Michael Park: Hi Andy. Thanks for agreeing to speak to us. As our readers know, Scheidt’s Footballing Miscellany look to encourage the next generation of incredible football journalists and wanted to know how you got your start in the business?
Andy Brassell: I applied for a job at a start-up European football magazine when I was about 25, having not written anything for ages. Having no experience (beyond a spell writing match reports and previews for the Wimbledon & Merton Informer as a teenager – great days), I didn’t get it, but the editor liked my application, invited me to pitch stuff as a freelance and that’s what I did. From there, I was getting around a few European grounds so came up with the idea to do my book ‘All Or Nothing: A Year In The Life of the Champions League’. That was reasonably well received, I ended up doing radio stuff on the BBC…and here we are now. It’s anything but a guide on how to break into the business, but that’s how it happened.
MP: Did it take you a while before you felt that you were in a position to focus on the areas of the game that really interested you?
AB: Not really. I started out just hunting around, learning more, rather than having any grand career plan, so I just followed my nose and saw where it took me. To improve your writing and create something really compelling, I think you need to have a real connection with your subject. Not that I’m saying people should reject paid work, particularly when starting out, but writers that I really enjoy in reading in whatever subject are those that give real colour to the basic story. If what you were writing on didn’t interest you, that would make that much harder.
MP: Many aspiring writers have dreams of roaming the continent watching football for a living. Is it as good as it sounds or can it become a bit of a drag?
AB: No, it really is pretty great! It’s easy to get sick of airports, but it sure beats being stuck in a crowded Northern Line underground carriage! European football does have endless variety, so no complaints.
MP: Your book, All or Nothing: A Year in the Life of the Champions League is an insightful look at the inner workings of a major European competition. What was your favourite moment in researching the book?
AB: Well thanks very much. Favourite moment….blimey. Too many. The atmosphere at the first match I went to, in Marseille, was just astonishing and a great start. Hearing Paul Lambert and Jim Craig talk about their experiences of the final with Dortmund and Celtic respectively, facing a full Sudtribhune terrace at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion….but maybe the best bit was seeing Mourinho and Porto at the quarter-final stage. He just had such a charisma about him, and there was clearly something great happening there.
MP: Of course you’ve been the Top Brass on 5 Live’s World Football Phone-In for years. What’s it like working with Dotun, Tim and the team? Are you used to staying up late/getting up early now?
AB: Getting up early? That’s a good one! It’s always a long day working before it, but it works best that way – the listeners are sharp, so we have to be too! Dotun and Tim have always been great to me every since I started, and are great fun to work with. That I’ve learned to tell people to push off in Swedish and pronounce English footballer names in Brazilian Portuguese….well, where else would it happen?
MP: Obviously, Tim Vickery’s infamous “Rafael Scheidt Moment” was one of our primary influences for the name of our site. Everybody has one; what’s your’s?
AB: On the WFPI? Perhaps suggesting that Jean-Alain Boumsong was the solution to all Newcastle’s defensive problems! He was pretty good for Lyon when he was there, though. Though I still maintain he’s a decent player. But then again, Tim would say the same about Sr. Scheidt.
MP: Following you on Twitter I’ve noticed that you get bombarded by questions on a daily basis, mostly by our writers. What’s your favourite kind of question to be asked?
AB: I’d love to be asked ‘would you like a free box of crisps?’ but Seabrooks don’t seem to be following me! I’m happy to answer most things, though it’s always a real challenge to fit a question about football politics or history within 140 characters. It can be done, though!
MP: This is the biggie, of course. Having watched football in so many different countries where would you say is your favourite place to watch football?
AB: Going back to earlier, Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome has to be up there. I remember Habib Beye telling me about playing there during the 2003/04 European campaign and saying how unbelievable it was – and how loud it must have been before they got rid of the roof in the redevelopment for World Cup 98! What’s amazing is that the atmosphere really bristles for even the most regular league game. Elsewhere, the atmosphere at Real Betis’ Benito Villamarin was superb when I went there for the derby against Sevilla some years ago. A very underrated derby indeed.
MP: Finally, because we’re always on the lookout for up-and-coming players to keep our eyes on and we as we know, you have a penchant for French football, can you tell us who you think the next big stars of French football will be?
AB: He’s 23 so not sure how much you could describe him as ‘up-and-coming’, but Sochaux’s Marvin Martin is something very special – as Ben Lyttleton, the great French football writer, would tell you. Martin has great balance, terrific technique and creates a lot of goals from wide and central positions. He’ll end up at a top club very soon.
For someone younger, I’d go for Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon. He’s 19, and scored the winner for France under-19s in the European Championship final v Spain last summer. That was on the Friday; on Saturday morning, he took the Eurostar to London to make his debut with the Lyon pro squad in the Emirates Cup. He arrived about 20 mins before the warm-up, played very well versus Celtic, then played again against Milan on the Sunday! He can play up front or wide right, has great energy and is smart, too. He’s made a difference every time he’s played this season, and should go on to become important for club and country.
MP: Thanks very much for speaking to us, Andy.
AB: My pleasure.
Andy is the European football correspondent on the World Football Phone-In segment of the Up All Night program on BBC Radio 5 Live, which airs on Saturday mornings from 2.30am . You can also get it as a podcast if you’re too lazy to stay up (as we often are). His book “All or Nothing: A Season in the Life of Champions League”, can be purchased on Amazon.co.uk and also through the website, www.allornothingbook.com.