Sports writer Dave Ord “takes it all in” at the press room in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2014.
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (April 14, 2017) — Dave Ord cares more about soccer — or futbol or football to large throngs of people spanning the globe — than anybody I’ve ever met.
He also knows what he’s talking because he cares deeply about being a knowledgeable student of the game.
He watches closely, knows what and how to observe, and remembers pretty much everything that’s ever happened on a pitch.
As a resident expert of the game, Ord brought passionate, detailed coverage of the great game to Arizona Daily Star readers for years. His World Cup adventures in Japan, Germany, South Africa and Brazil grabbed their attention. I first met Dave just after he returned from watching Euro 2000 in the Netherlands. He had great quirky souvenirs and T-shirts from that extravaganza that he sometimes brought into the Daily Star newsroom, where I also worked.
It’s been a delight to exchange correspondence with Dave about soccer over the years, finding out which games he’s watched, who he’s going to watch next and other general impressions. He’s happy to pass along details, big or small.
Nowadays, Dave is writing fewer soccer articles, but stays involved in the sport as FC Tucson’s statistician and historian.
I’ve had many conversations with Dave over the years that touched upon soccer, but none as thorough as this interview. Simply put, the goal of this Q&A piece was to gain a deeper understanding of Dave’s lifelong involvement in the sport and how he sees the game and views what he’s seen over the years, and to share those opinions with readers near and far.
What’s your earliest memory of being drawn to soccer as a fan? Do you recall a certain game or highlight or person from your youth on TV or at a pitch?
Due to the limited amount of soccer on U.S. television in my younger days, I was only able to watch it occasionally (NASL matches of the week, rare highlights). But two things really changed that for me. One was a weekly Bundesliga highlights show called “Soccer Made In Germany” with British announcer Toby Charles doing the narration. I loved his voice and his turns of phrase. The other, which I still consider the real spark that flamed my love for the game, was the televising of the 1982 World Cup. During the blazing summer in Tucson, Arizona, I got up in the mornings and tuned in to one of the Spanish-language channels (this was the first time an entire World Cup was shown live in the U.S.) and watched what I considered the greatest sports drama I had ever witnessed. I watched every match, trying to absorb everything, even though my Spanish comprehension was only slightly higher than my calculus comprehension, which was none. The foreign land, the flags of countries I knew next to nothing about being waved in the stands, the crunching tackles, the divine runs for goals, the equally divine calls of those goals by the Mexican announcers. It was all so thrilling. It made me want more. It made me want to be there. During my travels after those fledgling days of watching the 1982 World Cup, I have met five other guys who were equally touched by that tournament. I call us the Class of 1982.
Who are a handful of journalists whose coverage of futbol are essential reading for you and who do they write for? And similarly, what programs on TV, radio, the internet, podcasts, wherever help keep you informed on a regular basis about what’s happening in the sport across the globe?
After that 1982 World Cup, I quickly became a regular reader of World Soccer. (Again, like TV, there were not a lot of choices.) I couldn’t wait for the next issue at the magazine stand. I still believe that if you can have only one source to inform about the soccer world, it’s World Soccer. I think everyone that wants to read about the American game is familiar with Soccer by Ives. I also have daily forays into the news at espnfc.com and greatly enjoy the Men In Blazers podcasts. I think the features in and on The New York Times are impressive and insightful. (But I must say when the print version has an impressive presentation, it’s way better than any website page.)
As you know well, unlike basketball and football, where scoring is much higher in number and much greater in frequency, soccer scoring is much less common. That said, does that make reporting about dramatic goals, spectacular goals, bizarre goals and the like more fun to write about, to describe in words?
Maybe you’ve heard the adage — actually, it’s just a phrase I use — “It takes an excellent writer to make a nil-nil match riveting.” But seriously, that’s one of the things that I found most rewarding about writing soccer stories. To me, soccer demands more of the writer. First, the play rarely stops for more than a moment or two. That means your level of concentration must remain high all the time. Second, the size of the pitch and the space that results from it mean goals can unfurl from anywhere at any time. So just focusing on the star forward or the final third of the pitch are not viable options. It is paramount that you watch what everyone is doing. Third, the limited scoring means that more description and attention to detail is required when the goals are scored. When there is no scoring, you must convey the ebb and flow that explains why there were no goals.
When did you obtain your first press pass as a young journalist? Looking back, what did that experience mean to you then?
Like most American sports writers, I started out covering high school sports. That first press pass wasn’t all that memorable. Maybe because it was about 35 years ago. But I will always remember getting my first World Cup press pass. I went to the accreditation center in Yokohama. After having my photo taken, I waited for the pass to be processed and talked to the employees who were oh-so eager to help me. There were all sorts of displays and flower arrangements making the place look so festive. That combined with a little jet lag and the realization that I had made it to covering the World Cup halfway around the globe made it seem like a dream.
In 2016, Dave Ord stands in front of an old linotype machine in the Arizona Daily Star’s front lobby. He calls the scene “two newspaper dinosaurs.”
As a well-traveled soccer fan and chronicler of the great game, estimate how many countries, cities and stadiums you’ve witnessed the live game over the years? How many press passes and ticket stubs have you kept from these travels? How many games at levels of the sport do you think you’ve watched in person? How about on television?
I have had the privilege of seeing soccer on five continents and in 11 countries. Because I am a freak for numbers, I recently figured out approximately how many miles I have traveled to see The Beautiful Game – more than 218,000. I keep everything from all those trips, from ticket stubs to programs to newspapers to press passes. I even have some slivers of those annoying pieces of papier-mache that rain down when a team wins a title. In this case, it was France in the 2000 European Championships. I have seen soccer played from the World Cup to youth matches. (I still enjoy watching the massive Fort Lowell Shootout, which is held in Tucson every winter and involves thousands of youth players.) If someone kicks a ball, I’ll watch it. Heck, I’ve even watched robot soccer.
Years ago, I know you were a rabid David Beckham fan. Do you maintain that a great interest in his post-playing career? Did you catch this very ambitious project (http://www.7.org/david-beckham-bbc-unicef-for-the-love-of-the-game.html)? What did you think of it?
I’ve followed Beckham’s career since he was one of Fergie’s Fledglings. I have always respected how he handles himself and what he has done for the game on and off the field. I had the chance to have a firsthand look at how gracious he is to the fans when he was in Tucson for MLS preseason in 2012, and the impact he has on people is massive. As for the UNICEF project, I think what he is doing is great and something that I would love to be a part of.
Did you play soccer on a high school team or local club? If so, what position?
This is where I could really pull out the zingers – the 12th man, the goalpost, etc. If they had a right field in soccer, I would have played there. Actually, the organized high school game was not around when I was in my teens. I played intramural, going wherever they thought I could do the least damage. But I do remember one particular moment that, on retrospect, is one more reason why I love the game. I had broken my leg in junior high, a real bad, see-the-bone kind of break. I had been wary of how to test it until I took a shin-to-shin shot to it and felt no pain. I never really even gave the leg a thought after that.
In different sports, there are, of course, different theories about how to watch the game. Some say that in basketball one should watch an offensive or defensive player’s eyes and not always focus on the ball, for instance. Is there a sophisticated or effective way to watch futbol that gives one a greater periscope, a wider lens on the action, than just following the ball?
I have always preferred sitting on the end, about 15 rows up if possible. You get the goalmouth action on your end and you get a better feel for how the teams are playing on the wings, which is quite often where the most intense action is being displayed and where many a goal is generated. But where you watch the game is not as important as how you watch the game. You mentioned the wider lens. Compared to other sports, the soccer lens is a fish-eye lens. You really need to pay as much attention to what’s going on away from the ball as you do on the ball. I once thought up a play on words that defines what I mean: To be on the ball, you have to watch what’s off it.
Who is the most exciting pro in the global game today? Why?
We are very lucky to have two sublimely talented rarities playing the game right now in Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It is probably the best pairing of two world players since the days of Pele and Best. Sometimes I think Messi is better, sometimes I am in wonder of what Ronaldo can do. Both have great individual talent, with their dribbling skills and free kicks, but also do their share of setting up others.
The most underappreciated? Why?
Defenders are always the underappreciated. Of those out there right now, Diego Godin comes to mind. He is a crucial part of Atletico Madrid’s defense and, after watching him last summer in person during the Copa America Centenario, it became obvious what he means to Uruguay.
What did being a part of Jan. 27’s “Tucson Legends of Soccer Night,” promoted by FC Tucson, which honored individuals who made important contributions over the past 40 years in Tucson, mean to you? What type of feedback and recognition did you receive locally about it?
The Legends event meant the world to me. I have always been aware of the appreciation showered on me by soccer fans, players, coaches and organizers. That praise was more than enough for me. But to have a night in which you are honored really amalgamates all the kind things people have said about what I have done for the game. Writers are better read than seen, but that night it was fun to be seen, not read. When they called me up for my honor, I celebrated by doing the airplane goal celebration, because for me it was as if I had scored a goal (which, by the way, I have never done in a real match). To be honored along with the great folks who have lifted Tucson soccer to where it is now, some of them who I have known for decades, was the icing on the cake.
How important has Arizona become as a training center for the MLS in preparation for the season? Is it slowly evolving in a location, on a smaller scale, like the Cactus League and Grapefruit League for MLB? What are your general impressions of this year’s MLS preseason with 10 teams in Tucson?
The MLS and FC Tucson came along at a time when Tucson needed something. The baseball spring training had left. The big PGA tournament moved on. The minor-league baseball team twice skipped out of town. There was certainly a gap. It started with just two MLS teams coming in 2011 and now, each year, there are 10 or more teams. This season’s MLS preseason was the best we’ve had. There were excellent, knowledgeable crowds watching exciting matches involving big stars. The rapport the MLS players had with the supporters was incredible. I constantly tell people how close to the action you can be and how welcoming the players are at MLS training. If you would have told me 10 years ago that this would happen in Tucson, I would have told you to go take a flying scissor kick. But now, every year, greats like Clint Dempsey, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Tim Howard are gracing the Tucson grass with their presence. It’s almost unfathomable.
How have your impressions of MLS changed from its establishment in 1996 to its current structure?
I remember attending the first MLS match in San Jose, California, in 1996 and wondering if it would make it, if it could find a niche in the American sports landscape. For a while, it was scary – two teams folded, the crowds in the massive stadiums that belonged to the other kind of football looked puny, the emphasis was to mold soccer into the American sports form. But gradually the things that make soccer the world’s most popular sport began to creep their way into the MLS, and the people who watched those MLS matches and attended those MLS games morphed into soccer fans, not just sports fans. The culture took a long time to develop in the U.S. petri dish, but now it’s growing and growing.
When was the first World Cup you attended? Have you missed any in person since the first one?
My first World Cup was USA 1994. I had a taste of world soccer before that and knew I was not going to let it pass me by in my own backyard. I went to 14 matches, including the final at the Rose Bowl. It was glorious, and I said to myself ‘I’m going to try and attend every one of them as long as I can.’ I’ve kept that promise, attending every one since then – six in total. Each one has been a thoroughly enjoyable journey into Planet Football.
Filing stories from soccer matches at far-flung locales spanning the globe, what sticks out in your mind as 1-2 of the biggest challenges to get your story to editors on deadline? Where there particular transportation or communication or electricity or weather problems that popped up?
I have always tried to treat the challenges as part of my soccer journey. One of the great things about being a journalist in the Western U.S. is that the times of matches all over the globe are usually early by Arizona time standards and I haven’t had to overcome many tight deadlines. In fact, the most time-crucial deadlines are on the stories I have written for FC Tucson and MLS preseason. The time I remember probably more than others was a 2002 World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. There were so many journalists that a temporary tent press box had to be constructed. It was bone-chilling February night and the wind and cold cut though the shell of the press box like Ryan Giggs slicing a thin Premiership defense. I ended up typing with gloves on, which for a Sonoran Desert animal like myself was a pretty big ask. When I finished the story, I really felt like I had overcome a hurdle.
Meeting fans and athletes and coaches and futbol officials and folks from all over the globe, how has this wonderful game helped enrich your life and your appreciation of the interconnected reality of our existence? Have you struck up any special friendships with some of the people you’ve met in Brazil, Japan, Germany, etc.?
For me, the game has really transcended being a game. The journeys I take are about so much more than 22 guys on a pitch. They are about the trains you take to get there, they are about the architectural masterpieces that become the cauldrons of enthusiasm that you enter, but most of all they are about the people. In that way, I feel incredibly blessed. The most apparent truth I have learned from these trips is that we are all pretty much the same. There is a Dave Ord everywhere. A person who loves the game and tries to cherish every moment of every game and every interaction with every person. Everywhere I have gone, I’ve met someone who touched me with their sincerity or their wit or their love of the game. When I came to Japan for the 2002 World Cup, I was on the train from Narita to Tokyo and pointed to manga a young guy had pinched between his arm and chest. I noticed it had a soccer theme and asked to look at it (mainly so I could get the name and try and buy one for myself). He handed to me and told me I could have it. I said “No, you don’t have to do that.” But he insisted. In Brazil, I asked a man in the concession line if he could find out for me if they could put soda in one of the souvenir beer cups because I was working and couldn’t drink alcohol but wanted one of the cups. When we get to the front of the line, he converses with the server and then hands me my soda in a souvenir cup. I ask him how much I owe him, but he says he’s paid for it and won’t take my money. Moments like that are a regular occurrence on my trips. They mean as much as any cracking goal or diving save.
What was the most electric venue you’ve been inside for a World Cup match?
Of all the questions in this interview, this might be the toughest. I have always made it a quest to see the host country play in a World Cup match because there is so much enthusiasm and national spirit. To watch the pride spilling out when the national anthem is being played has few equals. To pick one, I will say the quarterfinal match between France and Italy in 1998 in St. Denis. It had everything. State-of-the-art stadium. Two great teams. Knock-stage match. Everyone pulling for Les Bleus. It ends with penalties. Complete euphoria when France wins. Everyone hugging, laughing, dancing.
What’s the most amazing moment you’ve seen at a World Cup stadium during a live match?
Ronaldinho’s goal that put Brazil through in the 2002 quarterfinal against England. He had to be about 32 yards away. It had the perfect combination of pace and arc to beat a backpedaling David Seaman for a 2-1 1ead the crushed England’s hopes.
If you had to jot down an all-time World Cup starting XI without counting stats or accolades, who immediately comes to mind to fill in the lineup?
Is the Maradona-Pele feud kept alive by Diego more so than the Brazilian? Or is it something that appears from time to time in the news because of both men’s thirst for attention and the fact that news consumers will eat it up?
I think much more is made of this “feud” by others than it is by the two players. Partially because there can be no finite answer, and partially because we seem so obsessed with listing things. In reality, the competition is a lot like soccer itself – no numerical way to quantify the ability and creativity of the foes, the importance of the individual but also how the individual interacts with the team and an end result that has three options (win, lose or draw).