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The article of the week
Ashley Fetters begins this The Atlantic piece with a pop culture quiz. Identify the protagonist: is the cancer survivor secretly involved with drugs Lance Armsrtong or Walter White from Breaking Bad? Is the admired but philandering businessman who keeps an untold secret from his family Lance Armsrtong or Don Draper from Mad Men? Is the respected family man who duped the American people he sought to serve Lance Armstrong or Nicholas Brody from Homeland?
Armstrong has a lot in common with the modernday antiheroes of American television. He was a seemingly upstanding guy with a disturbing secret life. He lied, cheated and bullied – much like White, Draper, Brody, Tony Soprano, Frank Underwood in House of Cards and Dexter Morgan. Armstrong would be the perfect fictional character if he wasn't so, well, real.
As Fetters puts it: "In some alternate universe where Armstrong was a fictional character created in a writers' room (rather than a real person who's disappointed millions of people), would he be looked upon with contempt or with fascination? With a few clever storytelling touches – a few glimpses of Lance's unstable childhood in Texas here, some added emphasis on just wanting to win it for the cancer survivors there, some strategically placed flickers of truly agonized soul-searching – it's not hard to imagine that his story might even elicit some degree of conflicted compassion.
"Audiences have, after all, been known to empathise with fictional al Qaeda-aligned terrorists avenging the murder of the boy they loved like a son. They root for fictional murderous outlaw meth manufacturers to escape the feds yet again so that they can continue to provide for their families. It's not so far-fetched to think some audiences would sympathise with another kind of cheater if his underlying intentions were proven early on to be honorable – more honorable, that is, than simply wanting to win at any cost."
If you're going to have a story, you better make sure you're the storyteller.
Other stories we like
"The rain thuds down on a murky February afternoon in Florence, blurring the tired limbs of the home side in purple, of Milan in their stripes of red and black. Beards drip; glossy Latin haircuts shed water like slate roofs into drainpipes."
What a way to start an article about Gabriel Batistuta, a hero for all those people who grew up watching Italian football on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Batistuta will forever be remembered for his time in the purple kit of Fiorentina, a career captured perfectly by George Roberts in this piece for In Bed With Maradona.
Roberts' description of Batigol brings it all back: "His hair is long, yet without any trace of effeminacy; it straggles over an upturned collar and a rugged chin of stubble. He is a leopard with the ball at his feet, moments of gracefulness culminating in carnivorous finishes, leaving his chosen prey – occasionally the centre-half, almost always the goalkeeper – helpless. His dead ball is appropriately lethal. The brutality of each goal is celebrated with the swivel of an imaginary sub-machine gun, or a jump and the pumping of a fist. This is joyous brutality."
Some people learn German so they can read 11 Freunde, that beautiful example of what a football magazine can be. Thankfully Jon Darch of Union in English has translated this 11 Freunde cover story by Christoph Biermann for those of us who can't speak the language.
Biermann explains what it is to be an FC Union Berlin fan. They stand and drink at matches. They gather before kick-off to warm up their lungs before singing the whole game through. They joined together to give 140,000 manhours of their time to help build the club's stadium. Their favourite player, a painter and decorator, struggles with his weight; they say he can't drive by a McDonalds without putting on a few pounds. It all sounds like some earlier, more innocent age. It's hard not to be jealous of Union Berlin fans.
The great rock writer Nick Kent once marvelled at the oddity of Lester Bangs being the greatest writer of the 20th century, given that Bangs only exercised his skill to review records. Well, it's hard to believe that some of the best sportswriting online today is about the AAF Queensland Armwrestling Championships, but it is.
Nicholas Turner visited a gym in Brisbane to file this report for Match Day Burger – a website that provides "prose concerning matchdays, local and amateur" and reviews of burgers.
Turner saw some curious sights in that gym. One of the competitors had triceps that recalled "images of those free-jawed snakes that can swallow deer whole"; another bearded veteran had "a nose that looks like it could chop firewood and a moustache that's gagging for nineteenth century grooming and wax"; and a third was disproportionate "not within his own person but rather in relation to everyone else in the room". When the writing is that good, it doesn't really matter who wins, but, for the record, the prizes went to "a pretty-faced lad who wears a Miami Heat sleeveless (guess why) and smiles all the time like he knows something that he's about to make really public and clear".
The debate about foreigners playing for the England football team gave the media something to talk while we all waited for them to qualifiy for the World Cup. Almost everything that could have been said about the topic was said, repeated and then regurgitated. But not many people mentioned Tony Dorigo.
Anorak didn't miss the trick, pointing out that Dorigo was born and raised in Australia to an Italian father and an Australian mother but went on to win 15 caps for England after emigrating in his late teens. He doesn't even feel English now: "If there was a level playing field as there is now I would have played for the country I was born in. I had a great affinity for Australia and I always have done. When it comes to the cricket and rugby, I'm an Aussie. It is just the football bit that went awry – but it just didn't seem an option at the time. Playing for Australia back then did not mean a lot compared with playing for England, which trebled your wages." Take that Jack Wilshere.
Ken Early of the Irish Times also has some news for Wilshere: "The 1934 World Cup final was contested by Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists. Austria were early favourites in 1938, until the country was annexed by Germany and officially ceased to exist... If we go back another 83 years from the date of the first World Cup, to 1847, we find a Europe that is barely recognisable to modern eyes. The two European countries with most World Cup wins – Italy and Germany – do not even exist on an 1847 map." Space is relative over time, as Albert Einstein might have said.
With the wealth of great writers they possess, it's a credit to the New York Times that they are still looking for fresh ways to tell stories. This slideshow by Jim Luttrell and Nancy Camden is the perfect medium to showcase the work of the pop artist Robert Indiana. A must-scroll for fans of floor paintings.
A week before flying to Russia to face CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, Manchester City still did not know where their match would be played as the home team's pitch didn't have "enough grass". "It would be funny if it were not so sad," wrote Michael Yokhin for ESPN: "The situation in Moscow is farcical: widespread redevelopment, overuse of pitches and often unfathomable decisions mean the Russian capital simply ran out of stadiums." Brazil, Russia, Qatar; you have to hand it to Fifa.
This piece by Annie Murphy on PRI is less an example of sportswriting and more about the sport of writing. Murphy went down to her local bar in Lima, Peru, to witness a few writers "wrestle" each other in the new sport Lucho Libro.
Based on the similarly named Lucho Libre, the contest pits two writers against each other in the ring. The competitors are given masks, synonyms, three random words, a laptop hooked up to a gigantic screen and five minutes. Whoever writes the best story wins and is rewarded with a place in the next round. The overall champion will be awarded a book contract. Good luck to them.
Aristotle believed that it was rational to be moral. He thought that the best life was achieved by being virtuous. In this article for Sports On Earth, Ryan Basen argues that the NFL have been working that line, but from a selfish angle.
For the last five years October has become the pink month in American football. The colour change is meant to raise awareness for breast cancer charities, but Basen is suspicious of the organisers' motives: "A Crucial Catch is not as altruistic as it is presented to be. Research suggests that the NFL and its corporate partners are more concerned with enhancing their public images – especially among women – and ultimately revenues, than they are with addressing breast cancer, and they seek to manipulate NFL fandom in the name of public health." The debate continues in the comments section.
The football world will go giddy at the knees next week when Sir Alex Ferguson releases his new autobiography. The former Manchester United manager is capable of sketching a story, but even Ferguson can't compete with Eamonn Dunphy when it comes to giving good quote. For Dunphy fans, this 3,500-word interview with Paul Fennessy of The Score is a real treat.
Dunphy being Dunphy, he does not hold back on anything. It's all in there: how be befriended George Best when the young Northern Irishman joined him at Old Trafford in the early 1960s; his row with Jack Charlton, the media and the whole country when he said he was embarrassed by the Ireland team that made it to the quarter-finals of Italia 1990; and his view Ireland's crippled economy and dozy political class.
When Roy Hodgson comes to pick his England squad for next summer's World Cup, the goalkeepers will almost pick themselves. He has Joe Hart, Ben Foster and John Ruddy in the Premier League, and Frasier Forster in the Scottish Premiership. But, if he wants to look a little further afield, Hodgson could also consider the merits of Matt Jones, who is playing in Portugal's Primeira Liga for newly promoted Belenenses. Andy Maynard profiled Jones for FourFourTwo and found a decent, hardworking and down-to-earth professional whose career has taken him from West Brom to Lisbon via Connecticut.
This week on the Guardian Sport Network
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