I picked up a copy of SoccerBible while passing through Heathrow just prior to my long-haul return to LA from my latest visit back to my homeland. The spirit-draining, neck-stiffening trauma that only 11 hours in British Airways economy class can provide calls for such distractions, but more than anything else I bought it simply because I needed to read a football magazine again. While Major League Soccer has come on leaps and bounds in the States, it will still be years until the Beautiful Game can be regarded as a mainstream sport across the Pond - and even then, such a transition is very wishful thinking. Consistently good football journalism in print form is thus extremely hard to come by, and with the prospect of a long flight back to a football-dry desert of endless basketball and NFL broadcasts, Soccerbible was an unlikely but much-needed oasis to chance upon. It was soccer, and coming in at a whopping 208 pages, it was about as big as a bible too. It even had an enigmatic, moody photo of Zinedine Zidane covering half his face on the front. I yanked it off the rack without hesitation.
What I didn't realise was that rather than offering the standard fare of football reporting in the shape of expert opinion, player interviews and debates on why Louis Van Gaal hasn't been sacked from Man Utd yet, SoccerBible is in fact a journal focused more on football brand and its cultural aesthetics. Thus, the tone of the magazine is far less about football story, and far more about football image. Visual impact is very much the magazine's modus operandi - full-size photos of players, stadia and especially football boots fill its pages, and all such pictures take that typical artistic approach of either being brooded up in black-and-white or exacerbated with intense bright colours depending on the mood of the accompanying content. They are all supremely impressive photographs too, and could easily hold as much attention framed on an art gallery wall as they do on page. It's a familiar approach very keenly borrowed from certain other magazines of its kind - just replace all the Adidas ACEs with a Ferrari 458, and you essentially have yourself a glossy car magazine to decorate your coffee table with.
Unfortunately, the content itself also follows a similar vein of superficiality. There is actually a good amount of reading here to go with the high-brow photography and double-page art motifs, but unsurprisingly the writing is often as ostentatious as the imagery. There is much deliberation on football as an art form, individual players as ‘brands’ and cloyingly lyrical metaphors that aim to profoundly encapsulate the emotions of the sport but often fall well short into the realm of smug, vapid poetics. One particular article that is focused on Borussia Dortmund describes experiencing its renowned home crowd as ‘being thrust face-to-face with a well-nourished, albeit caged lion - content, beautiful and dressed so rich in colour’. Pretty lexis indeed, but not exactly something you could loudly remark while at the Westfalenstadion and not expect at least a few discerning glances from the locals suggesting you keep your fancy gob shut.
In fact the histrionics of Soccerbible’s writing coupled with its appetite for image and icon give the notion that its intended audience isn’t in fact the everyday football fan on the street. This is rather a soccer bible for graphic design yuccies and Shoreditch media hipsters who just happen to like football on the side. Its primary focus on football’s commercial side is an approach that will leave a bad taste in the mouth for the average football fan when it's considered just how much global commoditization has worked to disenfranchise them out of the sport they love. Of course, the magazine does try to be relatable and throughout the articles there is the due diligence of an occasional mention of the issues surrounding spectators and the modern-day price of football. There is also an article dedicated to the rise of FC United, ever the champion of grassroots football despite enjoying the kind of media attention some professional clubs would love to have. But it’s hard to believe that the magazine really gives a shit about these topics when it also gives sizeable space to interviews with club marketing directors, sportswear company CEOs and even the magazine staff’s own mates in creative media. It makes for a curious, unbalanced mish-mash of subject matter that works in the magazine’s detriment, rather than separating it from the crowd.
As for interviews with players (luckily the mag did have a few), the issue took on a theme of covering some of football’s bad boys - or ‘Mavericks and Disruptors’, which the art-lit buzzwords on the front of the magazine preferred to describe them as. Aside from the cover-vaunted one-on-one with Zidane, the magazine also boasted interviews with Joey Barton, Yannick Bolasie and, erm, Nile Ranger. On paper, it’s a great idea to focus attention on the individuals of the sport that truly bring character and controversy to the game. In fact, the Zidane interview - a 14-page odyssey detailing his rise as a kid from the Marseille suburbs to World Cup winner and Real Madrid coach - is a particularly insightful piece that offers a poignant and retrospective look into the mindset of a man that has experienced both the glorious highs and the ignominious lows that football can offer. The majority of the other talks however are standard regurgitated 20-question affairs that reveal nothing that we haven’t already read. Mr. Ranger insists he’s a changed man (probably because he ran out of banknotes to spell out his name with for Instagram cred), Mr. Barton complains about the modern game (again) and a spread that initially suggests an interview with Andrea Pirlo regarding his foray into MLS with New York City FC ends up actually being a brief conversation with the club’s photographer. Rigobert Song meanwhile - yes, he of 90s Cameroon fame and middling mediocrity at Liverpool - talks about how 'brave' he was to have worn boots of differing colours at the 1998 World Cup, which would probably sound more preposterous if it wasn’t just a soundbite tacked onto the back of a promotional article for Puma boots.
This was the 4th issue of Soccerbible in printed format (it's existed as a solely online presence up until now), so clearly its circulation is performing well and there is demand for this kind of football magazine. This is a publication that at least looks fantastic and certainly delivers on its front page promises. But its celebration of product label over the spirit of the game will ring hollow with traditionalists, romantics and others who have felt the modern game has lost its way. If you're in the latter camp, you're well advised to leave this on the rack. Stick to FourFourTwo instead.