It’s almost a decade now since The Blizzard was conceived in the Chart Room in Fitzgerald’s pub on Green Terrace in Sunderland.
It was February 2010. I’d just come back from Angola where I’d been covering the African Cup of Nations. It had been a tough tournament. Angola is a difficult country, expensive and short of public transport, and there’d been an air of tragedy and danger after the terror attack on the Togo team bus that had left three people dead. The day before the final, my dad had been hospitalised with severe Alzheimer’s and so as soon as I’d got back to London I’d rushed up to Sunderland. A couple of weeks later, my mam had had surgery on her hip and so had required near constant care. In retrospect, it’s fair to say I was probably a little fraught.
So it’s possible that, at another time, I may not have reacted as I did when one of the sillier of the various editors for whom I worked turned down a pitch for an article about Steve Mokone – the first black South African to play professionally in Europe, subsequently jailed in the US, possibly having been framed following collusion between the CIA and the South African security forces – on the grounds that before the World Cup his advertisers demanded only “positive” stories about South Africa.
But that night, shortly before Sunderland beat Bolton 4-0, I was raging. I’d been frustrated for some time by the constraints of the mainstream media and in various press-rooms and bars across the world, I’d come to realise I wasn’t the only one who felt journalism as a whole was missing something, that there should be more space for more in-depth pieces, for detailed reportage, history and analysis. Was there a way, I wondered, to accommodate articles of several thousand words? Could we do something that was neither magazine nor book, but somewhere in between?
As I floated thoughts and theories to anyone who would listen, I became aware there were other writers so keen to break the shackles of search engine optimisation and the culture of quotes- for-quotes’-sake that they were prepared to write for a share of potential profit, that the joy of writing what they wanted and felt was important outweighed the desire to be paid. The only problem, I explained to those around the table in Fitzy’s, my dander very much up, was finding a publisher equally willing to take the gamble.
I suppose you don’t really think of your old school-friends, people you only really see these days in the context of the pub and the match, as having jobs. Sitting next to me that night, though, as he’d sat next to me in sixth-form English, was my mate Peter, who happens to run a design and publishing company. Flushed on beer and a Darren Bent hat-trick, we knocked around ideas for the rest of the night; remarkably, in the cold light of morning, it still seemed a viable plan.
The result, about a year later, was The Blizzard, named after the short-lived and eccentric, but rather brilliant, Sunderland newspaper launched as “the organ of Mr Sidney Duncan” in 1893 and which ran to 12 issues. Our aim was to provide a platform for writers, from all round the world, to write about football-related subjects important to them, be that at the highest level or the lowest, at home or abroad. Eclecticism was the key.
Back then, I’d have been happy enough to get out one issue, just to prove it was possible. Then the target became a year. Then to better Sidney Duncan’s tally of 12. And now, unbelievably, here we still are. The landscape has changed.
Long-form has become more common and there has been a general kickback against the listification and infantilisation of journalism. But still there is a niche for the obscure and the offbeat, for the in-depth and the theoretical, and that is what we continue to provide.
We get fairly frequent requests about back issues. Many are still available, but others have sold out. It would make no economic sense to reprint individual issues but to plug that gap we’ve collected some of the highlights of our first five years into this special edition.