Karel Häring shoots for gap on Czech market with quarterly delivering deep explorations of football culture

Football Club is a new Czech-language quarterly that delivers long-form articles on various aspects of domestic and international soccer culture and history. Inspired by similar titles around Europe such as the UK’s The Blizzard, it was created by Karel Häring, a well-known football writer, and Czech Radio journalist Jan Kaliba. In his introduction to the first edition of Football Club, Häring recalls that when he was at the newspaper Sport the target readers were “factory workers rather than university graduates”. So, I asked him, is the new journal aimed at intellectuals?

Karel Häring, photo: Ian WilloughbyKarel Häring, photo: Ian Willoughby “I don’t want to say it’s just for intellectuals. That sounds a little bit arrogant.

“We want to have readers from all groups.

“But it’s true that the length of the articles is definitely something new here in the Czech Republic.

“Because the trend in recent years in newspapers is for the articles to get shorter. And articles on websites are even briefer.

“So we think there is a gap on the market.

“We don’t know how many people will be interested in it, but we think it’s something that you couldn’t find here.

“This is the reason we started to do it.”

Why did you go for the English-language name Football Club?

“It’s a long story. I have to say it wasn’t easy to find a name for the magazine that wouldn’t be too stupid or something.

“We had many, many ideas. First we tried one-word names. We thought about Chilena, which is a kind of goal in Spanish. Golazo, which is a term for a really wonderful goal.

“But we found those too far for Czech readers…”

Also the name Panenka was already taken by a Spanish magazine.

“Yes! That’s an absolutely fantastic name for a magazine. Very simple, but it’s a word that the whole world knows because of the famous penalty.

“And one morning, a Sunday morning, I think, I remembered that I always liked the words ‘football club’, because they represented the Western part of Europe.

“I always liked the words ‘football club’, because they represented the Western part of Europe.”

“I thought, Yes, it’s simple, it may be in English but everybody in the world of football will understand what it means.”

You also talk about trying to kind of foster a football culture in the Czech Republic. What is football culture like here at present?

“I’m a little bit pessimistic about Czech football culture. I’m not talking now about problems to do with the Czech FA and other things like this.

“When I think about supporter culture, what I miss here in the Czech Republic is that we don’t really have a passion for football, if I compare it to other cultures: England, Germany of course, Spain.

“We talk about football. We can criticise. We are fans who talk in the pubs, but who don’t show the same kind of passion for clubs or the national team as supporters do in other countries.”

Several well-known Czech journalists are known for supporting usually English Premier League clubs. Erik Tabery supports Chelsea. Jindřich Šídlo, who writes in the first edition of Football Club, supports Arsenal. But I have a sense that many Czech intellectuals look down on all sport in a way that doesn’t happen in the West. Do you think that’s true?

“I have the same feeling.

“You mentioned a couple of very well-known names.

“What I find interesting here if I compare it with England, because I read English papers and magazines every day, so I have some knowledge about it, is that in the Czech Republic you have to be careful if you want to say, I support this club.

“Of course journalists can’t openly support some club. But if don’t support any football club, you’re not a football fan.

“I love the Premier League. Of course I have one club which I prefer or support the most.

“But here you try to hide it, because someone can criticise you and say, You support Liverpool and you are writing about Manchester United, who you don’t like?!

“Getting back to your question, there are only very few journalists, not only football journalists, who write about football.

“There are a few celebrities, actors, like Ladislav Hampl, who openly supports Slovan Liberec.

“That’s nice – I think there should be more of that here.”

Is there a tradition of football fanzines in the Czech Republic? I guess they were big in England 20 or 25 years ago, though they may have moved online now with the likes of Arseblog and so on. Has there been a tradition of fanzines here?

“I have to come back to the passion of Czech football fans.

“I can’t say I have explored whether there are fanzines, but I don’t think it would be something like… I remember when I came to Anfield Road, you can buy official magazines, but there are also guys standing and shouting, selling their own magazines.

“I don’t think there is culture of this here in the Czech Republic.”

“We talk in pubs but who don’t show the same kind of passion as supporters do in other countries.”

Tell us about the image on the cover of Football Club. It looks like a classic team from maybe the end of the 19th century, with guys in caps and heavy looking hooped shirts.

“We thought about the cover because it was our very first issue.

“We wanted to start with the first ever 11 here in this country.

“The picture is from I think 1889. It was the first official 11, at Loučeň Castle.

“The guy who founded it was the son of the owner of the castle and he had come back from Cambridge…”

He was some aristocrat?

“Yes. He started to play football with other guys. It was the first official 11, so we wanted to start with this picture on the first edition.

“Also I like the dog in the picture – it’s very funny.”

In the first edition also you have the diary of Jozef Štibrányi, who was a member of the Czechoslovak team that reached the final of the World Cup in 1962. Will history be a regular part of Football Club?

Antonín Panenka's famous penalty at Euro 1976, photo: Czech TelevisionAntonín Panenka's famous penalty at Euro 1976, photo: Czech Television “Definitely. I think there is no culture, no respect, no interest in history – not only in Czech or Czechoslovak football history, but football history generally.

“And when I find such articles in Four Four Two or The Blizzard I find them very interesting. You can find a lot of topics there.

“This is one of our main targets. I don’t want to say we want to educate readers, but we want to offer articles that can help readers find new information.”

Football Club is something between a magazine and a book, I guess. It’s sold not in newsagents but in the sports sections of bookshops. Has it been hard to explain to either bookshops or potential readers just what it is?

“Of course, it looks strange, because people here are used to reading magazine with colour pages, colour photographs.

“This is something really new so we have very short experience and we can’t make any statements about results.

“We don’t know yet how many copies have been sold in bookshops. We only know how many subscriptions there are.

“We’re waiting for the first numbers. The main target now is to get the magazine to as many people as possible.”

You have articles in Football Club from other European magazines and I get the impression that there’s a kind of European network of journalists like you, who write for The Blizzard, or Nutmeg in Scotland or Panenka in Spain.

“I think there’s a nice solidarity from journalists in Europe and in future issues we want to invite journalists from South America, from Africa.

“Working in England was like a holiday for me, because when I came to London I realised it was worth doing football journalism.”

“I worked for Sport for 16 years so I had some contacts. Like for instance Ben Littleton, who is a very good English independent journalist.

“In the past I cooperated with him and then I asked him for an article, so in issue two he will have a very nice article from him about the art of management.

“Or Ivan Zhidkov from Russia, he was thrilled by the idea and didn’t ask for payment – he was just happy to contribute to our very first issue.

“So I think there is a nice solidarity among journalists.”

Maybe this is slightly off the point, but are there any decent Czech football podcasts?

“There is one, done by guys from Czech TV. Every week they have interesting guests, like Jaromír Bosák and other journalists.

“If we are the first with Football Club as a quarterly magazine, I think they are among the first with a podcast, because there is just a very short history of podcasting here.”

You’ve been a football journalist for many years. What have been your standout experiences as a reporter on football?

“Many, many experiences. Of course all the World Cups. Brazil was probably the highlight, because there was only one country that I would have liked more to visit for a World Cup and it’s England, where football was born.

“So Brazil was definitely the top. I liked all the World Cups, all the Euros.

“I used to go to England every December when the Czech league finished after the autumn part.

“I went to England to interview Petr Čech and Tomáš Rosický and for me it was very refreshing.

Illustrative photo: Tomáš AdamecIllustrative photo: Tomáš Adamec “It was like a holiday for me, because when I came to London, to England, I realised it was worth doing football journalism.

“Sometimes I doubted it here, because football journalists generally don’t have a good reputation here.

“And when I was in England it was very motivating for me.”

But wasn’t it then difficult for you to come back from Stamford Bridge and then go to watch, I don’t know, Mladá Boleslav against Liberec or somebody?

“Definitely there’s a big difference, but for me it was a motivating factor to do more, to work in a different way, but in the Czech context.”

What about club games? Is there any one club game that stands out in your memory as an amazing experience?

“Yes, there is one, not involving Czech teams. But I remember the Champions League semi-final in 2005, Liverpool against Chelsea.”

Was that the “ghost goal” game?

“Exactly. Anfield Road is an old stadium with a small press box so we had to sit among the fans.

“Every time I speak to somebody about the game I have goose bumps.

“I remember the atmosphere was so electric and so emotional. When we left the stadium there was one guy – we didn’t know each other – who hugged me for five seconds.

“It was really emotional and if I have to say one game, this is the one.”

And that was definitely a goal, right?

“I think so [laughs].”