James Rowe: Hampstead, Amsterdam and Everything In Between: The Journey to 300 Interviews

James Rowe is a UK born, Amsterdam based journalist. Currently operating as Football CFB’s Chief Football Writer, Rowe is rapidly approaching the milestone of having 300 published interviews with a wide range of football players, managers and staff. 

Rowe features on The Secret Footballer, TalkSport, LoveSportRadio and more. His multi-lingual abilities have brought him what he describes as his “success” so far, but he has sights set on even bigger things. 

“Peter Reid & Jamie Carragher” by vagueonthehow is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Join me, as I sit down with James to discuss his inspiring story, featuring everything from his humble beginnings, to interviewing Dutch footballers in their native language and his watershed moments such as interviewing Jamie Carragher, Graham Potter and Simon Barker.

Before we get into anything else, I think it’s appropriate to begin with a bit of background on you as a person and your journey into the world of journalism, writing and interviewing? 

“If I start from the very beginning, I’m originally from the UK. I was born in North London, in Hampstead. From late teenage years I always knew that I wanted to live and work abroad, and would you believe it, my football club changed my life.

“Church Row, Hampstead, London” by chakchouka is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“I’d always harbored ambitions of watching my team play abroad in Europe, and I was 19-years-old, and this will show you how long ago it was – there were two Champions League Group Stages at that time! 

“Arsenal were drawn away in the second group phase, with Ajax, Valencia and Roma. So, I made a pact with a then colleague and friend that we would go to one of the away games, and I remember when the draw was made, he said to me, you’ve got Valencia, Rome or Amsterdam. I said I’d like to go to Rome, and he said, ‘you don’t want to go to Amsterdam?’. I said no, I want to go to Rome. 

“But would you believe it? Fate transpired when we ended up with tickets to the game in Amsterdam which was a 0-0 draw, and my life changed forever. I came to this city and realised that Amsterdam is so charming, and you can speak English before learning Dutch. 

“I came home, and I said to my Mother that I’d seen the future. I wanted to live in Amsterdam one day. Two years later I emigrated, and in a couple of months I’ll celebrate 15 years here.

“amsterdam” by VV Nincic is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“If you’d have told me that night in the away end that I’d go on to live in this city for 15 years, and that I’d interview professional Dutch footballers and managers in their mother tongue, I’d have said you were mad. But it just goes to show you that if you believe in yourself and you take the opportunities when they come, how things can really map out your life.  

“My time in the Netherlands so far, has been the happiest and most successful of my adult life. Especially with the football interviews now, it really is a pleasure to interview any professional regardless of level – whether it’s a Jamie Carragher, Simon Barker or Graham Potter. I always enjoy interviewing Dutch players and managers in their mother tongue as well, because there’s not many people that can do that, especially those who weren’t born and raised here. 

“So, it’s nice to be able to offer people something different, and I’d like to think that’s what makes me stand out. But yeah, that’s the journey and how my life has changed by coming here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way really”. 

Prior to that night in Amsterdam, did you have a strong interest in Dutch football?

“I was aware of Dutch football on the International respect, and of course Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord in the European game. I think since that night though, I followed Dutch football more closely, but I’ve always been a bit of a European Football geek.  

“My mother would often disagree with teachers at parents evening when I was a young boy, because they’d say I don’t read books. My mum said ‘no, he reads football progammes’, and I remember sitting next to her when she was speaking to these teachers, she’d say that she’s got a 7-year-old boy who would tell her he’s going up to bed to read his football programmes. 

“I used to have family and friends that would go to Arsenal and they’d get me a programme too, and there was me as a kid reading them. But I always used to enjoy the scene around Europe, even as a kid you’d see things like English clubs being recently banned from Europe. You’d read about the likes of Real Madrid and Benfica, and it got your mind racing as to what that must be like. 

“Even now before the COVID outbreak, I’m in a fortunate position to be able to live in Amsterdam and return to the UK to watch Arsenal play. In recent years I’ve prioritised European football over domestic games. In terms of the Dutch National Team as well, with Italia ‘90 when they were knocked out by Germany which was very sensitive, World Cup ‘94 when they reached the Quarter Finals, of course France ‘98 too and not qualifying for 2002, so it’s been great to delve into that side of things. 

“For example, I’m a huge fan of Dennis Berkgamp, and I was only used to him speaking in English when I’d hear him on Sky Sports or the Arsenal Player. It’s the same with Johan Cruyff, when you hear these people speak in their mother tongue and what they’ve actually got to say and how they say it, it makes you admire them even more”. 

Almost 15 years living in Amsterdam, I take it you know the Dutch language very well? 

“Yeah, it’s perfect. I would say it’s as good as my English. I’ve never worked so hard in all my life to learn something, never. 

“I remember when I first started going to Dutch lessons, there were 20 people in the classroom. By the time we got to the final exam, there were 4 of us left, and I was the only man. 

“I remember when I passed my ‘Dutch is My Second Language Test’ and I got my certificate, I remember walking down the street and trying to find a payphone to tell my mother that I’d done it. 

“It’s a difficult language, but it’s made me as a man. The Dutch football players and managers at all different levels, they give you so much scope, and so much information that you might not get from them if you were speaking to them in English. 

“It’s not the most romantic language, but it’s really set me on my path. I remember in the early days, when I’d be a little bit nervous to speak, but you’ve got to get past all that. There’s a lot of people that say ‘it’s too difficult’ but for me it comes down to how much you really want it. 

“But as I say, I’ve never worked so hard for something before, and it’s paid dividends. For example, my interviews with the Dutch managers such as Maurice Steijn and Henk de Jong and many others, it’s been wonderful to be able to speak to them in their mother tongue, and it’s like second nature really”. 

“I remember an anecdote where I spoke to Jean-Paul Boëtius who had player for Basel and Feyenoord, and when I spoke to him, he was playing for Mainz in Germany. I spoke to the Press Officer and she said, ‘I’ll put Jean on’ and when he answered the phone, I greeted him in his mother tongue. He asked me if the interview would be conducted in Dutch and I said yes. He had assumed that it would be in English, and because I can’t speak German, I told him that every time I get the opportunity to speak with a Dutch player or manager that I’d conduct it in Dutch. 

“It was the same with Ricky Van Wolfswinkel when he was at Basel, it was wonderful to hear about his father-in-law, Johan Neeskens, who’s often knows as the second Johan here in the Netherlands, after Johan Cruyff. It was great to hear his thoughts, and as I say, you get so much more when you’re able to do it that way, and it’s kind of became my unique selling point in that respect”. 

In terms of your football writing and interviewing, who was your first ever interview? And did you conduct that interview in English or Dutch?

“It was a Dutch spoken interview with then manager of FC Den Bosch, Wiljan Vloet. He was the first professional to give me his time. I used to write for Football Oranje, which was an English website on Dutch football, and I use to do post/pre-match translation which I used to do for one season. 

“Then a lightbulb went off in my head where I thought, I can do this myself surely. So, I made my enquiries about interviewing different players and managers, and yeah, Wiljan Vloet was the first one to give me the time of day. 

“I took a train from Amsterdam to a place called s-Hertogenbosch, which is where FC Den Bosch are based. I had my little notebook, and he was ever so friendly and very nice, and then it kind of spiralled from there. Before you know it, you’re off to Venlo to speak to Maurice Steijn, and also to Waalwijk to interview the nephew of Dennis Berkgamp, Roland Berkgamp. He played for Brighton and Excelsior and I managed to speak to him in September 2017.  

“But it snowballed from there, I did a Dutch football podcast on World Football Index and they asked me shortly afterwards if they could publish my interviews with Dutch players and managers, and they did so for quite some time. From there it just got bigger and bigger, and before I knew it, I was speaking to the likes of Graham Potter, Danny Cowley and Viv Anderson. It’s great to source these interviews out and have a solid reputation, and make sure that you show them what’s gone before. 

“But it’s also great to have the hard work to go to places like Breda, Enschede and Zwolle to speak to players who are not quite as well known, but you’ve got to put in the work. Then obviously writing for Football CFB since last August, and then out of the blue, The Secret Footballer came in for me last October with a view to publishing my future interviews, and back catalogue as well. So, it’s nice to have a mix between the two both publishing my work once a week, and it’s wonderful to get to the threshold of 300 interviews. 

“It’s nice to look back on such a wonderful portfolio and the dream going forward is to be part of a club media team. When you see on the LinkedIn that clubs across the globe are looking, it gives me a really nice feeling that it’ll happen sooner than later”.

Were you nervous the first few times you conducted interviews, and do you still get nervous on some occasions? 

“No not anymore, in the beginning, of course, but it’s not nerves about what you’re doing, it’s more nerves that you want it to go well. But when you do something for such a long time, it kind of becomes like a second nature, and your intent is to write a good, honest, positive piece about what has gone before. 

“I remember when I first started out on this journey, and someone said to me, ‘you’ve got so many people trying to get into such a small space, but you’ve got to do something to make yourself stand out’. Obviously in my case it’s the ability to interview in Dutch, also speaking to Spanish players in Spanish which is nice. 

“But it’s all about making sure you know what you’re doing, because there’s a lot of people who see what other people do and they think they can do it, and with the greatest respect, not everybody can. You need to have the knowledge and I’d say you need to have the bottle to ask questions that don’t come about very often. 

“To give you an example, I spoke to Raul Fox who played for Norwich, Newscastle and Spurs. I asked him about playing international football for Montserrat, and he said to me ‘when I woke up this morning, I never thought you’d have asked me that’. I said to him that there’s so much football writers trying to get into the one space, and I’ve got to do something to make me stand out. He said I think you’re the very first person to ever ask me about that, and I think when players and managers are confronted with questions they don’t expect, I think their a lot more open.

“Robin Van Persie, Mikel Arteta & Andrey Arshavin 2”by Ronnie Macdonald is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“When I look at the top end, I see people asking Mikel Arteta about Aubameyang’s haircut, and asking about Saliba struggling, they are eye and eye with important players and managers at the top end, and I believe they have a responsibility to make sure that they do everything on point. Of course, not everybody is like me and not everybody is the same, but I believe the football writers at the top end can do so much more than what they do. 

“I think if you take it apart a little bit and turn it around as to how many British football writers are able to interview football players and manager in other languages, I don’t think there’s many. There are ones that are real standouts, you’ve got Graham Hunter who has been in Spain for a very long time, his Spanish is tremendous. Tim Vickery, he’s been South America for more than a quarter of a century and when you hear him speak Portuguese, you don’t think he’s from England, he’s that good. I think that the people with these qualities should get the credit they deserve. 

“As I say, when is see the press conferences of different football writers – particularly at English clubs – I think they could do so much more in that respect”. 

All interviews are special and unique in their own way, but what would you say was your first one were you thought ‘Wow, that was a really big moment?’.

“I would say Danny Cowley. I’d watched him a couple months earlier, playing against Arsenal in the FA Cup Quarter Final when he was managing Lincoln. I went through the right channels of the club, and I didn’t hear anything. Then one day, my telephone rang, and I picked it up and he said ‘Hello James, it’s Danny Cowley. I must tell you; I’ve been ever so busy lately and I’m sorry that I’ve not got back to you. I must be completely honest with you, it’s very rare that I do telephone interviews – if ever – but I’ve read some of your work, I think it’s absolutely brilliant and I’d be delighted to be able to help you’. When that interview took place, I kind of realised that the train has left the station now. 

“As well, I received a wonderful compliment from Simon Barker who is Vice-Chairman of the PFA. To speak to someone of that ilk and for him to give me so much time was massive. I remember he said to me ‘James, being in the position that we’re in, in the world we are in, we are very wary of the people that we speak to. But the way that you go about your business, what you do and how you do it, it’s a throwback to the way it used to be before’. So, he wanted to commend me about that, and these types of compliments are tremendous, especially from these people who have such a standing in the game. It gives you even more confidence, that if you keep churning out the interviews, and doing everybody justice, regardless of level.  

“I’ve been delighted to make in-roads into the women’s game as well, especially with being able to speak half of the Dutch National Team that played in the World Cup Final. To hear about that was brilliant, and to hear about their trials and tribulations of winning Euro 2017 in their own country, and what that meant for them, it gives you a different perspective, and it’s about treating everyone with respect and realising that everybody has a story to tell”. 

You mentioned that your goal is to work in club media. Now that you’ve been in Amsterdam for almost 15 years, would moving abroad elsewhere to work in club media be something that you’d be willing to do? 

“Yeah, I believe so. I go back to the famous quote from Glenn Hoddle when he was Chelsea’s manager, and he was contacted by England. He was very young at the time, but he said he took the opportunity because you don’t know if it’s going to come round again. 

“So, for me it’s similar where should a club show their interest and be serious about giving me an opportunity on the media side, you don’t know if the chance is going to come round again. 

“Going back to watershed interviews, I interviewed former Scottish National Team manager, Craig Brown. It was lovely for him to say that when he spoke to me, I reminded him very much of Tony Scholes, who was his Chief Executive of Stoke. He said in terms of my mannerisms and the way I go about my business, I reminded him very much of Tony Scholes in that respect. 

“I came away from that interview and I thought that although I harbour ambitions of working in the media side of things, who’s to say that I can’t become a CEO of a football club, or to become an important part of a football club. Obviously, I harbour ambitions in the media side, but once you’re in that world, there’s so much that can be achieved, and I’d like to think that I’ve laid the foundations in speaking to professional players, managers and agents that if I do find myself in that situation, I’ve deal with these people before. 

“So, you’re able to know the pitfalls and the way the game is going. Because we’re in the middle of a pandemic and clubs must cut their cloth accordingly, I think the expectations of fans as well – my club in particular – have changed. I cannot believe how Arsenal’s fan-base has changed. They used to be so clued up, respectful and on point. Yes, there are members of that fan-base that are still there from different generations, but particularly the young generation, they seem to prioritise player price tag, reputation and clout above hard work and character. I find that very strange. For example, I’ve championed for players such as Marc Albrighton. I think Marc Albrighton is a tremendous football player, only to be told by Arsenal fans on Twitter ‘he’s not good enough for Arsenal’. He’s a Premier League winner!

“File:Claudio Ranieri watches on (24731897220).jpg”by Ronnie Macdonald from Chelmsford and Largs, United Kingdom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“He has achieved something that players Aubameyang, Lacazette, Özil and others are never going to achieve. He was a massive part of Leicester’s success, alongside Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Wes Morgan of course.

“But I think the way the club is going; every transfer window people are concerned about ‘who do we buy, buy, buy!’. I think to myself; I’ve spoken to young players where a transfer has made and broken their career, There’s not a pot of gold at the end of every transfer.  

“So, I’d like to think that Arsenal fans understand what it does to a player when they don’t play, and how hurtful and painful it can be. Because a footballer’s career is very short, it can be ended for whatever reason at whatever time, and it goes by in the blink of an eye. I think also with the way fan channels are going as well, it’s great that these platforms are making inroads, but a lot of them don’t have the fine details, and the mannerisms to deal with professionals. It’s not just a case of giving your opinion with no consequences.  

“I get a lot of people asking me when I’m going on YouTube, and I tell them that I’m not going to. They message me like I’m an alien and ask me why, and I’ll tell you why, if I’m conducting an interview with a Dutch player for 20 minutes only in Dutch, or a Spanish player in Spanish. You have to upload the interview, add subtitles in real time and put the video together, it takes an awful lot of work. If you’re dealing with professionals almost every day, when interview requests are being put in, it’s a lot easier to do it in a written sense, and a lot easier to translate from Dutch to English in a written sense – within a couple of hours it’s no problem at all. 

“But in terms of the fan culture, some people seem to think it’s all about the views. For me, I have almost 7,000 followers on Twitter, but if I only had 50 then it doesn’t matter, because it’s all about that club coming in for me and saying that they’ve seen enough.  

“I received a message yesterday from the Chairman of Lincoln City Football Club, telling me that they plan to keep an eye on my interviews and they’re looking forward to reading them. I think to myself; this is the Chairman of a football club – a very busy man – and he’s taken the time out of his day to tell me that. So, that gives me a lot of hope going forward, and hopefully going forward what will be will be”. 

Regarding fan channels, do you see things like that working long-term, as you mentioned that some channels use their platforms to give their opinion without any consequences?

“No, not long-term. I think for a lot of people, the most important thing is that you keep your integrity. There’s a wonderful quote from Jock Stein, from the day of the game against Wales when Scotland qualified for the World Cup, he’s telling Alex Ferguson ‘you must keep your dignity’. I think these are qualities that haven’t disappeared from the world – although the world has changed a lot – it’s important to always keep your dignity. 

“Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola” bythesportreview is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You said the world has changed a lot, and it definitely has in the last year. Have you found it difficult not being able to conduct face-to-face interviews and convert to using platforms like Zoom etc?

“Yeah, it has made it different. But you have to learn to adjust, and you have to learn to adapt. 

“The most important thing is that you’re still making the interview. The one-to-one interviews are very nice, and they’re something that has been done before and will be done again. But the most important thing for me, especially during the pandemic, is that the story gets told and that you’re making sure you’re doing that player, or that manager justice. Because football can be such a cut-throat industry where some people can be forgotten about. People can be forgotten about in terms of how good a player they were, or what they did for a certain club. 

“It’s always important to keep that in the back of your mind and to stay concentrated. But I always say that the next interview is the most important one. Now, looking back on an amazing portfolio of 300 interviews; when I started out, I would never have envisioned that. 

“It’s always about making sure that you do everybody justice, and literally giving your life to every interview that you do. Because it’s going out to the internet and it will be there for a very long time. 

“And I’d like to think that whoever reads my interviews, I’d like to think that they find out something they didn’t know before, however minute it might be. For example, when speaking to former Crystal Palace Captain, Geoff Thomas, about his battle with Leukemia and what he had to go through in terms of battling such a disease and winning as well. His wonderful story was that he was capped by England and he was told by Graham Taylor that together with David Platt, those two would be the future of England.  He said, when you hear something like that you go a bit like ‘Woah, I’ve got an England manager telling me I’m going to be the future of England’. It’s these little bits of information that I always try and make a point of getting out there, and letting people know that it’s not all about sensationalism or the obvious things. It’s about the human side of things, after all these players are humans, they’ve sacrificed an awful lot to get where they are and it’s important to shine a light on it”. 

You’ve conducted some very big interviews, and it must be hard for you to narrow it down, but what have been some of your favourite interviews to date? And why are they your favourites? 

“I touched on Danny Cowley, of course. But people often ask me about favourite ones, and I always try to say that it’s not necessarily favourites, but more watershed interviews like Simon Barker and Jamie Carragher. But I’ve enjoyed every single one. 

“The Bob Wilson one; being an Arsenal fan for more than 30 years, to have a living legend in Bob Wilson give me 40 minutes of his time was very special. And for him to tell me how the core of the 1971 double winning side came together, losing that cup final to Swindon, wanting to make the press eat their words after being named ‘The Shame of London’. So, the Bob Wilson interview was special. 

“Jamie Carragher as well. That was certainly the biggest name in terms of someone who has achieved so much within football, and it was very nice when I asked him if he ever had the chance to leave Liverpool, and he said, ‘fortunately we never got to that point’. 

“So the Jamie Carragher and Bob Wilson interviews were very special, and I’ve also enjoyed the Dutch interviews as well. Because I don’t think that every person born and raised in Great Britain could come here at the age of 21 and interview Dutch players and managers. 

“The Roland Berkgamp interview was also very special. Obviously, it’s about Roland Berkgamp, not Dennis. But Roland was playing for RKC Waalwijk at the time, and he invited me down to the stadium where we had a cup of tea and spoke about his playing career. He was telling me when he went to Brighton, where he learned so many life skills through living on his own for the first time. But I said to him, this interview is all about you, but I’ve got to ask you one question about your Uncle, did he ever give you any specific advice or encouragement regarding your career? He said ‘To be honest James, I didn’t see him very much, but I became a fan of Arsenal because of him. You would see him for 80 minutes, but he would be the one that would provide an assist or score a winning goal’. I’m not just saying this because I live in his home city or speak his mother tongue, but Dennis Berkgamp is the greatest Arsenal player I’ve ever seen. 

“People often say to me in terms of dream interviews, if you could hand pick one, who would it be? I think he would be it. 

“Because you’re dealing with the greatest player to ever play for Arsenal, and for me, having the chance to sit down with him and speak to him in his mother tongue about what he experienced at Ajax, Inter Milan the Dutch National Team and Arsenal, I think that would be very special”.

To people who don’t know, what do you provide to Football CFB in your role as Chief Football Writer?

“I provide interviews that you don’t get to read every day of the week. 

“For example, they are interviews with players and managers that have a lot of experience, Dutch players that don’t really get a spotlight shone on them and it’s about providing depth to the piece. Callum (Football CFB Founder) was ever so sincere when he approached me. We did a podcast together about my journey and he joked with me about working together, and we said maybe one day in the future we will. 

“Then fate conspired, and he approached me about publishing my interviews. I have to pay him a huge compliment as well, because I don’t know anyone who, in such a short time, has made such an impact in speaking to the likes of Henrik Larsson and Matt Le Tissier. It’s came out of nowhere, like a freak of nature! 

“It’s great to be able to work with him, especially with his enthusiasm, how he goes about his business, and to have a weekly show with Willie Morgan – who I was also fortunate enough to interview – is testament to how hard he’s worked. And when he approached me about publishing my interviews, it’s nice that they’re so well received, especially with the Scottish interviews. 

“We’ve got recently published interviews with the likes of Jason Cundy who played for Chelsea and Tottenham, and a fair few surprises in between. 

“So, it’s a nice position to be in, along with The Secret Footballer as well, because they are a publisher that’s published reputable books, and sold an awful lot of copies. The same publisher that has written and sold those books are the same people that enquired about acquiring my services, which is very nice. It gives you a lot of hope and encouragement for the future”. 

We have to speak about The Secret Footballer’s mysterious alias, don’t we? 

“I’ve been asked by a lot of people as to who it is, and I must be completely honest and say I have absolutely no idea! 

“All I know is what I just mentioned; that the very same publisher of the books and who run the website, those people got in contact with me. And that was a real bolt from the blue, we had less COVID restrictions than what we do now – we currently have an evening curfew until the 15th of March where nobody can be on the street from 9pm-4.30am – and it was last October, I went to play pool with a friend, and I got back home to watch the Arsenal vs Manchester City game and when I checked my email, it came through. 

“It’s been really well received, it’s a bit of a culture shock for the followers of The Secret Footballer to have a Gambian International, a former Dutch manager and tales from all different levels of world football. So, it’s a bit of culture shock for them, but I’m starting to think that the people interested in that are really starting to get it now. Because it’s not about gossip or what might have happened, this is about what actually happened, and I’m pleased with how well they’re being received”. 

Let’s recap, how do you reflect on your journey so far? 

“I’d say the most important word to use is pride. I remember when I started out on this journey, I’ve always had ambitions of doing the best I can. In terms of the football writing itself, it’s very similar to the actual game itself where there isn’t a manager or player who doesn’t want to go as high as they can possibly go.  

“It’s not simply the case of I’ve reached it now and that’s me done; I look back with immense pride on reaching 300 interviews with professional players and managers. You just hope that all he effort that you’ve put in, hopefully will mean at some point I’m in the media side of a club, and once I’m in that world I’m in it until I retire. And you think about what happens when you’re in that world in the sense that you’re grounded, with the ability to speak different languages, your brain starts to go into overdrive. 

“Because if you think about working for a football club, for example I was speaking to a colleague about this the other day; imagine being involved in a club where you’ve got a young Dutch talent who’s looking around to decide if they want to sign, and the club say, ‘Right James, you’ve got to give them the tour’. Then, you’re in the position where you’re speaking to him or her in their mother tongue about what the club means and what the club can do for them. That can be the difference in a player signing for the club, or not signing for the club. 

“So, the different skill set involved in making sure that players feel wanted, and all the facets within football, I’d like to think that it’s held me in good stead, and that we’re not too far away in that respect”. 

What advice would you give to young journalists who are aiming to make a career in football media, and what tips do you have with regards to conducting interviews?

Credit: Pexels

“First and foremost, you’ve got to really love what you do. You can’t do this half-hearted or think that because you’ve secured one interview that you’re set. You’re basically on a road like how a player is only as good as their last game, a writer is only as good as their last interview. 

“My advice would be to these young writers and interviewers is to enjoy what you do, and to really give it all that you’ve got. If you do find yourself in the position where you’ve got something that not many people have got, you’ve really got to ram it home. 

“I go back to what I said earlier about not knowing how many British football writer are able to interview players and managers in their mother tongue, I don’t know if I’m the only one! 

“But to coin a phrase of Brian Clough, in terms of my Dutch linguistic ‘I might not be the best but I’m in the top one’, but I’ll leave that for others to decide.  

“It’s just about making sure that you do everybody justice. To go back to my earlier point about so many people trying to get into such a small space, you’ve got to make sure that you are the one doing justice every single time. And I think that’s what makes me so proud, 300 interviews and I’ve done justice every time. It’s good enough to be published in the first instance, and to have stories that people listen and learn about, but I’ve had stories picked up by other mediums as well. Here in the Netherlands, Football International is a massive football magazine – the biggest in the country – and they picked up my interview with Kenneth Vermeer when he was recently playing with LAFC.  

“I spoke to him about making his transfer from Ajax to Feyenoord, and how difficult it was for him to make that transfer. He told me the story about how he was walking his dog when his telephone goes, and it’s his agent. His agent said to him ‘How do you feel about signing for Feyenoord?’. Obviously, when you’re brought up in the youth academy for Ajax, the last thing you want to think about is signing for Feyenoord. 

“But he wasn’t playing, and he had to think about what was best for his career, and he said to his agent that he had to speak to his father. He spoke to his father for 2 minutes and the decision was made, he signed for Feyenoord. 

“So, it was nice for Voetbal International, such a massive magazine to pick up the interview – and linking the original which was nice of them – and I haven’t heard from them about publishing my interviews in Dutch, but at the minute I’ve got 2 publishers and that’s enough for me at the moment. I’m not really looking for a hat-trick to be honest, I’m looking for a professional club, not another publisher. 

“So, it’s important to always make sure that you offer something different. I’ve been lucky with the ability to interview Dutch players and managers in their mother tongue, but I think about those days about being on the tram, reading children’s books in Dutch and people are looking at you funny. Sometimes people would say ‘are you really reading a children’s book?’. But what I was trying to do was getting the basics of the language right, so that everything you do is spot on. Because when you become better and world class, you can conduct interviews. 

“It’s wonderful to receive compliments as well from players and managers, because I had a player once that told me ‘James, if you hadn’t told me you were British, I would never have believed you’. When you hear something like that, it kind of lets you know how good you are. But it’s important to remain modest, keep your integrity, and as I say, the next interview is the most important one”.

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