Having been an avid reader of all British football magazines I could find in the past, I was more than disillusioned with what I was able to find on the shelves of your average news shop in UK in recent years. I know things are changing now with a few more titles but I was really surprised when I first glanced at a copy of Panenka, a football mag made in Spain, in Barcelona actually. The whole thing is just a top quality product, from the paper they use, to the photos, from the people they decide to interview, to the questions they ask. What is more astonishing, considering it’s Spain we are talking about, the eternal Real Madrid/Barcelona extra boring debate dominating any sport media, is the variety of topics they cover. And they do not limit their research to football, they tell you the whole story touching all aspects of a certain club, player, city or country. Some of the reportages are just great. I take my hat off to them. I know people in other countries are trying to emulate them. Good luck. Below are a few questions I asked to their chief editor-director, Aitor Lagunas.
When did you start Panenka and why? Did you miss quality football writing?
We started at the beginning of 2011. Initially it was a little more than an idea shared during a pub conversation but then we started giving more thought and decided that it was worth a try. It was not the ideal scenario all around as we were in the middle of the worst economic crisis ever seen added to the long term suffering of journalism in Spain. But at the same time, for the same reason, we had very little to lose. And note, it was not the case of missing quality sport journalism as you have always had different styles and forms but probably we did miss this kind of format, a proper monthly magazine about football culture. Something that already existed in the rest of Europe but for whatever reason not in Spain yet. We simply thought of what we would have liked to read and were not able to find.
Why Panenka? Was he honoured when you told him you were going to name a magazine after him?
More than the player and his penalty skills what we figured out was unique about him was his spirit, what he stood for: controversial, maverick, different, brave. And we shared with him all these attributes. When I met him face to face I also found out he did not care that much about his penalty kick in the 1976 Euro final. This humble and distant look of self-transcendence seems right for our magazine: we don’t want to create an elitist product and we don’t want to teach lessons to anyone about anything.
Do you think there are a lot of people tired of football as highlighted on AS, Marca etc, tired of the “chiringuito” culture?
I don’t think people are tired but maybe a bit more critical and not just towards traditional media but Journalism in general, ourselves included. Nowadays the average reader is more analytical, he knows what’s the focus, the angle of each media and can rely on the help of social media to spread his criticism and prove his point. All this should work as a spur to the whole of journalism and generate overall better practice by all media involved but maybe I’m getting over optimistic.
Why do you think there are not many football magazines anymore and actually the ones which exist nowadays are quite expensive products?
Spain has never seen the birth of many magazines with the exception of gossip mags. Soon after the fall of the dictatorship and the passage to democracy we had many political and generalist magazines but then they started disappearing. As far as football mags are concerned I think it had something to do with the availability of many new TV and radio channels and digital media which are part of the football world now. Nonetheless football culture is an important niche and it’s getting more popular in all newsagent shops in Europe. In Spain you did not have something similar to the French SoFoot or the German 11Freunde before we hit the shelves with Panenka. With some delay we are trying to emulate this new European trend of a more laid back kind of journalism, non-political and with a global approach to such a complicated phenomenon as football is. It’s not just a sport, it’s economy, history, politics, sociology, culture…
Is the internet killing the traditional print media?
This is the question journalism is asking itself in the last two decades. I think traditional media will need to modify their approach with the present, with what is happening now. It doesn’t make sense trying to compete with a live update channel such as internet. If you don’t add value, if you don’t concentrate on alternative ways to enrich the content and its interpretation then surviving will be hard. But this does not mean less journalism, actually it’s the opposite. A more professional approach will be needed in order to follow different topics, far from the daily news, with different contacts and competencies in all available format and channels.
How do you cope in a country like Spain which is self-obsessed with its own football and especially two clubs?
True, at the moment the two most global and important clubs in the world play in the Spanish league. However I think the attitude of our traditional media tends to overrate their importance among the Spanish fanbase. According to a recent survey, 63% of Spanish people interested in football support either Real Madrid or Barcelona but that left a good 37% supporting other clubs. If we look at how much time the media devote to these clubs, almost surely it will be less than this 37%. It is a vicious circle, obviously. The less you talk about these clubs the more difficult it is for kids to follow a club which is not Barcelona or Real Madrid who monopolize the attention of the media. We understand the global role of these two clubs but we try to detach from it, from this media hype. Also it helps us we focus on international football rather than Spanish.
I think your magazine is great because it covers stories from all around the world and at all levels? How do you pick the ones you want to focus on?
Quite simply we look for the topics more relevant from a journalistic point of view regardless of where they happened, when and who was involved.
Your style seems to be long, interesting, interviews and researching topics beyond football, is it something you agree on with your colleagues or is it something spontaneous?
It’s pretty much spontaneous. I think all the professionals forming our editorial staff plus all the people who have contributed in these initial 47 issues of Panenka share the same view on football, far from the gossip, the breaking news and mainstream information or personal biases.
“Football is culture” do you agree with this statement? Do you think is true in Spain?
Is all cinema culture? All music? All tv programmes, books or paintings? No, I think each one of these elements can become culture but it would be a bit risky to affirm categorically that they all are. The same goes with football, in Spain or in any other country: it can become culture. What is new is that in Spain in the past this possibility was denied, football was not underrated in this context while at the moment it seems the interest is raising.
“Football is nothing without fans”, do you agree with this statement?
Of course. The social aspect of football is essential to understand how it developed in a such a global and popular sport. If this changes, football will lose interest. Unfortunately we are living through a period of economic liberalism which affects football at its highest level. From the mafia system within FIFA to the appearances of oligarchs, from the agents to the hedge funds, football has been affected by the worst vices of this kind of turbo-capitalism. And at the same time fans seem to have less importance, relegated to a more passive customer role.
Can you tell me one interview you enjoyed more than others?
There are not many profiles in football who are available to talk freely about anything. Players and managers are used to a very comfy environment where you have fewer and fewer press conferences and interviews so that they do not have to talk about topics they prefer to avoid and do not have to reply to questions. It’s a shame. Clubs, sponsors, agents and players use the media as PR agencies and in doing so they detach us from what it really is journalism. Also, the other challenge is actually finding players that have something to say. Among these I would say the interview with Javier Mascherano was great as we managed to avoid chats around the usual football stereotypes.