Jamie Tradescant: highbrow sports journalist

Jamie’s articles are not simply a riot of historical and philosophical allusions — no, they are all about style

Arty Types

This article is taken from the February 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

5.23 p.m. on a winter Saturday and Manchester City have just drawn 1–1 with Liverpool. Head down over his laptop in the Etihad press box, Jamie Tradescant is hard at work on his match report. “Here at the summit of the Premiership’s Mount Olympus, Pep Guardiola may be regarded as Zeus, tossing an endless series of managerial thunderbolts over the heads of lesser deities who linger on its subsidiary crags,” he begins.

Then, chastened by the thought that last week’s encounter between Burnley and Luton also conjured up one or two classical associations, he presses the delete key and starts again. “Here amidst spume and tempest” — light rain did indeed fall periodically during the game — “there is a Lear-like quality to Jürgen Klopp as, byssine and preoccupied, he stalks the touchline.”

“Byssine”, an obscure adjective meaning “silken”, is a roundabout way of saying that Klopp has a beard. Naturally, compositional techniques of this sort can’t be rushed. By the time Jamie files, the press box is deserted and the subs at the paper are sending agitated texts. Still, as he assures himself, it was worth the wait, if only for the resounding final paragraph, which may possibly refer to City’s eye-catching team selection: “Like Gramsci, Pep seemed to be telling us that the past is dead and the future not yet born, but in the interval a variety of interesting symptoms will declare themselves.”

As highbrow sports journalists go, Jamie is not quite in the top rank — a galaxy that includes such luminaries as the Guardian’s Barney Ronay and James Gheerbrant of The Times — but on a good day he is capable of giving his fellow professionals a run for their money.

Back in the autumn, for example, he produced a terrific piece about a one-day international between Sri Lanka and New Zealand, which compared the rivalry between the two teams to the Schleswig-Holstein question and referred to the “endlessly recalibrated hegemony of these well-nigh Orwellian zones of cricketing influence”.

Jamie is 31 and abandoned a PhD on Celtic survivals in 20th century British fantasy literature

Can you recalibrate a hegemony? Jamie’s articles, a feature of the Daily Excess’s sports pages these past three years, are not simply a riot of historical and philosophical allusions (“I have always thought Eddie Howe the logical positivist of English football”).

No, they are all about style; the “masochist extravaganza” of a team from the National Leagues playing a Premiership side in the FA Cup, Sir Mo Farah, “frail, waif-like, désoeuvré, a pale ghost in the twilight of his career, haunted by past glories”, an obituary of Sir Bobby Charlton which described its subject as “a wholly romantic figure, soccer’s avatar, the all-unknowing instrument of its destiny”.

How do you become a highbrow sports journalist? Jamie is 31 and abandoned a PhD on Celtic survivals in 20th century British fantasy literature before impressing the Excess’s sports editor with a piece about Wimbledon which compared an encounter between Nadal and Djokovic to the Wars of the Roses.

At some point, he would quite like to become the paper’s literary editor. In the meantime, 17 people are supposed to have sent his account of the rugby world cup final in to Private Eye’s “Pseuds Corner” column. But these are proud scars.

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