Updated: Feb 11, 2022
We caught up with the author of Mensch and Soul, Jonathan Harding. Here, he tells us about his career journey to date…
Follow your passion can be dangerous advice. Yet that was exactly what I was told to do by my career advisor at school.
‘Do what you’re good at’.
And what was I good at?
In terms of a future career, studying German was probably the worst thing I could have done. Who studies a language and then does much with it? I certainly had no idea what I was going to do with it.
And so I studied German at university. I learned of German art, literature, history. And when I did my year abroad in Germany, I went to Kaiserslautern games and joined a local football team.
For a long time I’d wanted to be a professional sportsman. Growing up I played every sport going, but by the time I got to Germany I already knew I was way too old to carve out a career as a professional footballer. So what was the next best thing? To work in sport.
Standing in with the ultras at home games and following Kaiserslautern in the Bundesliga ignited a passion for German football. The more that I watched – and the more that I played – the more that I felt I had something to say. Sport journalism began to appeal.
My brother had some simple advice:
‘If you want to be a journalist, you probably need to join Twitter.’
This was back in 2011, when Twitter wasn’t what it is now. I created an account, followed some interesting people, then read the debates. That allowed me to see the discourse around football and reflect on the different opinions I had. With time, I gained enough confidence to add my own voice to those debates.
German football was the obvious subject for me to write about, and not just because of Kaiserslautern. Jurgen Klopp had won the league with Dortmund, exciting young players such as Mario Goetze were emerging and the plans put in place after Germany’s terrible EURO 2000 were beginning to bear fruit. It was a very exciting time.
At first my articles were very basic. That was fine. I’ve always thought that the best way to get better at writing is to write loads. So I kept going, and after a few months I got the chance to write for a blog website called The Fourth Official. Seeing my pieces published on an actual website raised my self-esteem. It made me feel like I had something to say. Most importantly, widening my reach allowed me the chance to learn and improve through the feedback that inevitably came from readers.
The more that I wrote, the more I realised I liked it.
From blogging about football I got a job in Munich upon graduating university. It was at a sports media company and although it involved a lot of translation it gave me the chance to be in and around German football. While in Munich I also started writing for an English language newspaper.
The pay was low and at times it was hard going, but I kept at it and then I received the message that would change everything. Germany’s international broadcaster needed writers for the 2014 World Cup. They’d seen my work and liked it. Would I be interested in coming for an interview?
That summer of 2014 was pivotal. Germany won the World Cup, interest in German football skyrocketed and suddenly interest in the field I had been working grew.
I wrote my first book, Mensch: Beyond the Cones, to assess what sets German football coaching apart.
To be paid to write was incredible. But then to have put a book together too…
Mensch: Germany has a reputation for being the place where young footballers get the chance to develop, but what about coaches? Speaking to different coaches and members of staff across the country, Mensch outlines the attributes that make the German system special. With a detailed breakdown of the academy, conversations with some of the top coaches in the game and insights into the German coaching community, this is why their coaches are so in demand, why the system creates so much talent, and what the next step is for German coaching.
The more that I wrote, the more that I learned. I began to look at other areas of interest, specifically player care and personal development. That resulted in my second book, Soul: Beyond the Athlete.
It’s been humbling to hear how my words have helped people. I learned lots from researching my books and speaking to people. In the future, I’d like to be more on the ground so I can learn from a different perspective. Character development is a particular area of interest. It’s something that isn’t really offered for athletes and I’d like to change that.
It’s all about recognising where the opportunities are and then chasing them.
To anyone wanting to work in football I’d say that you can’t wait around. You can’t expect anyone to give you favours.
You have to do something.
Luck plays a role. People have to take chances on you, believe in you. Things have to fall in your favour. For that to happen, you also have to be proactive. Writing a book [Soul] about a field that doesn’t necessarily exist, for example, doesn’t mean I’ll end up working in that field but it gives me a chance.
I am also grateful for all of the support and love I have had from my friends and family. Nobody achieves anything on their own.
These things take time. Don’t worry about how long your own journey takes. Instead, enjoy the fact that you’re on a path somewhere. When you’re proactive, you’re already doing something that’s putting you on the way to your end goal.
Find out more about Jonathan’s books and his work at https://www.jrjharding.com/work