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An Interview With Jonathan Johnson, French Football Journalist

Jonathan is always busy, and our Friday call catches him at the time where French football media are in a frustrated mood after squandering points at home to Ukraine in a 2022 World Cup qualifier. “People do get frustrated with Deschamps, but it’s a far cry away from the Domenech era”. Indeed.

We take a semi-chronological approach to the interview. His course of History and Journalism at the University of Hertfordshire was picked deliberately, his long term ambition of being in football coming to fruition, whilst landing some work experience at University writing for the Daily Express on a shambolic era at West Ham in 2006. Oh, and Pete Doherty too.

After working as a runner for SkySports after his degree, Jonathan got his foot in the door and started to develop his French niche via working for French Football Weekly, at a particularly interesting given Montpellier’s 2012 surprise title win, and commentary work on the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. “It was a really exciting time to cover Ligue 1, it was obviously also what spurred on PSG to sign the big names like Thiago Silva. Without that Montpellier title win it would’ve taken longer to have happened.” AFCON is always a tournament that captures the attention of foreign viewers. “There’s always a big interest in AFCON in France, so it was really fun to cover something like that.”

Around 2013 he too developed his PSG niche, regularly interviewing players and notoriously prickly manager Laurent Blanc. “It was far easier to do interviews then than now; nowadays they all aim to control the content that they put out. You can see that with clubs’ own YouTube channels.” Certain players provided particularly enlightening interviews. “One of the best was Gregory van der Wiel, who I interviewed in a warehouse, and we talked for ages.”

There was also some further commentary work on the Belgian, Greek and Portuguese top divisions, widening his scope of European football knowledge- needed for his work in nigh-on 24 hour newsreels for Eurosport. They were godsends for me in primary school who wasn’t allowed to stay up past 9 o’clock, and had to catch up with the midweek results at 7am the following morning.

Some of his favourite work was travelling abroad; either covering PSG on their continental adventures or occasionally venturing out to cover France at a major tournament. “The various trips to Stamford Bridge were great highlights; and I’ve been fortunate enough to cover enough France games at major tournaments. It was amazing to be in France though for the 2018 World Cup.”

His TV appearances on AlJazeera, CNN and more are also a topic I’m keen to ask about. “It’s a funny one” he says, “each time I came on it seemed to be a different ‘so why are PSG out of the Champions League this time/'”. One of these followed perhaps the most iconic game that Jonathan has ever covered, being the Remontada of Barcelona against PSG in March 2017. “It was incredible to be there for that, although of course everyone was furiously changing their post-match drafts!”

He also rounds off by giving us some high praise of iconic colleague Fabrizio Romano from his time at ESPN, which he left only last summer. I successfully resist the urge of a ‘Here We Go!’ pun.

He very kindly takes questions from the rest of the sports team on the call at the end, answering questions from Aki and Navneet, the main pieces of advice being find a niche, work hard, and don’t be deterred by whatever background you come from. Simple, but brilliant and insightful words to end on. You can listen to it too. And thanks to fellow Roar writer Louis for setting it up.

LISTEN: Straight audio-–French-football-correspondent-for-CBS-Sport-etkqde

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