all over the indie blog scene. I've found that trawling the net has replaced the days when I would go to car boot sales and markets looking for records and CD's! Digging out a great article or blog that I've never read before is the equivalent of finding the Stranglers on white vinyl! I read hundreds of blogs every week and I really need to sort the IBWM twitter follows to reflect that. I'm as much a travel junkie as I am into football so, as you know, EFW is a massive favourite of mine; you really have a knack for bringing people, places and events to life. I'm a huge admirer of The Run of Play too, which in terms of content and aesthetics is nothing short of magnificent, Brian is a true genius, just visiting feels like an experience and it really is a benchmark website. I'm big on the US blogs like Dirty Tackle, A Football Report, Nutmeg Radio and I love The Original Winger as they do lots of fashion/subculture stuff and I'm a trainer/sneaker obsessive! I always enjoy reading The Ball Is Round and The Equaliser, Dave is always brilliant at Knowing Cyrille and Ghost Goal, Twisted Blood, The 72, Dispatches and Magic Spongers are all sublime. Football and Music, Obscure Football and Two Hundred Percent are long standing favourites and Ben's Cahiers Du Sport in tandem with Portugoaldotnet has really made me fall in love with Portuguese football. Between them, they've shown how football in a single country should be covered; they've really defined a genre and set a marker for coverage of other regions. I'm straight on anything new that Layla Carlsson, Juliet Jacques or Iain Macintosh post on their respective blogs and read everything that anyone who has appeared on IBWM does along with lots of others. I could go on for ages here, I really could, there's a never-ending array of brilliance out there and I think it's a fantastic and vibrant scene now. We're going to put a links page back up soon and we'll get as many as sites/blogs as we can linked on IBWM.

Can you sum up IBWM's 2010 in under 140 characters? 2010 has been brilliant for everyone involved with IBWM but we will make sure that 2011 is even better.

And finally, you knew this was coming, what is your favourite Maradona moment? I'm going for an image more than a moment and it's the one of El Diego facing up to six Belgian players from Spain '82. I've never seen a photograph capture so much in just one frame. It has a look of one those wildlife shots where a leopard (I nearly said cheetah!) is just yards away from a group of antelope. There's an air of inevitability about what will happen next and it doesn't involve the Belgians/antelopes coming off for the better. They will lie slain in the wake of the master and you can see in their eyes that they know it. He was that good though and I'm proud to carry his name on the website, it's homage to a truly outstanding footballer and a complete idol.

You can follow both In bed with Maradona and European Football Weekends on Twitter.

Read more from Jeff and the team at In bed with Maradona.

- Feel free to comment below -

1 comment:

footballbear said...

Interesting post.
Keep em coming.
I also like the authentic pics you post sometimes.