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Barney Ronay: England’s Best Soccer Writer

May 12th, 2017 · 1 Comment · English Premier League, Football, soccer, Sports Journalism

I spend a lot of time reading soccer stories. As one does, in Europe.

It does not take long to become caught up in European clubs and European leagues, and especially with English football’s Premier League, the most competitive in the world by the accounting of its boosters.

Reading about what happened (or what might happen) also can be fine entertainment, and eventually you begin to discern the better writers from the pedestrian, and gravitate toward them and then even look forward to them.

And the best of them, I believe, is named Barney Ronay, a senior sports writer at The Guardian.

Already this month he …

Referenced a “water sports” passage from American novelist John Updike after observing Arsenal’s new back-three row of defenders. He later encouraged Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger to “Stay strong, Arsene. Draw yourself up to your full height. Field only the tiniest, most skillful woodland elves. … Give us all a final whiff of Wengerball.”

Compared West Ham United’s cavernous new stadium to a Penrose stairs, also calling it a “bizarro Bladerunner-ish stadium, beamed down into East London like a visitation from some future consumer dystopia”. Oh, and he began the piece with these words: “When a man is tired of London, well, there’s probably a fair chance he is a Tottenham fan in early May” — a riff on poet/essayist Samuel Johnson‘s contention that “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

Described Luka Modric of Real Madrid as a “wispy little technician, floating along with the ball glued to his toe” … “a slight, ferrety, gliding presence who is surely, and without undue fanfare, the best all-round midfielder in the world these days”.

So, trying to parse why so many find him so entertaining, we begin with the acknowledgement that he is not writing for a sixth-grade audience. When someone is talking about Penrose stairs and John Updike and Samuel Johnson … well, that appeals to the literary snob in all of us.

It also opens wide the gap between his up-market stylings and the masses of dross hurled at us by the working stiffs of the profession, forever talking about “clumsy/clattering tackles” and “fizzing” shots and “masterclass” tactics and “brilliant” anything. (I’d venture Barney can go weeks without typing the word “brilliant”, one of the most abused words in Britain.)

Too, the simile and metaphor he uses are so far afield from the masses, so colorful yet so germane, that he leaves behind memorable passages.

His description of the Manchester City midfielder James Milner and the player’s aerobically obsessed performances as “an approach that basically involves embarking on a series of unrelenting sprints from box to box, like a man very stubbornly doing lengths of a swimming pool while a water polo match goes on all around him” … might well end up in Milner’s obituary, so perfectly does it encapsulate the player.

And a toss-off line that still provokes a smile: His distillation of a fading club by noting “Arsenal’s ability, week in, week out, to look like the best really terrible football team in Europe”.

Ronay will come up with two or three or 10 passages like that in every color/analysis piece he does.

He can, at times, get enmeshed in narrower topics (like the fate of Millwall’s stadium) that lack a broad appeal. But he generally takes on big themes and is worth searching out once a week.

You will not be disappointed.

He is the best guy out there, when it comes to soccer writers. I don’t know who would be No. 2.




1 response so far ↓

  • 1 David // May 14, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Sounds like a man worth reading. Thanks, Paul, for bringing him to our attention.

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