With Euro 2016 in full swing, one byline we search out every morning is The New York Times’ Sam Borden. A man who traverses France, covering every angle of the tournament, from security concerns to teams’ official Euro 2016 anthems. Without Sam, we would not know Ukraine’s song of choice is “Riding Cossacks.” In this edition of Three Questions we ask Mr. Borden for a temperature check on stadium security, how he generates story ideas, and his prediction for a winner.
MiB: How do you decide which games you'll attend at the Euros? We picture you in front of a massive pinup board with a map of France and team flags stuck to each city. Walk us through the process.
SB: The process regarding my schedule is very scientific: I wait for my editor, Andrew Das, to assign me to certain games and then, after I realize how many of them are in Lille, I complain and try to change it. Actually, that's not entirely true; sometimes I send Andy messages before the assignments are finalized complaining about the mere possibility of having to go to Lille again.
MiB: Rog says that you are one of the most creative football writers in America. You mix game coverage and player profiles with meditations on the role of the wall during a free kick and peeling back the curtain on player ratings. Our personal favorite: a Tunnel expose. How do you go about identifying the stories and the through lines you will cover? And how do you so often find angles that other writers neglect?
SB: One of the dirty little secrets of my career is that I'm actually not that big a sports fan. I don't have any particular allegiances to any club or players, and I'm generally not someone who spends weekends watching sports on TV. My guess is that being a bit removed like that helps me to see the more eccentric or quirky story ideas some might take for granted and, since I'm certainly not an X's and O's tactics guy, those kinds of stories - about the wall or the ratings or the songs at the Euros - have always appealed to me. In terms of writing them, my guiding principle has always been to pretend like I'm writing for my wife or mother --- two people who hardly follow sports at all. If they would be entertained by what I'm writing, I figure it's a good fit for a wide audience.
MiB: Off the pitch, one of the stories of Euro 2016 has been security concerns. You have written extensively about fighting in the streets and flares in the stands. Can you describe the general mood entering matches? Is there a tension hanging over the entire event?
SB: People are definitely tense here. I'm a worrier by nature, so I freak out over silly things all the time -- why is that guy wearing a jacket when it's not raining? -- but I do think the security issue is real. France is, and should be, on alert. In terms of fan violence, the aggression seems to go in spurts. Lots of people are drunk -- I'm on a10 a.m. train as I write this and half the car is already working on tomorrow's hangover -- but the real nasty stuff seems to be isolated. The thing I don't get is the flares: who gets ready to go to a soccer match, pulls on their jersey, looks in the mirror and says, "Right, something's missing -- oh, I should put a firecracker down my pants and sneak it in!" It just makes no sense to me. Beyond the fact it's against the rules, I have a life rule about never having anything that involves fire or explosives anywhere in that vicinity.
MiB: It hasn't all been darkness. There were some amazing scenes of Irish and Swedish fans joining together for a rendition of ABBA's "Dancing Queen." Can you give us an example of something (in a stadium or on the streets) you've seen and thought, 'Now THIS is what football is about."
SB: One of the things I really dislike about international sports are instances where fans boo or whistle through another team's national anthem. I just think that's one of those special moments for the players -- getting to stand there and represent your country while the anthem plays is a dream for so many -- and to ruin it is just crass. So, for me, one of the coolest moments so far was at England-Wales when the Welsh fans did a terrific ovation for the English after "God Save the Queen" and the English, in kind, really applauded after "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau," which, by the way, I did have to cut-and-paste right there (however it's also a very underrated anthem with a great tune).
MiB: Final prediction. Who wins it.
SB: I've waffled between France and Germany for a while, but I'll stick with the home team, if only for the moment during the parade when Olivier Giroud is handed a glass of Chardonnay and, poignantly, pours some out for Michel Platini.
MiB: When this is over and you've traveled we can only imagine how many miles and filed who knows how many stories, where and what will your celebratory meal be.
SB: Normally, I would say that it's likely to be macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers and fries with my two little ones -- a lovely meal that's suitable for all times and ages, it should be said -- but, in one of the greatest culinary letdowns known to man, I will follow up this tournament with an immediate trip to Scotland to cover the British Open at Troon. So, if any readers know where to find the best haggis (dear Lord) near Prestwick, please send me a note.
Be sure to follow Sam on social media for decidedly optimal coverage of Euro 2016: Twitter, Facebook,Instagram.