Josh started his podcast This Football Life for Tifo Football with the intention of shining a light on the careers of interesting figures from within the game’s history. Recently, however, the interviewer was gracious enough to become interviewee and he has allowed The Linesman to place the spotlight on his own life and journey. As well as interviewing a plethora of fascinating characters, the London-based New York City native has also travelled the world, having spent large stretches of time in both Spain and South Korea. Not short of fascinating and insightful things to say about the game, Josh has given us some poignant takes on British culture, U.S. football and life as American working in the UK football industry amongst so much more. This is Josh’s story, in his own words.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your career? What do you do in the football industry? How long have you been doing it?
I’m from Port Washington, which is a suburb of New York City. I host and founded a football podcast called This Football Life which I do for Tifo Football. I have been doing the show for Tifo since January. Previously the show was called The Football Autobiography Show (and the Football Camino before that) and that started in July. In the show I interview players, coaches, agents, writers, executives and backroom staff about their lives and careers in the game. It seems odd but in a way this was the last thing I expected to do. I studied broadcast journalism at Syracuse University (Go Orange!) and didn’t enjoy it, thinking I’d never go back to it. Boy was I wrong. I then taught English in South Korea and Spain for nearly four years.
How about your life outside of football? Do you have any other interests?
While I love football, I’m just a massive sports fan. I’ll watch any sport if its on. Something about watching the drama, unpredictability and human nature captivates me. I genuinely loved curling in the Olympics as a 12-year-old and watching Andy Roddick lose to Federer was an all-time sports moment for me. I’m that into sports. If I was in the United States, I’d probably be doing the same show but for baseball or basketball. I actually just got my basketball coaching certificate here in the UK so I might pursue that on a part-time basis.
How did you end up in the UK?
As I mentioned earlier after University I became an English teacher. I taught in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea to 3-7 year olds. It was there that I met my girlfriend (now my wife). Then I moved to Madrid to teach English there and to live with a couple of my best friends from Uni. I lived there for 1.5 years and then almost went to graduate school here just so I could legally live in the UK with my girlfriend but instead I dragged her back to Korea. We taught there for a year, this time in Cheongju. Finally, we decided to move to England and put teaching English in the rear view.
How did the Podcast for Tifo Football come into existence? What was the inspiration behind it?
I was working at Minority Rights Group International and I was doing numerous qualitative case-studies for our donor. In each case-study I interviewed people who were involved in a project about their experience. It involved a lot of reflection from the guest. I ended up doing at least eight of these and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought what if I did this on a subject that interested me even more. So I thought I’d do it on football and have people look back on their career. I’ve also been a longtime fan of the Tim Ferriss Show and realized there wasn’t really anything like that for football. I just saw an empty space in football and thought I’d fill it.
What are the most noticeable differences between the lower leagues in the nations where you have played/worked? In terms of style and quality? Fans? Atmosphere? Coaching methods?
I can only speak about the lower leagues in the United States and England. I live by Charlton and really enjoy going to the games. The people you see and hear just say the most ridiculous, hilarious things. Sometimes I’ve had to ask myself if they’re speaking English. I’d say the biggest difference is the lower leagues in the USA are more family friendly. They cater to families who just want to have a day out. Perhaps it’s just Charlton but you don’t get as many here.
You mentioned how you’ve seen a growth in the popularity of football in the states, especially since you were younger. Do you think it will continue to grow there or will it always lag behind more traditional US sports such as American Football, Basketball and Baseball? And what can be done to make it more popular?
I think it will lag behind Basketball and American Football for at least the next 20-30 years. It is rapidly growing and isn’t too far behind baseball. I think in 15-20 years it will be as big as baseball if not more so. I’m not an expert, but I think it’d be more popular if we had an elite American player (could be Pulisic) who is contending for an elite team on the world stage. For example, playing for a perennial Champs League contender, just because Americans love stars- we really do. I also think MLS needs to be more open to selling its talent long-term to other leagues. If we see a bigger pipeline between MLS and Europe the league will garner more credibility domestically while also incentivizing teams to invest more in their academies and local talent (so they can receive the sell-on fee). But the most important thing is just time. It’s come leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. If they can continue to make level-headed moves, I don’t see why it won’t be a big sport in the US.
Were there any culture shocks or difficulties adapting to the football industry in the UK?
The most obvious is my lack of historical understanding and appreciation of British football. I was a player before I was a fan in the US. Soccer wasn’t on TV much until I was a teenager (I’m 28) and even then it was usually only on premium cable which my family didn’t want to pay for. Even then until the end of my teenage years, Fox Soccer Channel, didn’t place a heavy emphasis on British football. They showed French, German, Argentinian and Italian as well. I watched it all, I actually liked Argentinian the most. But coming here I didn’t know much about British football, besides what I had read, pre-2000. I had to play catch up. Since I started my podcast I’ve read 30+ books to educate myself but I’m constantly learning. People will make a reference and sometime I might not get it at first.
Do you have any stand out memories of the respective regions from a footballing point of view?
My favorite football memory is when I was in Madrid. After the Champions League Final when Real beat Atletico, my friends and I went out to a club. Around 5 in the morning I left and went to go walk home and I went to Plaza Cibeles to celebrate ‘La Decima’ with thousands of fans. The sun was rising and people were just dancing while there was music playing. Kids who could barely walk, all the way to old people who could barely walk were smiling from ear to ear having the morning/late night of their lives. It was a beautiful moment.
What are your impressions of the country outside of football?
The UK is very similar to the US. It’s actually a bit concerning how similar it is in some ways, and it seems like that’s only becoming more apparent (rising Uni costs, likelihood of the NHS becoming privatized). I really enjoy how cosmopolitan it is like the US. However, I find in London that people are not as friendly as people are in the US. You don’t get as many random conversations with people in public. The only other thing that’s interesting about the UK is how television shows are known by everyone. Since the US is so large there are no universally discussed television shows but here since it’s a smaller country with less programming most people seem to know what’s happening on the popular shows. For example, everyone knows what’s going on in EastEnders at Christmas time.
Were they any culture shocks or difficulties adapting to life?
There isn’t any culture shock here. When I was in Korea, there was significant culture shock. The country is 99% Korean and when you walk around- except certain places of Seoul and Busan- you stick out like a sore thumb. Everyone looks at you and you at first feel kind of like an alien. There’s such an intrigue and fascination that a lot of Koreans just had in me, a tall foreign man. I remember once, I was about to go hiking with some friends and a man ran over to us, from about 3 blocks away just so he could say hello and welcome us to his country. There were numerous times where I had drinks bought for me at a bar just for being a foreigner. It was fascinating. There are many other things but that is one that sticks out the most.
Do you have any stand out memories or observations of UK in terms of your life there?
I could say when I proposed to my now wife but I’ll leave that to just us. Most of my standout memories relate to the podcast. I’ve met so many interesting people through that. In terms of observations it continues to baffle me how England claims to love their football so much and yet fans are completely okay to missing more than ½ of their team’s games. About half of the Prem’s games are on television. There hasn’t been a revolt, a campaign or anything about demanding their teams be televised. Everyone around the world has more access to Premier League games than British people and they don’t seem to care. It’s truly baffling and something that doesn’t exist in the States. We can watch 100% of all of our team’s games.
What do you miss most about the USA?
Besides my family and friends, it has to be the food. The UK doesn’t realize how much good food it’s missing out on. American BBQ (and its wide range of variations), diners, delis, pizza by the slice (sorry, the UK stuff just doesn’t compare) and Mexican are but a bit of the food I long for. Back in Port Washington, I have a deli that makes a homemade Cajun mayo that I’ve brought with me to Spain, Korea and here and at this point its internationally beloved by my friends.
You can find Josh on twitter: @footballautobio and you can find his podcast ‘This Football Life’ here: https://soundcloud.com/thisfootballlife