space space space is going (half) paid tomorrow. But first, let's talk about soccer writing.
It’s been almost exactly two months since I started writing space space space. It’s been less than a month since I quit my job to try to figure out a way to write about soccer full time. Every single letter has been fun to write and taught me something about the game in the process; I hope it’s been the same on your end. The best part has been seeing so many of you sign up to read them in every part of the world that loves soccer, i.e. everywhere, and feeling that fleeting World Cup feeling that we’re all in this thing together. This sport is special like that.
Tomorrow space space space will officially go (half) paid so I can keep writing about soccer and occasionally buy groceries too. That’s what this letter is supposed to announce. Tuesdays will stay free for everyone on the email list, who we’re going to call “members” because these tiers need some kind of terminology. Fridays will be for paid members, who get to be “socios” because it sounds cool. A surprising number of you have been socios from the start—you know who you are, I love you, and there will be some special thank-you stuff coming your way soon. But before we get to subscriptions, I want to talk about sportswriting.
The first soccer site I ever loved was The Run of Play, a blog about a decade ago by a guy named Brian Phillips, who’s now a bestselling essayist but back then was, I think, maybe still an intern at a poetry magazine? He was at least the kind of soccer fan who would intern at a poetry magazine, a Sad Young Literary Man whose idea of sportswriting was hopelessly, wonderfully influenced by the stuff David Foster Wallace used to write about tennis. The best Run of Play post he ever did, on Pelé as a comedian, was in direct dialogue with that one essay about Federer as religious experience (you know the one). It was, in other words, not something you’d find on ESPN dot com.
Except then, by some miracle of corporate decisionmaking, ESPN went out and hired him. The second soccer site I’ve loved was Grantland, which wasn’t really a soccer site at all but a colorful cul-de-sac in the Wide World of Sports where guys like Phillips and his fellow Run of Play contributors Ryan O’Hanlon and Noah Davis could write—and that was the thing about Grantland, these people could write—long, thoughtful, hilarious, and just plain weird posts that sometimes treated sports like religion and sometimes like comedy. But there was another school of sportswriting brewing at Grantland, the kind that treated games as something worth analyzing with data, tactical diagrams, video, or all the above. O’Hanlon was one of these guys, as was Mike Goodman, who’d go on from Grantland to transform Statsbomb’s gang of early soccer analytics bloggers into a professional operation. The way they explained soccer with numbers was something I’d never known I wanted.
I’m pretty sure it was while googling stats I’d first read about at Grantland that I found the third soccer site I love, American Soccer Analysis. These guys had more numbers than anyone could possibly want. But more importantly, they thought about those numbers more deeply than I—who’d stopped following baseball back when RBIs were a thing people cared about—had known sports fans were allowed to. They didn’t just build dope shit like expected passing and post-shot expected goal models; they explained their models comprehensively and comprehensibly, then put them to work describing the game in such careful detail that Jesse Marsch used to pin the articles up in players’ lockers. I thought ASA’s stuff was so cool that I learned Excel just to fit in, only to find out that Excel wasn’t cool, R code was cool. It’s never enough with these nerds.
The point here is that as much as I enjoy a good book or British newspaper column about the game, the soccer writing I love most happens on the internet, which is good and bad. Good because it makes the act of reading and thinking and talking about soccer as global as watching it (which is another thing I wouldn’t have gotten into without the internet, but that’s another story). Bad because those old ways of writing on the internet are dead. Ad-supported blogs are dead. Even ad-supported fancypants verticals at global sports media behemoths are dead. What we’ve got instead are newsletters.
There are a lot of things to love about a good newsletter. It can be as idiosyncratic and fun and aggressively noncommercial as blogs used to be. It doesn’t need clicks. It doesn’t even need social media. It just shows up in your inbox at the appointed time (give or take) and you can get to it whenever. There’s an archive you can dig through like a real website if you feel like it. There’s an old school comment section. This is how internet writing should be.
What a newsletter does need, though, is paid subscribers. Doesn’t have to be everyone. The half-free, half-premium thing is a nice way to write for everyone regardless of means, and to do it without ads, which are terrible (I’m still not over Barcelona getting a shirt sponsor, don’t get me started). But if you’ve been enjoying space space space, come be a socio. For the next week I’m dropping the price to a flat $5 a month or $50 a year; after that it’ll go back to $7 and $70. I’ll do my best to make it worth every penny, which honestly feels pretty attainable because I think I’ve spent more than that at an FC Cincinnati game.
Thanks as always for reading space space space. Drop a comment or send me an email if there’s stuff you’d like to see more of, or just to talk soccer. The only thing I’m hoping for from these letters (besides groceries) is that one day when you think about soccer writing you’ve loved, space space space might earn a spot on the list. ❧
- Brian Phillips, Pelé as a Comedian (The Run of Play)
- Mike Goodman, The Frustrating Promise of Analytics: Soccer Has a Left-Handed-Pitcher Problem (Grantland)
- Matthias Kullowatz, Goals Added: Deep Dive Methodology (American Soccer Analysis)
Image: German painter, The Arab Sage
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