Discussion No. 5 - Jordan Florit
By J.S. Leatherbarrow
There is a book. Or, to be more accurate, the idea of a book. Why, then, am I writing about a book that does not yet exist?
Because of the writer.
He is exciting. He has a great voice in football journalism. His name is Jordan Florit.
A truly unique talent, Mr. Florit writes widely on football for various publications about various aspects of global football culture. This has taken in everything from hyperbole in modern journalism to Cuban football, right through to terrace wear. Sometimes electric, always fact-checked & veers between gonzo, off-beat and full-on philosophy. His new thing is anthropological football. Which is sort of mine too.
Needless to say, I find a kindred spirit/voice in his writing. And now he’s writing a book on Venezuelan football? I’m all in.
He’s crowd-funding a trip to Venezuela, planned for later this year, to research & interview key figures in the game there. It is to be called Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela's Religion, and I for one cannot wait for it.
There is a link to the Kickstarter at the end of the interview & honestly this will be some of the best money you ever spend. You can get all sorts of goodies, depending on the amount you pledge. Rather staggeringly, £1500 of the £5000 target has already been raised in the first morning.
Florit is turning water into wine.
I spoke with Jordan about his book, the shape of Venezuelan football and how a broken collarbone evolved into him becoming a football writer.
What drove you to become a football writer?
I’ve been writing as a hobby since childhood. I was always making up stories or writing poems. I used to make my own matchday programmes and write little match previews. This was when I was about 10 or 11. When I was 17 years old, I came off my bike and snapped my collarbone. It was right at the beginning of the summer holidays between school and college, and suddenly all my plans for spending it out in the sun playing football, as well as preseason, went out the window.
To keep myself occupied and involved in football, I started a football blog that developed into a full website. I wrote five articles a week and kept that up for over a year, throughout college, until I started full-time work. It is my creative outlet. Football is my passion, but writing allows me to express myself and share with the world what I think is important. The combination manifested itself in football writing.
How did this develop into writing about football culture within an anthropological framework?
Through my GCSE and A-Level choices, I really shaped and honed my interests. I was very lucky to go to a great school with really supportive and encouraging teachers who encouraged me to write, whatever the subject was. We had to do English Language and English Literature as two separate GCSEs, where many schools do them as a combined topic, but for one of my choices, I decided to study Sport Science.
It was a really well-structured course at my school, with a different teacher for the three different segments: physiology, sociology, and psychology. I absolutely loved the second two and continued the subject on to A-Level. The sociological and psychological elements of sport I found relevant to society in general – our behavioural motivations, our needs, and how communities are shaped. I think sport, football in particular, is adept at providing an insight into communities and society.
I read a lot and these interests started influencing my reading material. I found myself enjoying books like Jonathan Wilson’s Angels With Dirty Faces (a history of Argentine football), James Montague’s When Friday Comes (a football themed travelogue through the Middle East and North Africa), and Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, by Alex Bellos, far more enjoyable than football biographies and potted histories. All three are masterful anthropological accounts of the countries they focus on, all told through football. I think it also says something that all three are Guardian writers. My educational interests shaped my reading lists, and then those books impacted back upon my writing. My main motivation in life is to learn and I try to do that when I write a piece, for both myself and the reader.
Why is the story of Venezuelan football an important one to tell?
I think it’s an important story to tell because at the moment there is only one prism Venezuela is viewed through, and that’s politics. When people are divided by political lines, I think you lose so much nuance and appreciation for how complex society is.
My ambition for the book, which is entitled Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion, is to change the medium from politics to football and critique society that way. I want readers to be able to access a different narrative to the country. I know I cannot change the conversation on Venezuela, but I can add to it.
Its football has made huge strides since the turn of the millennium and particularly since 2007, when hosting the Copa may have encouraged the government its football federation, and private business, to look inwards and find ways to improve at the world’s biggest and most popular sport. When a country is making such admirable progress in a particular sphere, it shouldn’t go unnoticed, especially when its achieved in spite of a backdrop such as Venezuela’s and in the presence of such an ubiquitous, politically divisive conversation.
How did you make the giant leap from thinking that "this might be a good story" to "I need to write an entire book on the subject?"
The leap wasn’t actually that giant, it was more of a hop, skip, and jump, because I had more than a single story on my hands. I had multiple stories quickly accumulate, all of which deserve to be told. They come from different people in different walks of life, and in different roles within the game; from players, to managers, journalists, officials, and fans.
The hop was an article I wrote on the future of Venezuelan football, back in March. It was something I had wanted to write about for some time but hadn’t had the bravery to take on. I was thinking, ‘would there be an audience for it?’ ‘How would it be received if there was?’ and also, the political aspect to it can be off-putting. I’m so glad I did, however, as then I started to skip as people responded well to the piece and I started to have more conversations about the sport and its relationship to the country with people from many different countries. The jump was making the decision to take on this project to turn it into a book. However, by then, the momentum of the hop and skip made it an easy decision, especially because it has always been an ambition of mine to write a book and I knew that if something impassioned me enough, I’d take it on. This has.
What sort of shape is Venezuelan football in at the moment?
I think, in isolation, it is in great shape. The domestic game is intermittently affected by the realities of day to day life, such as the national blackout in March, but its own, standalone health is well.
I was speaking to the executive president of the Venezuelan Premier League recently and in reference to the national team he said Venezuelan football is in the middle of a “generational renovation,” and I think that was a wonderful turn of phrase. It’s the kind of thing that only tends to happen when speaking a language that isn’t your own, but it was such a perfect description of what is happening. Before, the national selection picked itself because the options were so limited; now the decisions Rafael Dudamel, the head coach, has to make are difficult ones because for the majority of positions there are at least two strong options. From what I’ve read, heard, discussed, and seen myself, I don’t think their football has been stronger domestically or internationally.
What can people expect from the book & how can they get involved in its creation?
I am conscious of the message I deliver, though what I am more conscious of is my methodology and approach to writing the book. My overarching ambition is to provide an immersive narrative from a detached viewpoint. I doubt I will provide much personal opinion in the book at all. My desire is to tell a story of Venezuela through the lens of football. In terms of the message I deliver, what I will be doing is providing uncensored accounts, emotions, and viewpoints. While I will fact-check statements of facts, I will not censor opinions whether I agree with them or not, and wherever they may come from politically.
People can expect a social commentary and account of contemporary Venezuela, as seen through the lived experiences and eyes of football and those involved in it. They can expect interviews and conversation with past and present Venezuelan internationals, male and female, domestic and international managers, experienced journalists, league officials, and much more. I firmly believe the best stories are not scorelines, statistics, and the same potted histories, but from the hearts and mouths of those who live it, seen through their eyes, and from their position in a complex society in flux.
Ahead of launch day, you can follow me on Twitter, like the Facebook Page, but most importantly, you can subscribe to the mailing list, which will keep you up-to-date as the book progresses and will notify you when the Kickstarter launches.
If you want to support the project or buy the book, you will be able to pre-order a copy through the Kickstarter page, as well as there being a number of other ways you can get behind Red Wine and Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion. I am really excited for the launch and there are some fun opportunities for those who want to support it. Two things I am really excited about is the book journey’s signed shirt and the guest pieces. From start to finish, I will be taking a Venezuela shirt with me and every Venezuelan I interview will sign it. By the end, around 100 or so people will have signed it and there will be photos of every single signee. One Kickstarter backer will receive that at the end of the project. For the guest pieces, there will be up to ten slots for anyone interested to have their own 500-1000 word say on any matter to do with Venezuelan football, which will be included in the limited edition published copies. I hope to really provide an immersive experience throughout the writing and production of the book and all backers of the project will come on the journey with me, receiving regular and exclusive picture diary entries. I’m really looking forward to providing a truly unique way of doing things.
I will need to sell between 300-400 copies of the book on pre-order throughout August, so it will be a massive month for the project. I hope there are enough people who want to come along for the ride!
Words by J.S. Leatherbarrow. Photograph printed with kind permission of Jordan Florit. Artwork by FATC staff. All rights reserved.