John Brewin | Freelance Football Writer & Editor

Inside Football Media
7 min readFeb 26, 2024

Hi John, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Firstly, can you tell our readers about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?

Thanks for asking me. I’m a freelance writer, editor and very occasional broadcaster — with face for radio and podcasts — who hails from Macclesfield, Cheshire, where I continue to have strong roots. Meanwhile, I have found himself living in London for the last 25 years. For nearly 18 of those years I was a full-time employee of ESPN, the Disney-owned sports behemoth — the worldwide leader in sports (in America) — and was editor of the old Soccernet site from 2004 to around 2013, when they mothballed it into the ESPN mothership.

Since then, I’ve worked for a whole host of people, approaching 25 employers at last count but I’m most known for the stuff I do for the Guardian, for whom I do production work, match reports, the occasional feature and appear on Football Weekly. I also have a weekly column in the Singapore Straits Times.

When did you know you wanted to work in sports journalism?

I suppose I had a vague idea of that at school but it was only once I was doing news journalism training that I realised it would be possible to work in the “toy department”, as it was known in the various local newspapers I did short stints in. My respect for news journalists remains strong; that’s a tough gig. After freelance and work experience stuff with the BBC and PA, I got a job at ESPN at the very start of the broadband era. The world of football on the internet opened wide, and there were many casualties, the Dotcom boom hit hard so it was a good thing to be with an employer with deep pockets. Soccernet was something of a pioneer, even before I joined, our rivals were Guardian Unlimited — some of my colleagues now were around then — and Football 365. Am glad the latter is still going, even if they were a bit rude about us at Soccernet.

Can you share some insights into your writing process?

I don’t think I am much different to anyone else in that I procrastinate, slug coffee (a recent addiction), surf the internet, spend all day on WhatsApp, and then, eventually, get around to it. Somewhere in there, I’ve usually got an intro worked out by an idling mind, and that usually gets paired with the conclusion. Filling in the rest is the next stage. There’s several types of articles but in terms of a feature, and one I need to talk to someone for quotes then again, it’s psyching myself up to send a few messages and then hoping for a reply. Once those are in and transcribed, I’m usually good to go and actually — usually — write very quickly. But there’s a slow buildup to that crescendo. As for straight news and match reports, I’m usually OK at bashing it out and hitting deadlines. At the end of it all, you should never be afraid of just bashing stuff out.

How do you handle the pressure of tight deadlines, especially when covering live events or breaking news in the football world?

I tend to write far better with a target in mind rather than a “any time you want” from an editor. That just adds to the procrastination process. In terms of matches, I’m now in the position of having done hundreds and hundreds, and the thing I learned early is you have to back yourself to get through the tough bits. A late goal can be a nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world. You should always be ready to rip up your delicately assembled prose if it has nothing to do with the events you are describing.

It’s good to work with subs you trust and trust you — that’s always been the case at the Guardian. It’s less good to work with those who think they should be writing the copy themselves and have their own ideas. Have encountered that in the past; it was unhelpful. And thank the lord that a piece filed on the whistle usually gets the chance to be rewritten and properly contextualised.

With the constant evolution of social media and digital platforms, how has the landscape of football journalism changed, and how do you adapt to these changes?

There will almost certainly come a time for my obsolescence; I have seen that happen to a few people of my generation. There was a time of “pivot to video” — which seemed to be an excuse to sack journalists — but that seems to have died off. Who wants to watch hacks in the rain when so much stuff is produced of much higher quality elsewhere? In terms of football writing, just doing match reports, quotes pieces and nicely written features with no original material isn’t really enough to survive on. You need to have fresh ideas, good contacts, be able to adapt, strong opinions that aren’t just opinion of the sake of it. That’s always been the case, come to think of it. And stuff goes out of vogue: the tactics stuff that took off a decade ago became a bit niche, it lives in its own world now and often came at the cost of good writing.

Beyond that, there’s a word we use on the Guardian production team — “grabby” — something people will read. That’s the important thing in journalism as a whole. Clicks aren’t everything but they do help. I’m lucky in that I have always worked online and in production, too, so the tech side isn’t frightening but AI might be the end of us all.

How do you generally go about finding new work?

I was pretty lucky in that I had contacts — and a reputation of sorts — in the industry and through appearing on Second Captains and Newstalk in Dublin I picked up some other work from Irish outlets, too. And I got Guardian work through attending a book launch in which I struck up a relationship with one of my gaffers now. At the start of a season or ahead of a tournament I will put out a few feelers, which reminds me I haven’t done that for a while. That’s a good sign of things going OK but these things can’t be relied on forever. It’s nice to do fresh stuff, too.

What are the most enjoyable and less enjoyable aspects of your role?

Most enjoyable — doing the podcast on Football Weekly is always fun. If I ever listen back I am always surprised how much I am laughing away. Covering matches is an absolute privilege; I will go to pretty much any game I am offered. I still love football. That helps. That’s by no means true of everyone.

The less enjoyable: job and financial security is an issue even for someone with long-term relationships with employers. The late nights and unsociable hours do affect your social life and chance of doing other stuff in life. Writing can be a lonely process but you need to be on your own to do it properly.

What would you say is your biggest achievement so far in your career? Any standout projects or memories you wish to share?

Aside from staying busy and in print for this long, I suppose going to World Cups in 2010 and 2014 and going right through the tournaments to the final will always be the happiest memories. From my ESPN days a couple of long-read articles I did on the hooligan industry and London’s stadiums stand out. Both used up a lot of psychic energy, made me think writing an actual book would involve an awful a lot of sleepless nights. On a more prosaic level, seeing your name in print is still a pleasant feeling.

What advice do you have for aspiring football writers looking to break into the industry and build a successful freelance career?

Try not to work for free, always make a call to someone even if you are shy, be ready to work long and hard, read as much as you can. And read all the time. Try and read about the world beyond football — it will help your writing. Have other interests, and make sure you have friends and interests beyond the industry; don’t let it consume you.

As well as plenty of friends in the industry; always get a round in if you end up in the pub. You don’t have to go the pub if you don’t want to; things have moved on since the old days but still, certain rules pervade once you are there. And if you want to be popular in the press room, volunteer to do the transcript of a press conference. Beyond that, good luck. And write in your own voice, not someone else’s. Your USP is usually yourself.

Can you share 3 useful tools or resources which you find helpful to fulfil your role?

A thesaurus, a telephone to speak to people (you’d be surprised how reluctant people are to do this, myself included on occasion), and most of all patience, determination and enthusiasm. The latter might come as a surprise to anyone who knows me or has heard me speak but it’s the quality that’s carried me this far.

And finally, John, where can people find you on social media to connect?

I am on Twitter/X on @johnbrewin_. LinkedIn, too, though I have no idea how to use it.

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