Editor’s Let­ter

Esquire (UK) - - Editor’s Letter - Alex Bilmes

Ear­lier this year, I was pho­tographed for that most au­gust of Bri­tish news­pa­pers, the Fi­nan­cial Times, wear­ing a num­ber of items of logo-em­bla­zoned sportswear bor­rowed from the bleed­ing edge fash­ion brands of the mo­ment (Gosha Rubchin­skiy, Vete­ments) and the hot skate la­bels (Supreme, Palace) beloved of those odd­ball ob­ses­sives who com­pete with each other to own the most up-to-the-se­cond, lim­ited-edi­tion track­suits and train­ers avail­able to man or hy­pe­beast. That’s what they call them­selves, grand­daddy-o: hy­pe­beasts.

In my over­sized hoodie and my clumpy sneak­ers I looked, to put it over-po­litely, quite silly. I felt quite silly, too. (I hate to even sug­gest it, but I sus­pect this may have been the FT fash­ion editor’s di­a­bol­i­cal in­ten­tion all along, the fiend.) Be­lieve it or not, the point of the ar­ti­cle was not to poke fun at the clothes, more to won­der whether a 44-year-old mid­dle man­age­ment square like me, in the throes of a quite trau­matic midlife cri­sis — yes, an­other one — could re­cap­ture the ex­cite­ment of his mis­spent youth by ap­pro­pri­at­ing the look, if not quite the at­ti­tude, of the trendies of to­day. The an­swer: no. But we raised a few LOLs, I hope, so job done.

Paul Pogba, the mag­is­te­rial Manch­ester United mid­fielder, is a strap­ping 24-year-old elite ath­lete. He is hand­some, im­pos­ing, and charis­matic. He has elan and panache. (And money and ac­claim and no pot belly; bet he’s not hav­ing a midlife cri­sis.) When he agreed to front this, our Sports Is­sue, I asked Esquire’s fash­ion team to make sure he was pho­tographed wear­ing the groovi­est garms around — so pretty much the same stuff I’d been clown­ing in for the FT.

I can’t think of many men who could pull off a pas­tel pink hoodie on a mag­a­zine cover, and still look dash­ing and poised, but the £90m man can. As Tim Lewis in­ter­viewed him for this is­sue, in a photo stu­dio in Manch­ester, Pogba sat in a bar­ber’s chair, hav­ing his hair done: dye­ing out the blond highlights he’d been sport­ing the pre­vi­ous night, when he led Man U to vic­tory in the fi­nal of the Europa League. That snap­shot — mil­lion­aire met­ro­sex­ual gets ton­so­rial touch-up while gaw­ping hack tries to elicit non-eva­sive an­swer to straight­for­ward ques­tion — might seem typ­i­cal of the mod­ern foot­baller’s re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia. But Pogba — “the most sin­gu­lar and di­vi­sive player at work in the Pre­mier League right now,” as Tim puts it — is not typ­i­cal, of any­thing, and it’s not just his looks that make him in­ter­est­ing, as his interview re­veals. His story is equally di­vert­ing.

Pogba is not the only sports­man with a sur­pris­ing story to tell in this is­sue. In his play­ing days, as Danny Kelly points out in his pro­file, Gary Lineker seemed an un­re­mark­able man, al­beit a very good foot­baller. As he will for ev­ery English­man of my gen­er­a­tion, Lineker will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated for me with the World Cup cam­paigns of 1986, when he won the golden boot for scor­ing the most goals (six), and 1990, when ev­ery­one re­mem­bers him ges­tur­ing mean­ing­fully at the bench af­ter Gazza burst into tears dur­ing that ag­o­nis­ing semi-fi­nal in Turin. But un­like many great sports­men, Lineker did not be­come frozen, in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, on the pitch. He has en­joyed an equally suc­cess­ful se­cond act, even a third. First he be­came, as the host of Match of the Day, the tele­genic face of foot­ball in this coun­try. And now, still more un­ex­pect­edly, he has be­come a rare voice of cen­trist pol­i­tics, the lib­eral con­science of Twit­ter. How the hell did that hap­pen? Danny, mak­ing his de­but for Esquire, has some thoughts, as no one who has en­joyed his own broad­cast­ing over the years will be surprised to learn.

Not ev­ery sports­man pro­filed here has en­joyed quite so stel­lar a ca­reer. For each Mo Farah, there’s a Mar­cus Wil­lis, the jour­ney­man ten­nis player who had a brief mo­ment in the sun, play­ing Roger Fed­erer at Wim­ble­don last year, be­fore re­turn­ing to hard­scrab­ble ob­scu­rity. For ev­ery Muham­mad Ali, there’s a Toronto Wolf­pack, the Canadian team — sorry, “transat­lantic pro­fes­sional sports fran­chise” — that plays in the third tier of Bri­tish Rugby League. The Wolf­pack’s story, as told here, is per­haps even more quixotic than Wil­lis’s.

Sport presents a height­ened and also a soft­ened ver­sion of re­al­ity, with tri­umph and dis­as­ter al­ways a heart­beat away, ev­ery­thing to play for and noth­ing to lose, and all that com­fort­ing, cliché-hug­ging stuff. That’s why it makes for great ma­te­rial. Our count­down of the best sports doc­u­men­taries iden­ti­fies hours of grip­ping sto­ry­telling about sports­men, and the mean­ing we as­cribe to their suc­cesses and, of­ten more com­pellingly, their fail­ures.

Fi­nally, Greg Moss con­trib­utes a photo es­say on that gnarli­est of mo­tor­sports, su­per­bike road rac­ing, and Giles Coren shows sim­i­lar steely nerve by vis­it­ing a new theme park: Fer­rari Land. While there, Giles put his life on the line when, hav­ing re­peat­edly as­sured me that he wouldn’t, he rode the “high­est and fastest ver­ti­cal ac­cel­er­a­tor in Europe”, the roller­coaster oth­er­wise known as… Red Force.

Did he en­joy it? I’ll let him tell you.

Sport presents a height­ened and also a soft­ened ver­sion of re­al­ity, with tri­umph and dis­as­ter al­ways a heart­beat away, ev­ery­thing to play for and noth­ing to lose, and all that com­fort­ing, cliché-hug­ging stuff. That’s why it makes for great ma­te­rial

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