For 29 days, the UEFA Euro 2016 has been underway, against a backdrop of changes, anxieties and uncertainties in Europe. Throughout, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine Senior Writer Wright Thompson has been on the road, filing 19 dispatches from eight countries across Europe (Belgium, England, France, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey).
Among the many slices of life he’s shared with readers: the national craze behind tournament darling Iceland; watching Turkey vs. Spain with fans at the war-torn Turkish border with Syria; the story of Abou Omar Brams, who lived for football and died for hate; and the most Interesting Man in Milan.
He also posted two pieces about Cristiano Ronaldo: the little-known story of the superstar’s relationship with his late father and a visit to the café where the Portugal and Real Madrid star goes to escape. Both offer rare insights into one of the world’s most famous athletes.
“Wright has an incredibly unique ability to capture a sense of ‘place’ and bring his readers on a journey with him,” says Vice President and Executive Editor Kevin Jackson, who along with James Martin (deputy editor, ESPN FC) and Rebecca Nordquist (senior editor, Features and Enterprise) have been Thompson’s editors over the course of the month.
Martin says, “Wright is that rare journalist who can drop into any city, any environment to quickly and accurately portray the culture and vibe, to the point that his writing resonates with locals who’ve lived there for years.”
Front Row asked Thompson a few questions about his month on the road.
One of your table-setter pieces talked about the Euro taking place at an uncertain time for Europe. As you’ve travelled and reported, is that something you have found people are conscious of?
People everywhere are conscious of it. The idea that something dangerous, and old, has been released into first political life, and now civic life, has created all kinds of tension.
How have you identified and picked the stories and subjects you pursued?
It’s a mix of who will say yes and how the overall schedule works. There’s a pretty elaborate spreadsheet for trips like this one, or the World Cup in Central and South America, where each story not only needs to work on its own but also work in a larger schedule. Then we watch the games. I had a great story set up about [Andrés] Iniesta in Spain that we canceled when Italy won.
And this was really a collaboration. We hired a French journalist, Arnaud Aubry, to serve as a translator and a fixer in France, and he worked the same hours as I did without much sleep. He’s a grinder.
Aside from the geography, how has reporting on the World Cup and this tournament been different?
That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about that until now. The trips feel similar, and since the pace is so intense it sort of runs together. Without being able to back this up, and without even a real understanding of why I feel this way, I would say: there was more of this, just, unrestrained joy at the World Cup.