Jonathan Wilson's Editor's Note from Issue Fifteen
And so The Blizzard approaches its fourth Christmas, which is far more than ever seemed likely when we started out. That wouldn’t have been possible without a huge number of people making sacrifices, from those who man the office to the writers to you, the readers. Our pay-what-you-want policy was open to abuse, but the vast majority of people have respected the principle that if we all give what we can, then the magazine will have far greater reach than would otherwise be possible. So a huge thank you for that.
(Relative) longevity, though, doesn’t mean that we’re any more flush with cash than we were back in March 2011 when we launched; just because we’re still here doesn’t mean we’re not still largely dependent on word of mouth and social media for our marketing. So if there’s anybody you know who you think may like the magazine, particularly if they’re somebody who might not be on Twitter, do tell them. Getting this far the only way we’re going to keep going, the only way we’re going to thrive. The effort has to be ongoing.
It’s not just about driving on, though. When we launched, our plan was always to try to promote the sort of football writing we feel is important that doesn’t necessarily get an airing elsewhere, and that’s why we’ve started publishing books: two to start with, but there will be more to come next year and beyond.
Johnny Cook: The Impossible Job is a novel by Iain Macintosh. Football fiction as a genre has a pretty awful reputation, something that in most cases is probably deserved. One of the real problems of any sports fiction is that the dramatic finishes that are so gripping in real life can feel contrived on the page. Liverpool coming from 3-0 down in Istanbul, Manchester United scoring twice in injury-time in Barcelona, Sunderland beating Leeds in 1973… they’re the greatest things about football, the occasions that are transcendent, but any novel that finished with one of those three finals would seem absurd. It’s become a cliché to say of a sudden transformation in a game that you couldn’t make it up; actually the problem is usually that you could make it up very easily, but it would sound rubbish. Even the climactic baseball scene in Chad Harbach’s well-regarded novel The Art of Fielding feels absurd, banal in its implausibility.
The key to a successful football novel, I suspect, is to make the sport itself almost incidental, the device that drives the novel forward but on which it doesn’t depend for its drama or emotional punch. I’m not going to give away what happens in The Impossible Job, but it left me moved in a way I hadn’t been expecting, largely because the characters of Johnny and his girlfriend, Debbie, are so acutely drawn. The novel’s as amusing as you’d expect from Iain, and there are well-aimed jabs at megalomaniac chairmen, self-absorbed players and the endlessly shifting impulses of the news cycle, but it’s rather more than that. It’s a satire with a very human heart.
Dominic Bliss’s biography of Egri Erbstein is very different. Erbstein’s story is an astonishing one and it’s baffling that it’s not already better known. He deserves to be recognised for his pioneering work as a coach, and for his role putting together the great Torino side that had won four successive scudetti and was well on the way to a fifth before he and his players were killed in the air crash at Superga. But for me the most fascinating section of the novel is the part dealing with the end of the Second World War in Budapest, as Erbstein and his family dodged the SS and right-wing Hungarian thugs as the Soviet Army closed in. Their survival was down to a combination of remarkable resourcefulness in extraordinary circumstances and good fortune. Dominic has done an incredible job in tracking down witnesses and documentary evidence and piecing together just what did happen in 1945: the moment when Erbstein and Béla Guttmann, two of the greats of the rich Jewish coaching culture of 1930s Budapest, escape the prison camp where they’ve been digging graves is barely credible.
I’m very proud that Blizzard has been able to put out two books of such quality, and particularly that they have so little in common. From the start we’ve tried to be eclectic and we’ve run fiction in every issue. There seems to be a perception (from people who don’t read the magazine, I assume) that The Blizzard is very worthy and all we care about are the serious issues, whether that’s football’s relationship with politics or war or poverty, corruption or tactics, but I hope we’ve also looked at lighter topics. Certainly the Q&As always seem a pleasing mix of the important and the comic. There’ll be another event in London in February and others later in the year (and we’ll do everything we can to come to Scotland this time). Full details of the books and how you can order them, and forthcoming events and how you can buy tickets for them, are on the website.
The books are a leap into the unknown for us, but the impetus is the same as it was for the magazine: to offer a platform for a particular type of writing or for stories the mainstream deems too obscure. Of necessity we’re outsiders, but together, if you keep spreading the word, we can make this work.