This week we are joined by Andrew Flint, an English writer based in Russia. Andrew won the FSF football blogger of the year award in 2016 and has gained much praise for his long-form storytelling. Take it away, Andrew…
I would say I have had an unusual career path. I studied Spanish and Italian at Leeds University, which led me to the wonderful world of fourth-tier Italian football for a season (ahem, I mean studying year abroad) with little genuine idea what career I was after. Towards the end of my final year I started getting basic teaching experience and came across a brilliant opportunity to study newspaper journalism in Wimbledon. Fond memories of having a letter published in a Manchester United fanzine as a 12-year-old came flooding back before morphing into an image of myself strutting through glamorous media awards ceremonies; I soon learned it wasn’t quite that straight forward.
After attending the intensive NCTJ newspaper journalism college course in Wimbledon a decade ago, I found journalism jobs nigh-on impossible to come by. This was slap bang in the middle of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Being rejected for a job by Lidl it was the final straw, so I searched for teaching jobs abroad and came across Siberia. Krygystan, South Korea and China were also on the list. Eight years later I have a house, car, wife, two kids, two season press passes and god knows how many concurrent freelance jobs. It was surprisingly difficult to get into Russian football given how little the locals are enamoured with the sport out in the sticks where I live. I have worked for the only two English-language websites covering Russian football – Futbolgrad and Russian Football News – for the last four years, and have built editorial and writing experience at These Football Times.
I owe my entire writing career to date to a brilliant man called Anton Kopyshev. He has written a book about media management in Russian football, and held the relevant position at my local club, FC Tyumen, when I went in to buy my season ticket four years ago. Sitting in his office – at this point not having written a word in anger for years – I glanced out of the window at the first team training on the pitch below as Anton filled out the forms, and I had a light bulb moment. Why not mention that I have an interest in writing? Anton’s face lit up; it was a real coup to be able to tell other third-tier clubs that there was an ‘international journalist’ in Tyumen’s ranks, and he spurred me on to write more. Within three months I had joined Back page Football, These Football Times and Russian Football News.
I have a love for proper storytelling that grew from the most magnificent series of English teachers at school. They would tell all manner of stories so wonderfully that for entire double periods I’d be lost in their world. What could be more powerful than that? It helps that I grew up a ravenous reader of all genres. In the modern game, opinions and instant results have become paramount to the point of obsession; while there is certainly a place for all forms of reporting and writing, the tension that pervades reporting nowadays can be draining.
It has been thrilling to be a small part of the renaissance of long-form football writing in recent years. Stories are what live on, and well-told ones can be hard to come by with the sheer volume of contributors of all backgrounds, motivations and experience, but the important part for me is the accessibility of the entire process. There is no necessity to have studied at the most prestigious college or have the best connections any more, and this has had a two-fold effect; the volume of content has shot through the roof, diluting the overall quality, but the natural process has also given opportunities to some sensational writers who would never have dreamed of committing pen to paper.
Nobody will remember a match report a week or two later – nor is that the function of the report itself – but everyone will cherish the great long-form stories they read. That makes football special.
It is rather tiresome reading the hype being vomited forth by the English red tops regarding fan safety in Russia. First things first, I should point out that the media war is a two-way street; Russian journalists often play the ‘oppressed by the West’ card without addressing the issues present in this country. However, the horror stories propagated by national media organisations in the UK are so irresponsible it borders on McCarthyism for sheer obsessive blindness. What we saw happen in France two summers ago was horrific, but there are a number factors to consider. Firstly, English fans hardly acted like angelic schoolboys with their ugly drunken loutish behaviour. It is not all English fans by any stretch of course, but enough to leave a lasting impression. Secondly, the policing in France – admittedly in the wake of the Paris bombing – was woefully inadequate and unprepared to deal with such wide-scale violence. Thirdly, Russian fan culture is vastly different to the 200-odd thugs who perpetrated the Russian end of the aggression.
Russians as a people are fantastic hosts. They are fascinated to know what people outside their country think of them, and will think nothing of inviting a newly made friend into their home. As for security, I can assure you it is watertight. I attended a league match in Moscow where there were over 70 armed police outside the nearest metro stop about two kilometres from the ground directing opposing fans in different directions. If you don’t trust me, consider this: whatever else you may think of Vladimir Putin and his policies, the World Cup is the biggest stage possible to showcase his country to the world, so do you really think he would leave anything to chance? There are also brilliant groups like the English Fan Embassy who work day and night to assist English fans wherever they play.
The Russian national team has been revitalised in the last 18 months or so by Stanislav Cherchesov, who has ditched the old guard and brought through a number if supremely talented youngsters such as Aleksandr Golovin, Aleksey Miranchuk and Georgi Dzhikia. They will not get any further than the second round in my opinion, because they will most likely face either Spain or European champions Portugal, but that in itself should be regarded as progress. One of the main problems has been serious injuries. There have been a freakish number of cruciate ligament injuries in Russian football this season, most notably to Aleksandr Kokorin and Dzhikia, which has left the defence in particular very thin on the ground. One positive is the low expectation around the national team, another being the very favourable group with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Keep a look out for Fyodor Smolov up front – a likely target for West Ham in the summer – Golovin and Aleksey Miranchuk in midfield and Dzhikia if he makes a miraculous recovery from his ACL.