Good sports writers in Britain have traditionally been reluctant to write for tabloid newspapers. Three years ago Brian Glanville, a long-standing admirer of American and Continental European quality sports journalism for the masses, took his soccer column from the broadsheet Sunday Times to the tabloid Peopleby Brian Glanville / October 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
British sports journalism is still looking for an idiom; still waiting for its Red Smith, its Damon Runyon, its AJ Liebling, let alone its Ring Lardner; still waiting for the columnist who can be read by intellectuals without shame and by working men without labour. Meanwhile it is afflicted by dichotomy: a split between mandarin indulgence and stylised stridency, this in itself a valid reflection of the class structure.”
I wrote those words almost 30 years ago in an article called “Looking For An Idiom” for Encounter magazine. The piece was an attempt to analyse the dichotomy in British sports journalism between the quality and the tabloid press. It described the obstacles faced by writers on both types of newspaper. The tabloid journalist was forced into stylised self-betrayal. He was condemned to clich? and jargon, and could not express himself freely. Still, at least covering mass sports ensured that he reached the masses who followed them. By contrast, the quality journalist was free to write largely as he pleased, though unable to reach a wide audience.
I compared this unhappy situation with that in the United States, where a language had long since been found which embraced all levels of the sporting public: “What is wholly lacking is an idiom which will throw a bridge across the two cultures, avoiding, on the one hand, bathos, which is the nemesis of ‘good’ sports writing, and on the other stylised vulgarity, the nemesis of the popular school. The American sports writer, though now in a barren period, a period of pygmies, has never had this problem, precisely because, in a more fluid society, the idiom lay close at hand.”
In retrospect, I am not quite sure why I limited the comparison to the US and didn’t include countries like Italy and France. Good sports journalism had long been flourishing there and I had been closely acquainted with it for many years. Indeed, in 1949, when I was 17 years old, I began writing for the Roman daily sports paper, the Corriere Dello Sport; and still do. In France, the sports paper L’Equipe and its companion, France Football, were and continue to be a rich source of comparison for the sports journalist.
thirty years on, have we found a sports idiom for everyone, like the United States and the Europeans, or are we still stuck with the two cultures? Notwithstanding the new…