Friday, July 4, 2014

World Cup fans, meet George Johnson

Columnist writes, entertains from Brazil

Express Staff Writer

     World Cup soccer fans delighted by each exquisite description of the action and turns of the futbol phrase by the FIFA World Cup television commentators over the last few weeks should add one more arrow to their belt quiver.

     His name is George Johnson, columnist for the Calgary Herald in Alberta, Canada. There is no one writing about World Cup soccer more passionate, entertaining, literate and knowledgeable about the grand game than Johnson.

     Find him at and thank me later.

     We visited Vancouver, B.C. last week during the World Cup qualifying rounds.

     We were packed into a rowdy room with a 70-inch big screen, a deep bench of athletic-minded Canadian rooters we call relatives who have strong opinions, plenty of food, our 13-month-old nephew on the loose for robust entertainment during the Amazonian water breaks, a rest room nearby and three soccer games a day.

     A sports fan’s Nirvana.

     There was one copy of the Vancouver Sun on the food-filled table. It was mostly ignored, as newspapers tend to be these days with screens on steroids and carried around in every hand. It shouldn’t have been, if only because of the scribbler George Johnson.

     Most of the American world was transfixed Tuesday with the plight of the Americans, who thought erroneously that defense and an astounding goalkeeper might carry them past the Belgians. George Johnson was off at Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil covering a Round of 16 match that might be more consequential when all is said and done.

     Argentina and Switzerland.

     I’ll call this a review of Mr. Johnson’s excellence, so we can fairly reproduce the first three paragraphs of his account, and hopefully entice the soccer-mad Wood River Valley populace to taste his wonderful columns during the quarterfinals, semi-finals and final games.

     And so….he wrote,

     “You simply cannot leave the cage open. Not for an instant. So much as a crack.

     “Might as well flip the clasp on Pandora’s Box. Because all the evils that can befall someone in this world—in the form of one rather small, unassuming-looking man—are sure to come crashing down upon your head.

     ‘Once more put under lock and key with scant hope of parole, Lionel Messi broke himself out of prison yet again, skipping free of a sliding challenge before sliding a diagonal pass to Angel di Maria to slot home on 118 minutes and send Argentina shakily on with a last-gasp 1-0 win over a stout-hearted Swiss side.”

     His writing is the best argument against the nonsensical ravings of anyone who argues that nothing happens in a scoreless soccer match.

     Johnson, according to his biography in the Calgary Herald, has been writing for the newspaper since 2001. Before, he covered the Calgary Flames pro hockey team for 16 seasons at the Calgary Sun.

     As the biography goes on, “During three decades in the sportswriting dodge, he has covered three soccer World Cups, six Olympic Games, three Calgary Flames runs to the Stanley Cup final and numerous other Cup finals and NHL All-Star Games. He was the recipient of Sports Media Canada award for Outstanding Sportswriting in 2006.

     “He has seen Italy lift a World Cup, Muhammad Ali win a World Heavyweight title and heard Sinatra sing in Vegas. Everything from here on in is a bonus.”

     The bonus for the rest of us is reading George Johnson in the first place.


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