Saturday, September 3, 2011

End of an Era

Grahame Jones has retired from the LA Times and sent a final email to the staff.  

I didn't have the privilege to work with Jones at the paper (the late, great Jim Murray did), but Grahame nevertheless always made me feel like a co-worker and fellow soccer writer the moment I stepped into the pressbox in 2004. He wasn't snobby like many "old media" folks who seemed to feel threatened by writers who worked for websites. Grahame knew well that it was corporate ownership that was killing newspapers. He bemoaned the Tribune ownership of the LA Times frequently, and so often predicted that he would be in the latest round of layoffs that his fellow LA soccer press friends finally stopped worrying that it would ever happen. 
Instead, we just enjoyed his wicked wit, cynical humor and encyclopedic knowledge of the game. I don't personally know of a single person who has attended more World Cup games than Grahame, and he's racked up so many experiences and can tell a number of interesting soccer stories. I really hope he writes a book on them now that he's retiring. 

Nothing was sacred to Grahame except for the sport itself - he'd take shots at over-sensitive and stuffy U.S. Soccer bureaucrats, fawning celebrity reporters who asked Beckham Tom Cruise questions, even blindly loyal fans who couldn't seem to realize the limitations of the teams they cheered for, or of the sport's actual growth versus their own optimistic conceptions. Grahame would also be the first to poke fun at himself, however. Frequently getting too lazy to trim his beard, he'd comment on his resemblance to Chuck Blazer or Father Christmas.

I admitted to Grahame once that I wanted his job as soccer writer at the Times once he retired.

"I wish they'd give you my job." He responded gloomily. "Once I'm gone, the cheap bastards at the Times now will probably never hire another writer to cover just soccer."

That's probably true.

Grahame had a knack for being right about things. I remember standing in the stadium tunnel of the HDC in 2005 after the LA Galaxy had lost their final regular-season match at home to their rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes, thereby falling to the last playoff spot. As the other reporters predicted that LA would flop similarly once the playoffs started, Grahame shook his head.

"No, what's going to happen is that the Galaxy will now win the first game of the playoffs, hold on to their advantage, win the next match away and then win MLS Cup. Landon is talented enough to drag the team through it, just as Ruiz once did. Then this incompetent coach (Grahame wasn't fond of Steve Sampson) will get to stay on for another year and really drag the team down. I'm predicting that's what will happen, right now. It'll be a mess, but they'll win the championship again."

Goodbye, Grahame. Your genius, heart and good humor will be missed. Best to you in your future plans.

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