It all began with a charming email on 17 September 2014.
Not sure why it took myself so long to intro myself, but I believe I will be writing for you guys as well. I’ve been speaking to Aaron about joining for the past week and now I’m on the blog. I’ve probably been delayed by partying because the Browns won.
I’m James and I’m a Villa fan. I live in Birmingham, UK and me and my family are Villa diehards, my dad bleeds Claret and Blue and my maternal grandfather spent his childhood next to the stadium. Good background I guess.
Apart from that, I follow the Mets and Browns. I’m blessed with good luck and happy sundays, as you can see.
Back before we had Slack, we had an email chain for the writers of 7500 to Holte, and that’s how James made himself known to us. Aaron Campeau (co-founder of this blog) had brought him on and, honestly, it was the best decision ever made by anyone of any leadership position at this site.
That email, so unassuming, actually holds the key to so much of what makes James a great captain of this ship. He’s self-effacing, a born-Villa fan, and oh so genuine. In the five years since he joined the site, James has written some of the best articles we’ve seen here, some of the funniest, and some of the most heart-felt.
The first time I really took notice of James as a writer was when he responded to one of my pieces. I had written an, admittedly, petty article about why I cannot stand West Bromwich Albion. (A piece I 100% still stand by. Eff those guys.) So what did James do? He wrote a quietly touching tribute to his grandfather, who had grown up within steps of The Hawthorns and was always a WBA fan. Well that’s one way to make me feel like an idiot.
After that, I started working closely with James. His talent for storytelling was immense, but he needed editing to rein in the paths his brain would send him down. The piece I most remember from this early period was his treatise on the poppy for Remembrance Day 2015. I think we worked on that article together for two weeks, and I’m honestly more proud of being involved in that than in 95% of my own writing. Four years later I still love reading it. It’s a beautifully-crafted reminder of our need to remember something that has nearly passed from living memory. And it’s a perfect example of James’ ability to couch football within the greater context of the rest of the world.
And it’s just that ability that makes him such a great writer. James was the first person to bring my attention to Villa Park’s woeful lack of seating for disabled fans. He then took that cause and ran with it, hounding the club over the course of years about a shameful black eye. Not much has changed, but at least people are aware of the problem in large part due to James’ efforts. And here he showed something else that makes him a great writer: a willingness to cede his position to let the voices of those most directly affected speak. When he could have just kept railing on at the problem, James asked disabled fan Ian Burnip to write about the issue. And the story is one of the most affecting and direct calls to action I’ve gotten to read here.
James’ willingness to pivot beyond the pitch often proved to be a catharsis for readers like me. When the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester occurred, James wrote about it. Processing that sort of thing is nearly impossible. Sure, we know the facts. We know what happened. But actually coming to terms with them? Well, James’ writing helped in the way that only writing can.
All of this is not to say that James has been some self-absorbed budding Great Writer all of this time. Hardly. Every time I hear about Jeremy Corbyn, I flash back to one of the funniest evenings I’ve ever had. Unfortunately whatever plugin we used to collect the tweets has died (as I just learned), but that evening James went to a barber, admitted that he hated Corbyn (he doesn’t) feared for his life, and watched Stan Collymore win something. Without the tweets it doesn’t quite work, and I’m sorry. But plenty of you have been reading for ages. You remember. You, too, are #friendsofjake.
Want some of that wry James humor, though? Try this on for size (from an article introducing all of our staff): “Early in my life, I supported Chelsea, but this was before I had developed the capacity for critical thinking (like many Chelsea fans).” ZING
I could go on praising James’ writing forever, but I think you get the point. We have had some absolutely stellar writers at 7500 over the years. Kirsten Schlewitz and Aaron Campeau are people I still wish I could read write about Aston Villa all the time. Alex Carson has a precise analytical mind, Jack Grimse is in-touch with the wider world of football in a way that few young writers are. Elis Sandford has passion and enthusiasm in his writing, Matt Ferenchick brought exquisite humour to our readers, and Phil Vogel is the most reliable news writer I’ve had the fortune of working with.
But James? James was better than all of us for his alchemical blend of expert prose, wry humour, and a genuine empathy for people across all spectrums of life. With James on board 7500 grew from a great Aston Villa site to a great football site, one with a conscience. A site that wrote not just about the stars on the pitch, but the fans in the stands, those who couldn’t make it to the stands, and the people whose lives were merely brushed by football. James, at his best, reminded us that football is only something worth celebrating when we put it into the context of our collective humanity.
Football is an escape. It is a way to forget the troubles of the world and it is a way to remind ourselves that a simple game can bring people together. And James always reminded us of that. For that, and for the chance to work with him, I will be forever grateful. I don’t know exactly what you’re going to write next, or in five years, or ten. But I do know that I will be reading it, because I know that it will be wonderful.