Walking down Goldsmiths Road, we were surprised to discover a pub that would seem more at home in Birmingham than in Hackney. A tribute to the landlords passion, West Bromwich Albion, we were there to meet Jamie Millar.
Formerly of both Mens Health and GQ magazines, Jamie's someone who equipped with a pen, can turn football into high art. We caught up with Jamie to discuss his work, his passions and his admittedly tough tackles!
Corinthian: So first things first Jamie, how would you explain your roles today?
Jamie Millar: They’re many and varied, but I’d probably sum myself up as a freelance men’s lifestyle writer. I used to be on staff at GQ and Men’s Health, and I’m still a contributing editor to the latter. Because of that background, I mainly write about stuff like men’s fashion, grooming and watches, plus health, fitness and sport - especially football. I also have the privilege of interviewing a lot of celebrities and sportsmen. So it makes a nice change for me to be on the other side of the questions.
C: I imagine it was quite competitive at a publication like Men’s Health. Were you all busy keeping fit and comparing yourselves to each other?
JM: We were mostly just busy, which ironically meant that we weren’t always able to practise what we were preaching. But there was one period when I and two of my workmates underwent a ten-week body transformation and as such were forced to live, breathe and eat precisely weighed quantities of it. We were told that whoever achieved the best result would get pride of place on the cover of a workout booklet attached to the front of the magazine. I made sure that I won.
C: Did you play a lot of football growing up?
JM: This probably won’t come as a shock, but I was something of a bookworm as a kid and not blessed athletically. I got into football through my local cub scout pack, which had a ridiculously good side and would regularly score into double figures - indeed, I suspect many of the boys joined cubs for that reason. Being one of the crappest players by a distance, I was deployed in defence. I don’t remember if I even liked football that much at that point, but looking back it was one of the few things that my dad, who is a very practical man, and I could bond over. Come rain, shine or sleet, he’d drive me to the games, stand on the sideline and shout at me in no uncertain terms to “get stuck in”. I won “Most Improved Player” at the end of one season (talk about faint praise) which I think was the positive reinforcement I needed to keep at it - and keep improving, hopefully.
C: So what position were you?
JM: I was right-back and very much the Gary Neville of the team in terms of ability level and application. My idol though was Tony Adams, whose name and number adorned my first Arsenal shirt. I sometimes played centre-back at school, although I was let down by not being very good in the air. I went back to playing RB for my college team at uni, which I captained chiefly on account of my commitment, not skill (unless you count organising). Then when I moved to London and joined a Saturday team, I converted to DM, partly because I’m an insufferable hipster but mainly because I was one of the only players capable of running for an extended duration.
C: And do you still regularly play, or any other sports?
JM: I try to play five-a-side twice a week, as a consequence of which I’ve toned down the slide-tackling. (They are friendly games, after all.) I also endeavour to go to the gym and do yoga as much as I can. But I don’t really like to run unless there’s a football to chase.
C: So where can we watch you in action?
JM: On a Monday night, it’s Finsbury Leisure Centre, just off Old Street, in a game that I got into through a graphic designer buddy who also worked at GQ and Men’s Health. Then on Saturday mornings, it’s William Tyndale School, behind Islington Town Hall, with mates from uni. Stupidly, I used to get really wound up if I played badly or lost, and would let it ruin my day, but now I really try to appreciate every chance to play, especially as I’m getting older and the niggling injuries are mounting. (Few things make you as painfully aware of your own fleeting mortality as when you realise that professional footballers are almost all younger than you.) We take it seriously, but in a good way: team announcements, forensic post-match analysis, occasionally even video highlights packages (with graphics). After hanging out with my wife and daughter, playing a good-spirited game of five-a-side at “Willy T”, the weekend stretching out before me, is probably my happy place.
C: Who do you support, and have the teams you've worked in always been into football too?
JM: Even though I’m not from London, I support Arsenal, on account of my grandad. His son, my uncle, is also a Gooner, as are all of my cousins. (My dad doesn’t even really like football but decided to nominally support Chelsea, just to be contrary.) There wasn’t much playing of football at GQ but every now and then Men’s Health would scrape together a side to play in a one-off “friendly” against another publication, or a brand like Oakley and Levi’s. They could get quite fiery but that would always be extinguished with a post-match pint or two.
C: Arsenal has a great sense of tradition and history. Is that something that interests you?
JM: I wouldn’t say that Arsenal’s history interests me necessarily, although being a bookworm I have read up on it. I’ve always felt a certain degree of pride though that the club seems to do things properly on and off the pitch - pride that helped sustain me through the long, barren years when we watched other less scrupulous teams financially dope their way to the top. Doubtless their fans think us Gooners smug and deluded, and they may well be right. But I’d rather try to play and win the right way.
C: So you're a champion of the Corinthian spirit - of sportsmanship over gamesmanship?
JM: Yes, although I’m also hyper-competitive, which I’ve tried to work on. “Firm but fair” probably best sums up my philosophy: nobody should have to worry about getting their leg broken, or punched. Despite my best intentions, there were incidents when “the Millar reducer”, as it became known, strayed into quasi-legal territory…Cheating meanwhile is no fun for anyone, and the haranguing of match officials is in my opinion one of the most pernicious things in the game.
C: Do you believe Corinthian Spirit is something we should try to champion off the pitch as well?
JM: Very much so. I believe in karma, although not in the way that Glenn Hoddle does - more in the Justin Timberlake sense. And fundamentally, you never really need to be a dickhead about anything. Ever.