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Meet Phil Hay, writer for The Athletic FC

To coincide with the launch of our new newsletter, we asked its lead editor, Phil Hay, a few questions about what he wants you to get out of Athletic FC. Phil talks about his favorite stories he’s covered as well as his predictions for this summer’s international tournaments.


The Athletic FC ⚽ is The Athletic’s daily football (or soccer if you prefer) newsletter. Sign up here to receive it straight to your inbox.


What made you want to write TAFC?

When social media exploded and the news became endless, I got into the habit of waking up in the morning wondering what I would find on my phone. This was especially true when writing about Leeds United, as they are a club that simply does not sleep.

When Massimo Cellino was the owner of Leeds, I would get random calls from him at 2am. It was like a 24-hour news cycle and you got used to hanging on to your next move. With TAFC, I liked the idea of ​​it being the first stop for anyone who wanted to know what they were missing; what was hot in the world of football, what stories were coming out, the best reports they hadn’t read.

In a way, it’s like going back to the days of newspapers where you wrote to fairly strict deadlines. I like pressure. TAFC also lets you have a bit of fun – and in my opinion, football too often forgets to be fun.


What do you hope users will get out of TAFC?

I would like to think TAFC will have something for everyone – the big news highlights, coverage of the biggest leagues and tournaments, but also some weird and wonderful stuff. If you’ve signed up so far, you’ll know that we really like gifs; the more random, the better.

One of the strong points of Athleticism it’s the depth of our feature writing and the obscure stories we love to tell. I understand fans want to know more about their clubs and we are all over the place in the Premier League title race, but sometimes we get off track. like I did some time ago with Vladimir Romanovthe former owner of Heart of Midlothian.

Spoiler: I’m a Hearts fan, so I apologize in advance if they show up. TAFC from time to time. But I hope that articles like Romanov’s tell readers something they didn’t know. There will be many.


Favorite story you’ve written for The Athletic?

Difficult question. The article I am most proud of is the reading I did the 20th anniversary of the death of two Leeds fans in Istanbul in 2000. I don’t want to call it my favorite play because that wouldn’t be appropriate given the content, but it’s a story that, outside of Leeds, hasn’t been told enough.

Marcelo Bielsa, the former Leeds manager, was a gold mine for a football writer. Our big article on promoting the club in 2020 was a treat to research and put together.. Romanov was also fun. How many former football club owners are on the run from the Lithuanian authorities? Or live in a renovated submarine in Russia?


What is your favorite football moment?

Leeds’ promotion under Bielsa meant the world to me because at that point I had 14 seasons and hundreds of games with the club. It felt like it would never happen. The Bielsa era was a unique moment in time.

Personally, it’s 2012 and Hearts annihilate Hibernian 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final. It was and still is the greatest Edinburgh derby of all time. I was 31 years old and I knew then that it was the most important victory I had ever seen.


Predictions for the Euro & COPA?

If England get their act together and get the best out of their attackers at the Euros, I’d give them every chance. But I am more inclined to go with France and Kylian Mbappe.

As for COPA, it will be Argentina or Brazil. But I can understand why Uruguay’s odds are quite short, because Bielsa seems to be working magic there. I will listen to them.


What is the biggest story you have been a part of?

Probably the late night story that Bielsa had agreed a contract with Leeds and was about to sign the paperwork to become their head coach in 2018. The deal took forever to close and he didn’t never been in the bag until he put his name to it.

Even today, it’s difficult to understand exactly why the buzz around town about him was so intense from the moment he was first touted for the job. Sure, his reputation preceded him and he had a streak of genius – but Leeds was known for people who went there and failed badly. With Bielsa, people knew it. It was good and it was.


Best People You’ve Interviewed

I tend to think of the best interviews as the ones you never forget. So it’s Cellino. I first went to meet him when I was working for the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper, two days after he bought Leeds. He was already halfway through a bottle of whiskey, the conversation lasted about two hours, everything in it was recorded and much of what he said was crazy. Coordinated PR was invented for other people.


Most famous match you have attended

The problem with me is that between writing about Leeds every weekend and following Hearts in my spare time, I haven’t really been chasing fame or riding the superstar circuit. Maybe it’s for the best. I went to the 2003 Champions League final: AC Milan versus Juventus, the most ridiculous lineup of talent, all conspiring to get a 0-0 draw and penalties. Absolute filth.


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