May 30, 2012
A tribute to a Hall of Fame soccer writer
LANDOVER, Md. — Way back in the Stone Age in 1982, when the internet wasn’t even a glint in anyone’s eye, I found a novel way to follow what was playing out at the World Cup in Spain.
Besides watching the games on TV via our rotary antenna in upstate Brockport, N.Y. toward a Canadian station in Hamilton, Ontario, (cable television was three weeks away from our neighborhood, believe it or not), I visited the newsstand of my local Wegman’s supermarket. On the wall was just about every major newspaper you can think of — the New York Times, Washington Post, several major Toronto dailies, and the Los Angeles Times.
It was a writer from the LA Times that not only interested me, but mesmerized me as well. He not only wrote with clarity, but with inspiration and passion.
I won’t even talk about the ridiculous space he got, something like 1,200 a game story. More impressive that the writer hardly used any quotes to fill out his story, his prose was so enticing. You didn’t even notice they weren’t there.
Besides watching the games themselves, Grahame Jones kept me attached to what was transpiring in Spain.
On Wednesday, less than a year after retiring from the Times, Jones will receive the Colin Jose Award for excellence in a career of soccer writing and reporting during National Soccer Hall of Fame ceremonies at Fed Ex Field prior to the U.S.-Brazil game.
I cannot think of a better recipient of the best American soccer writer.
Jones’ strength was writing outside the box, not necessarily reporting the mundane. I always wondered why did he see or what did he think to write about this angle of a game or a personality feature.
Of course, yours truly could be a bit biased. I have had the honor of being a friend and a colleague of Jones, covering many events together, whether it was Soccer Bowls (North American Soccer League championship games), MLS Cups, World Cup qualifying matches (in places such as Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala), CONCACAF Gold Cup games at the Orange Bowl (watching fans riot after an abandoned Peru-Honduras game), the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, rare U.S. home World Cup qualifying loses (in Torrance, Calif. and Washington, D.C.) and seven World Cups, among others.
The conversations we had covered many subjects, but usually meandered back to soccer. We had similar interests, such as the love of books (during an alleged slow day at the 2000 Olympics, Jones and I visited some book stores in Melbourne).
For all the trips we had together, one of the most memorable times was the night prior to the West Germany-France semifinal in Guadalajara, Mexico in 1986. We were staying at the most rickety, flea-bitten motel (something like $20 a night) with other American writers after a harrowing plane ride in a thunderstorm. We went to a bar within a short walking distance of the motel to settle our rattled nerves.
We had more than a few drinks. While walking back to the motel, a group of Germans were at an outside table at an adjacent hotel near a pool enjoying themselves. They had full beer steins and they appeared to be toasting their heroes.
Jones decided started to yell, “Viva la France! Viva la France.”
Horrified, I dragged Jones away before the Germans could hear him and perhaps deposit us in the pool.
Glad we both lived long enough to see this day.
Congratulations, Grahame! Enjoy today. You deserve it.