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Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner honored
by Mike Woitalla, August 4th, 2010 4:55AM

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TAGS:  hall of fame

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[HALL OF FAME] Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner will receive the 2010 Colin Jose Media Award by the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Gardner, who has written more than one thousand columns for Soccer America and has covered American soccer for England's World Soccer magazine since 1973, will be inducted Aug. 10 at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

The former pharmacist fell in love with the sport while attending a school in England that banned soccer.

Gardner emigrated from England to the USA in 1959 and became the managing editor of a medical magazine. But he started covering American sports for British publications in 1961, when his feature on Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s pursuit of Babe Ruth's 60-home run record appeared in The Observer.

Gardner – who was a Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain -- left the medical magazine in 1964 and spent two years in Italy before returning to New York, where he discovered a sudden American interest in pro soccer. The United Soccer Association and the National Professional Soccer League – which eventually merged into the NASL – launched in 1967.

The emergence of American pro soccer in the late 1960s coincided with Gardner’s start as a full-time free-lance journalist and he has since covered soccer for publications on both sides of the Atlantic. A love for the game and fluency in Spanish, Italian and French provided a fine formula for reporting on the global game.

Born in 1930 in England, Gardner attended a Ramsgate school that banned soccer because it was seen as a common, working-class sport. But he and friends created their own team and played games in secret.

“In the afternoon many of us played for the school in rugby or field hockey,” Gardner wrote in the introduction of his book, “SoccerTalk: Life Under the Spell of the Round Ball.” “Who knows what awful punishment we would have suffered had it got out that we were wasting our adolescent muscle power on soccer only a few hours before school duty called?”

In trying to explain why soccer cast some sort of spell over him, Gardner has written:

“I find in soccer what I have found in life: unpredictability, constant surprises, and a fascinating contrariness. It is an activity that suggests it has a mind of its own, one that will tease and disappoint as much as it rewards.

“A little world where players don’t do things you were quite certain they would do, and other players do things you never thought they were capable of. A world where planning goes astray and experts are repeatedly confounded.”

Among the many publications he has written for are Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, USA Today, The New York Daily News, The Sporting News, The Village Voice, The Times (London), The Guardian (London) and The Independent (London).

Gardner is well known for his columns criticizing the influences on the game – especially business and coaching -- that threaten the beauty of soccer and its fundamental values as entertainment.

"Paul is the ultimate 'soccer in-law,'” former Duke University coach John Rennie once said. “He is overly critical, nothing seems to please him and of course he has the only correct opinion about everything. He's never done anything in our sport except sit and watch. I guess that qualifies him as an expert. Having said that, I still read every word he writes.”

Gardner has consistently advocated for action by soccer’s governing bodies to crack down on thuggish play and to reverse the trend of low scoring. Some of his recommendations have been carried out. In 1977, he began writing that the offside rule be changed so that an attacker in line with the last defender would be considered onside. FIFA made the change in 1990. FIFA also adopted his suggestions on how refs deliver second yellow cards, requiring numbers on the front of jerseys, and clarifying in its rulebook the ejection of coaches.

Unique among the world’s most renowned soccer journalists, Gardner has covered the game at many levels. He covered not only eight World Cups, but also 10 Under-17 World Cups -- plus FIFA Under-20 World Cups, Olympics, European Championships and Copa America tournaments.

Gardner was the color commentator for the first-ever live telecast in the USA of a World Cup final, in 1982 on ABC, for which he also served as color commentator of NASL games in 1979-82.

"He is as incorruptible as anyone I've ever worked with," said Jim McKay, the legendary TV sports journalist who partnered with Gardner on ABC soccer telecasts.

Gardner, who also did commentary for NBC (1986 World Cup), CBS (NASL) and ESPN (college), has been a film producer and was the scriptwriter and soccer adviser for the award-winning instructional series “Pele: The Master and His Method” in 1973.

In the foreword of Gardner’s book “The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer,” Pele wrote, “When you have read all that Paul has to say, I think you will have a new and deeper understanding of soccer. An understanding of what we need to do to teach our youngsters the true, deep beauty of this game.”

International Herald Tribune and New York Times columnist Rob Hughes ranked “SoccerTalk: Life Under the Spell of the Round Ball” on top of his list of favorite soccer books.

Two decades after Gardner wrote his 1976 book, “Nice Guys Finish Last: Sports and American Life,” The New Yorker wrote that, “Today, Gardner’s analysis looks prescient.”

Brian Glanville, the renowned English soccer journalist and author, has described Gardner as, "Undeniably the best of all writers in America. Highly knowledgeable, an excellent linguist, with an unfailingly original outlook on the game. Above all, a writer of total integrity who has never written a dishonest word."

Gardner began writing for Soccer America in 1980 when it was a weekly print publication, which it remained until 2001, after which Soccer America began steadily expanding its online presence. Today, Gardner writes three columns a week, which are delivered to Soccer America members via e-letter and appear on SoccerAmerica.com.

For decades, Gardner’s columns have yielded passionate responses from those who agree or disagree with his views – ensuring that we debate and contemplate all the crucial issues that shape American soccer.



6 comments
  1. Milton J Espinoza
    commented on: August 4, 2010 at 12:49 p.m.
    Thank you Mike Woitalla, well done. There is not enough accolades to shower on Paul Gardner for his contribution to the sport that many of us love to play and watch. Paul is one of those rare courageous and intelligent individual that sensitizes us to what is creative and beautiful. To the lovers of the beautiful game he is our HERO AND WARRIOR. Congratulations to Paul Gardner! We love you!All the best. Thank you.
  1. Dick Burns
    commented on: August 4, 2010 at 1:18 p.m.
    I have been reading Paul's works since the original Soccer West publication in the arly '70s. I have not always agreed with him but have always respected him. I remember his presence in Colorado Springs in the late '70s when the Olympic movement had the National Sports Festivals giving US Soccer it's first chance to gather players from around the nation in one event. I had a chance to officiate in these games because the USSF did not have money to send refs in from outside of Colorado. The players expenses were paid by the US Olympic Committee. His comments on the state of US soccer were right on as much as we wanted things to be different. I am sure that Paul will agree that soccer in the US has grown tremendously over the past four decades and that while we have a long way to go, we have made tremendous strides. Congratulations Paul. May you continue to contribute to US soccer.
  1. Kent James
    commented on: August 4, 2010 at 1:27 p.m.
    A well-deserved award for an incredible career. Although I don't always agree with his views, I always enjoy reading his columns, and I think that defines a good columnist. He's not only an astute observer of the game, but his contacts and knowledge of the history of the game allow him to cover things off the field that affect how the game is played. He goes to the heart of the matter and doesn't pull his punches. I look forward to reading many more columns from his talented pen (or keyboard...).
  1. Brian Herbert
    commented on: August 4, 2010 at 3:23 p.m.
    Fascinating article. First, I had no idea Gardner was twice my age. Second, didn't know he was English. Third, did not know he didn't play organized soccer. ALL human progress happens because someone complains. No human progress happens when groups of "yes" men pat each other on the back and say "things are fine." A point Gardner knows very well! Keep writing.
  1. Jon Weiss
    commented on: August 4, 2010 at 10:12 p.m.
    As some others have noted, I don't always agree, but value his observations of the game. I hope to be reading Paul's columns when he's 100. Thanks for the many years of fine work!
  1. Michael Romeo
    commented on: August 10, 2010 at 2:57 p.m.
    Well deserved .... Congratulations Paul

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