In the last few years, I’ve spoken with Frank Dell’apa, Ray Hudson, Grant Wahl, Ives Galarcep, Jack Bell, Bruce McGuire, Jeff Carlisle, Buzz Carrick, Mitch Peacock, Robert Abramowitz, Beau Dure, and others, but it’s been a while since I sat down with one of the flashlight bearers in this little wilderness to get their story.
Now that the soccer journalism transfer window appears to be closing in on the World Cup and a new MLS Season (there is going to be one, right?), I thought it meaningful to get back to basics.
With the USMNT playing in Amsterdam tomorrow, and what with my fascination by the life (I imagine) of an American living in Europe, writing a blog for an American audience, there was no one better to kick this series back into motion than Greg Seltzer, who brings the boys back home through his various outlets as a full-time soccer writer.
Yes, he does earn a living off internet soccer writing.
TIAS: When I mentioned to a few people that I was going to talk to you, everyone was curious about how you make it work over there. And what with the Amsterdam game, figured it was good timing.
Greg Seltzer: Yeah, I think a lot of people are confused that this is actually how I make my living.
Exactly. We’ll get to that, but let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born and raised?
St. Louis, a good soccer town. I went to Ladue Horton Watkins high school and was on the school newspaper all four years. Most of it was not sports-related, but my first experience of this kind was on the high school newspaper. A couple of times I went to the Blues’ locker room after a game or to a practice, and I did a couple of features on a couple of the hockey players back then. I went off to the University of Missouri, in their pre-journalism program, and then I ran out of money and had to go to work.
I started doing other things and various types of writing and non-writing things—working in restaurants and trying to open restaurants and things like that. And then I was in Birmingham, AL, I guess it was 2000 or 2001, and one day realized that Soccer365 was headquartered there. I thought, “Why don’t we kick this writing back up.” It’s always been really natural for me to relate things and tell stories and play with words, so I just walked in there and said, “What do you need me to do?” I wasn’t looking for a lot of money; I just wanted to get back into it.
How old were you?
I was 31. I had been away from it for awhile, so I did a few samples for them and picked up some weekend editor duties, picked up their vacation days, took over the website. I did a few women’s and men’s national team games during that time and just gradually it became full-time, and then that was my job a couple of years later.
So from those beginnings, how do we get to where you are now?
It was certainly not a luxurious living I was making when I first moved to Europe, which would have been August of 2003. When World Cup 2002 was going on, one night after a U.S. game I decided I was going to be working World Cup 2006. I started right then planning and saving. It took about a year-and-a-half before I went. There were times when it was a real struggle, and I needed help from friends. Financially it was hard to make a living, especially when the dollar started going out from under me. There were tough times, but just kind of keep plugging away, and gradually things have improved. Things are going well; I have something coming up I can’t really devulge quite yet (now he can).
So you just picked up and said, “I’m moving to Europe?”
That was the whole idea. I started in Germany and Switzerland to get the scene, be involved in the whole Champions League, European games, and just get myself ready for the cup. Just getting the vibe, get in the flow of it, make contacts, meet people, go to games I’d never been to before, broaden my experience of observing and then reporting or relating from that.
Like lately, right now, I’ve been thinking I want to go take the coaches course, because it will improve my writing, the analysis of my writing. Just broaden my brain, to open it up to more things, get more influences in there. Get involved. It’s a bigger scene, here, and I had done everything that was there, so I had to be at World Cup, go early, and be immersed in the whole thing. It was all about the soccer. An adventure, you know?
A lot of people thought I was insane. I just got it in my head that that was what I wanted. What I wanted to experience. What I wanted to do. Where I wanted to take this. I just focused on it and got it done. It’s certainly not a microwave oven formula for success. It was what I wanted to do. Enjoying and having a connection to what I am doing is more important than going for every last dollar.
How did soccer grab you to this extreme?
In St. Louis, it’s not hard to run into the game. It’s everywhere. I played rec-league, but mostly played other sports. When I ran outside, soccer wasn’t what I was running outside to do. I do remember my dad loving all things German, and so he would watch Soccer Made In Germany on PBS, and that was where I really started. I have memories still. I was 5 years old. Had to be like 1974.
Part of the show was the Bundesliga, and then they would veer off someplace else, and occasionally to the Dutch national team, which is my first love. I saw a clip of them, and it was instantly clear to me at the time that these guys were doing something nobody else was doing out there. Living in America before the internet, it wasn’t something I could see or experience, so it was rather sporadic. When they won the European cup in 1988, I think I found out a few weeks later. I had no clue.
ESPN started showing Eredivisie games every weekend. Ajax was a machine with it’s Berkamps and Davids, and you could just go one—UEFA Cup, Champions League. And they were on ESPN almost every Sunday. That team was when the passion for it really came in full blown. Then it wasn’t just some distant magically romantic thing, it was there every weekend, live, not three weeks later.
Anyone who has been to No Short Corners can obviously tell I have a love for Dutch football. That was my first love. I didn’t even realize that the U.S. had a national team until I think Ricky Davis was in the team, because I was a big Ricky Davis fan. That had to be mid-to-late Eighties before I realized they even had one. And of course just a few years later the World Cup came around and before you know it, you can’t remember a time when you didn’t follow it everyday.
It’s strange—If anyone asks I have one club: Ajax. But I kind of have two national teams that I live and die with. I get a lot of questions about that. The Dutch were my first love, so you can’t just throw them out.
Is that why you ended up in Amsterdam?
The first time I came here was for 90 Minutes magazine to talk to John O’Brien. It was a really big thrill for me personally, to go to an Ajax match and so forth and so on. I was only here for 3 or 4 days, and I really enjoyed the city. Later on, I went back for a longer time.
I’m still amazed a magazine would send you to Amsterdam.
No, that was all me. I went up there, scheduled it all out while keeping my usual stuff going. They didn’t pay for me to go there.
That sounds more like it.
Yep, so I just fell it love with Amsterdam. It suits me. This is where I feel happiest and most at home. I like that I don’t have to drive a car. I like so many things that we could just sit here and talk about that for hours. But yeah, I had been hopping around a bit, and it was time to stop living out of suitcases so much. I was in Hamburg and Zurich, which I liked as well, but this just feels very natural. It’s in me.
Was it natural for you to focus specifically on Americans, when did that frame come to be?
There wasn’t really a lot of attention paid to guys over here. It makes sense. It had not really evolved to that, and the media didn’t have people traveling all over the place. But I did that John O’Brien piece and a few others—I did Cory Gibbs while he was at St. Pauli, Conor Casey, and others. That was when I was really part on that trail the first time. The magazine—I am over here, and that is what they wanted from me, because, what else would they want? I’m the only one over here.
Talk about cornering a market.
They would just be like, “Who can you go talk to?” I didn’t have quite as many contacts right when I arrived, but I was able to hop on my bicycle to the St. Pauli training ground or grab a train up here. That was I guess the first time I realized that someone needs to be checking in on these guys. I went through Yanks Abroad, went through American Soccer Daily, and yeah, now, everyone and their mother is calling up, after guys all the way down to lower leagues. So I definitely got in on that in the right moment.
You say every and their mother is calling you up, but now it seems everyone and their mother is starting a blog about Americans playing abroad.
They do seem to be springing up.
How do you fit into all of that madness? A lot of people don’t know this is your full-time job. So break that down for me in terms of No Short Corners.
The blog started when I—how do I say this delicately—when I negotiated a new salary or whatever with Soccer365. There were a few blogs out there detailing these stories, but I wanted No Short Corners to be a little different. I wanted to be able to get little posts up about news or if something crazy happened, some goal clip fast, but it says “gonzo” on the tag line up top of the blog, and as much as we have time for, we try to get that stuff in there. Sean and I.
One of the posts I like the best is called Foiled like an old school Ding Dong, and it basically runs through the story of my disastrous trip to Amsterdam ArenA to go interview some players and leaving without a single quote on tape from anyone about anything. I had a busted toe at the time—it was just a big misery story. So we like to put those things in. Sean—he travels around a lot—so when he’s in Columbia or Poland or something, he likes to throw in some of their soccer flavor in there.
I love Sean’s posts; I wish he had more time to do them. But we try to have the stuff people expect that catches them up but also throw in a little odd flavor.
Who those who may not know, who is Sean?
Sean O’Conor. At this point he works outside the soccer writing industry but he still does some things for SoccerPhile and posts on No Short Corners when he has the time. I’m an American, and my way and some of the various things I say are clearly American, and Sean is British and brings a good contrast. He brings a little class to the place. He’s a good partner in this. Gives a good balance. Wish I was rich and could pay him to do it full-time.
So is Soccer365 a full-time job for you?
Yes. As of this moment all of my salary money comes from Soccer365. That will change shortly, but at this moment and for the last long while. I don’t use No Short Corners in any way to make money. I don’t put any effort into selling ads. So Soccer365 pays the bills, but it’s not been steady the way the economy’s been, and the way that this is such a small niche in America. But gradually we try and try, and things have gotten better for me, so on that note, like I said, I’m not living large, but I’m living, and it’s good enough for me.
What’s your daily schedule look like?
This is why everyone hates me. I don’t wake up to an alarm clock. Maybe 3, 4, 5 times a year. So I wake up around 10am, but it depends. That’s one thing about being over here. If there is an MLS match or something, I will have to get myself up to watch that, so maybe I’ll sleep till noon the next day.
I start off getting caught up with news, whatever happened in America while I slept. I check a few things that I’m keeping an eye on. Just getting back into the swing of it. I’ll usually get into making phone calls in the afternoon once people are back from lunch and in the office. I keep track of my regular columns, like Grapevine, which is simply whispers from all over the world. So I will knock those things out and spend most of the day working with the blog or putting together a feature or column. And I have my lunch ritual of watching the Daily Show.
Which leads perfectly into my next question. Is all of your American media consumption online? It has to be, right?
It is, but in the same way Amsterdam’s demographics are very diverse, so are its cable TV offerings. So I’m not just getting Dutch stuff and the Dutch highlight show. I have two English channels, Turkey, Belgium, seven, eight, nine channels from all over the place. Most people don’t have nine league highlight shows on their TV. That helps a lot. Then add in Eurosport, and they show a lot of international stuff. I will occasionally have someone put a computer cam on a TV in the U.S., so I can watch the game on their TV on my computer in Amsterdam. You have to improvise sometimes to find these games. I haven’t actually been at a U.S. men’s national team game since August 2007. So this is going to be a really good thing.
It’s hard being far away sometimes, but you do what you can do and make it work best you can. Because I am not often if ever writing game reports, it’s not essential that I watched the game right there and then. I can wait until there is a replay or there is a video.
Is it fair to say your reading audience is almost entirely American?
At No Short Corners–yeah. At Soccer365, last time I checked, they have a fairly size-able audience in South Africa, some Canadian and Mexican, and there’s a little bit of English people coming over now and again. I was curious about that because we’re facing them in the World Cup, and I think they are sort of spying us a little more than we realize, looking into our bubble.
I think from the geography to your audience, to what you cover, you might be the best example or the most extreme example inside this little bubble of someone who really has used the internet to turn themselves into a soccer writer.
I think that is a good estimation. Before Soccer365, I was invited and was allowed to have the odd guest column in a few newspapers in the States, but I don’t believe any of them were about soccer. So my job is fully a product of the internet, the rise of the news coverage, the rise of the thirst for news coverage—all of it.
And what were you doing in Birmingham exactly when you read about 365 headquarters?
I was unsuccessfully trying to put together a St. Louis Bread Company that would have gone at the Summit, for all the Birmingham people—an outdoor ritzy titzy shopping center atop a little mountain. And there were actually putting one at the Summit just before I left, so somebody agreed with me that it was a terrific idea. Business things, all things business, and yeah, it’s just not my arena; it’s not my comfort zone, it’s not my knowledge base. So yeah unsuccessfully trying to open a restaurant is what I had been doing when I thought, “Hmm, maybe I should go back to doing something that comes a little easier to me.” Yeah, that’s not my scene.
Banner photo screen shot from Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
“Amsterdam“ (acrylic on canvas) available at the Amsterdam Art Gallery.
FUBU is making a comeback!