The Blizzard + Eight by Eight + Rabona

The Blizzard (Issue 12), Eight by Eight (Issue 2) and Rabona (Issue 2)

In decades past, football magazines were a small, select bunch; Shoot and Match for the kids, World Soccer for the international fans, FourFourTwo for the Premier League fans and WSC for the real fans. In the last few years, however, the market has been flooded with more and more creative and scholarly options. Mundial Mag, The Football Pink, Pickles Magazine, The Howler, The Blizzard, Eight by Eight, Rabona – welcome to the football ‘hipster’ movement, I hope you brought your wallet.

The Blizzard (£12 for latest edition, pay-what-you-want for back catalogue), the brainchild of Inverting The Pyramid author Jonathan Wilson in 2011, looks and reads like football’s answer to The Paris Review. The Contents pages read like a Who’s Who of the sport’s best writers: Sid Lowe, James Horncastle, Graham Hunter, Philippe Auclair, David Winner, Simon Kuper and Tim Vickery, to name but seven. At nearly 200 pages a time and with articles about chess, pianists and political polling, The Blizzard is not for the fair-weather football fan, but its quality is undeniable. Issue 12 opens with the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry. We get the Lowe-down on Carles Rexach and Jorge Valdano, a Miguel Delaney interview with the David Bowie of football, Johan Cruyff, and best of all a wonderful extract from Hunter’s Spain on the career of Vicente Del Bosque. As trilogies go, you don’t get much better than that.

The range and scope of the publication are perhaps its most impressive features. Highlights include James Montague, ‘The Indiana Jones of soccer writing’, on the fascinating story of Guma Aguiar, the ‘Messiah’ of Beitar Jerusalem, and Richard Jolly’s persuasive comparison of the careers of Ryan Giggs and New York Yankees’ short-stop Derek Jeter. There’s even a brilliantly bizarre piece of fiction from Iain Macintosh. This instalment of the story of Bobby Manager features guest appearances from Brian Clough, Peter Taylor, Karren Brady and Carlton Cole. If there’s one criticism to be made of The Blizzard it’s that, for a magazine about the beautiful game, it’s all a bit staid and text-heavy. Bartosz Nowicki’s striking photos of Cardiff City’s Premier League promotion are a welcome relief, but more would be nice.

The same could never be said of Eight by Eight ($15.99, or £12 at Foyles), a trendy new quarterly publication from New York City that brilliantly showcases the rapid rise in football artwork. In Issue 2, there are 23 contributing artists, one more than there are contributing writers. The cover image of Andrea Pirlo as a 17th century royal is only the start of the visual delights. Particularly impressive are Dylan Fahy’s stunning 7-page timeline of the history of Juventus and Ben Kirchner’s illustration of their midfield quartet of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio. Eight by Eight is an absolute joy to behold.

The written content, too, is of a very high quality, aided by the fact that Eight by Eight and The Blizzard share the prestigious talents of Jonathan Wilson, Miguel Delaney, Philippe Auclair and Paolo Bandini. In line with the high-design, magazine feel, the articles here have more of a commercial appeal, twinning big name subjects with solid insight. Some cover less than one page, none exceed three. Wilson reports on Wayne Rooney, Delaney on Roy Keane, Bandini on the Juventus midfield. Best of the portraits, however, is Ken Early’s excellent analysis of Steven Gerrard’s footballing strengths. More weighty themes are covered in Auclair’s moving and angry look at France’s problems with race and religion in light of Nicolas Anelka’s quenelle gesture.

On the whole, words and images are balanced nicely but at times the illustrations do disrupt the flow, forcing pieces to conclude on later pages. Overall, there is perhaps just a little too much going on visually, but these are early days for the publication.

London-based magazine Rabona (£5.75) have taken a very different, minimalist approach to all matters ‘football trendy’. With over 125 sparsely-filled pages, image and text certainly have plenty of room to co-exist harmoniously. Issue 2, the World Cup 2014 Special, even opens with an elegant study of World Cup matchballs and kit badges – this really is a hipster’s paradise.

Rabona sits pretty beautifully between the poles of The Blizzard and Eight by Eight. While the player interviews (Mata, Kalou, Barkley and Silva) aren’t exactly mind-blowing, the journalistic pieces are excellent. James Montague writes on Swiss immigration and identity, James Young tackles Brazil’s social situation, Seth Libby looks at Bob Bradley’s fascinating time in Egypt, and Carl Worswick considers Colombian footballer Andrés Escobar’s murder 20 years on. All of this very political content is teamed up with crisp design, striking photography, a glossy mid-section and some great player sketches from Kate Copeland. Better proofreading aside, it’s difficult to think of ways to improve the reading experience.

It seems harsh to be picking holes in such fantastic magazines. Between them, The Blizzard, Eight by Eight and Rabona represent the full spectrum of a really exciting development in football writing. How nice it is to be spoilt for choice.

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