Best known for his stint heading up one of the UK’s longest-standing football titles, World Soccer, Gavin Hamilton departed in 2020 after 25 years and has plenty of stories and advice to share
Q. You’re best known for being World Soccer’s long-serving editor, working on the title for more than 25 years before parting ways last year. What’s the secret to your longevity?
Football is so omnipresent now, you can’t pretend to be all things to all people, so you have to have a niche and World Soccer has always had one in the past. That’s basically down to the correspondents as the strength of the magazine was down to the people on the ground telling you things you didn’t know. That’s the essence of journalism, I guess, telling people stuff they don’t know or they need to know about and are willing to pay money for.
If it meant digging down a little bit deeper and going a little bit off piste, or not chasing Premier League stories, then that was the way to do it. We carved out a niche.
Q. Your career developed during the 90s heyday of print magazines. What was it like back then and how did that aid you?
I worked in other magazines and had worked elsewhere at IPC, which was a big magazine company that used to be called the Ministry of Magazines. It was a remarkable place, King’s Reach Tower [where IPC’s offices were based]. We were on the 25th floor along with Shoot and 90 Minutes, the NME was on the floor above us and you had the country life, hunting, shooting, fishing people with their tweed jackets and stuff on the floor below. It was an incredible place and every floor of the building had a different magazine and genre on it.
I worked there for many years and worked on TV magazines and Golf Monthly as a sub, and my first job was with TimeOut. I’d been at university as a student journalist, doing stuff on the student paper and got involved with TimeOut, who did a student guide at the time. I wasn’t involved in sport at all, but I moved around to different magazines and a sub editor job came up at World Soccer.
They basically left me in charge of the magazine because Keir Radnedge was the editor, but he was very much part time as he had a full-time job at the Daily Mail as chief sub in sport. He was a figurehead, but wasn’t involved in the production, so they needed somebody to produce the magazine. Paul Hawksbee, who’s now been on TalkSport for many years, was the managing editor of 90 Minutes at the time and gave me the job. I started out in 1994 and took off from there.
Q. Did you always want to get into football journalism?
When I was at college, I don’t think I realised people got paid for that sort of thing. But when you go to a place like IPC and see all the different magazines, you realise it’s possible to make a business out of it. It took me some time to realise that as I didn’t know anyone in my family who was a journalist in that way. It was a very different time and magazines were very well resourced. I worked on the launch of What’s On TV back in the early 90s and we had a lot of money behind us, and we were earning good money [doing it].
Q. Magazines aren’t what they were three decades ago. Do you think they’ll ever truly have a renaissance?
Not really. I think people used to look forward to buying magazines and had an association with the magazines in a way I don’t think there is that connection anymore. Because editorial and costs are cut back so much now, readers can see what’s going on and while there are still a small group who have an emotional attachment to the titles they buy, I can’t see that returning to what it used to be.
I think podcasting is really interesting now because people can get an emotional attachment and a connection to the people who produce it, so maybe that magazine vibe can be recreated in another format. Magazines have lost that feeling that you’re part of something exclusive and the digital world has probably exposed a lot of the myths about magazines that people thought existed at the time.
Q. Aside from the formats people are using to read about things now, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in football journalism in your time?
Clubs are a lot more aware of controlling their own media, so they’ll put interviews out from their own players and control the media in a way that they never used to. I don’t want to sound like an old git – but I am – but I remember when there used to be phone numbers for public telephones within club training grounds, which you’d ring and rely on a player picking up in the dressing room area.
You’d ask to speak to another player and sometimes you’d be lucky because you’d get the player on the phone or they’d pass it on, or sometimes you wouldn’t get anyone at all. It was pot luck, but you’d get that access to people through the phone at training grounds or hanging out at training grounds or in car parks – all that’s gone now.
Places like Chelsea have these Colditz-like security fences just to get into the media areas of training grounds now. It’s a very different world, but the access was much better, although there weren’t as many formats to get interviews out to as there are now.
Q. And does that naturally mean a reduction in exclusives or one-on-one interviews as a result?
Sponsors control everything now and Premier League clubs, in particular, smell money even where it doesn’t exist. They think someone else is denying them a commercial opportunity, or a magazine or newspaper is taking advantage of their asset and they should be the ones owning that asset or making money from it.
There are some clubs that are more forward thinking and realise they need to be a bit more progressive and open with the players. But it’s very different now because players are educated to be suspicious of the media and they’re not very open at all and deal mostly with the club or their own channels [instead]. The players have big social media channels themselves too and can communicate their own thing on Instagram, so it’s a complex relationship now.
Q. Despite the reduced access to players, World Soccer still managed to get some top interviews over the years. Including a night spent with Cristiano Ronaldo…
We had an evening with Ronaldo in Madeira of all places when he won the ESM Golden Shoe Award that we gave out to Europe’s top scorer. That was part of a partnership with other European media and newspapers, but we collectively got together to give the award.
Increasingly, that was the way to get access to players – give them an award. The Golden Shoe was a legitimate award that we relaunched in the 90s. It got abused in the 80s when various Eastern European leagues had big scorelines on the final day of the season to let certain players rack up the goal tallies.
We relaunched with a different format in the 90s and Ronaldo won it in 2008. It was a big thing, was the first award he’d won and he made a big thing of it – it was his decision to have a presentation in Madeira with his family there. His mum was there, his brother and sister, all the family were. The mayor of Madeira was there hosting this big reception and that was down to the player wanting to do it, which was rare.
Q. Having worked on a title for so long that carved out a defined niche for itself, how important do you think it is for brands – and journalists – to create a specialism for themselves?
People have to find their own niche because people aren’t going to listen to you otherwise. You may have the most interesting thing to say about [Ole Gunnar] Solskajer and his diamond formation at United or why Messi shouldn’t be playing at Barcelona, but no one is interested in your views on that. And why should they be?
But if you’ve got something to tell someone they don’t know about, that’s interesting and you have to find that niche. I always say to people to find a speciality: pick a country, a team or something that’s different that you can carve out your own speciality with. It’s very difficult – increasingly now because anyone can set themselves up on social media with a blog and everything else. You have to do something really special and you have to be prolific and on top of it the whole time.
Q. So what would your advice be to a young journalist trying to make their way in the industry?
There are still loads of stories out there, not necessarily in England because it’s very hard to find stuff to be original with here, but if you’re based in a country where there is a football culture – and most countries have that of some sort – there are stories there if you dig around.
For example, every World Cup has got 32 teams, going up to 48 in 2026, and the Euros now has 24, so there are more countries than ever taking part in these competitions. Suddenly there’s going to be a lot of people wanting to know about these qualifiers, so it’s looking at countries like that.
There are stories out there, particularly in European international football. Everyone likes to focus on the Premier League and the Champions League and the big teams, but international football is there, for example, and there’s a big interest in the major tournaments every two years. It’s just about finding your specialism.