Driving to work yesterday, August 13, was a bit different. It was my 34th birthday and the traffic was heavier than usual as school resumed. I stared at my phone more than I’d like to admit as it navigated the best path to escape the choke-points in the traffic. It wasn’t the GPS that I was looking at, though. I was waiting for a phone call — one that I received every year on my birthday from Jim Hart.
That call never came.
You see, Jim was never afraid to pick-up the phone and talk — sometimes at odd hours of the night or morning. Often, what should have been a ten minute conversation morphed into a two-hour discussion about the game, teams, coaching, These Football Times, and Chelsea or Liverpool Football Club. Jim loved a good chat.
Whenever I’d meet Jim we shared stories over pints of beer with an occasional foray onto the bourbon trail of whatever establishment was crazy enough to let us hang out. Jim was a man of stories from his extensive travels and his experiences were rich in imagery and visceral emotion.
Over the years, Jim would send me a text or email and it was as though his excitement jumped off the screen. You could tell he was itching to talk because his messages were full of funny typos. I can imagine him typing it out — he’d fat-finger a word here or there — no backspacing necessary. He’d just fire it off to his friends. As a writer in the football world and also in the corporate world, this annoyed me in the most hilarious of ways.
That was Jim.
I thought he was just messing with me because he know how much I was a stickler for grammar and sentence construction.
He knew how much I value writing for These Football Times and I knew how much he valued his friends.
And that’s where we should probably start. Jim reached out to me many years ago when he discovered my writing on Far Post Footy and then on These Football Times. He sent a few emails to me commending the quality of my work. Usually, those emails from people with funny aliases in their email addresses (Victor Scamorza was indeed a funny character!) raise an eyebrow before getting deleted. But there was something sincere in Jim’s tone. He was serious and genuine.
He always signed-off his emails with: “Your friend, Jim”.
I remember our first phone call. I was at a Toys R Us near Chicago buying my niece a gift. He called and I was surprised that to hear a voice much softer and older than I imagined. He told me about his time traveling the world and how he discovered football and how it brought him peace in his life. He told me stories about the game — each that could stand alone as a documentary or feature article itself.
As the years went by, Jim and I started a non-profit organization with the help of some other friends with the goal of providing outlets for underserved communities and coaches to enjoy the game. He didn’t want to produce professional players. He didn’t want a penny in return. He wanted to bring happiness to the people. He wanted to use the game as the vehicle to deliver that happiness. And he did.
As I continued writing for TFT, Jim saw the brilliance of the platform and wanted to get involved so I introduced him to a man I owe so much of my success to in Omar Saleem. Omar published my articles from day one and he helped me believe I could change the world with the power of the pen, so to speak. In fact, he may not know it but it was Omar who pulled me out of the depths of a deep depression many years ago. His encouragement continues to turn TFT writers into true champions of the craft. And so it was Omar that gave me the platform to write. It felt only natural that Jim and Omar be introduced and eventually meet and work their magic together.
So much has been said about Jim’s impact not only on the game, but in people’s lives. He would give someone the shirt off his back if they needed it. Time and time again, he offered to pay for those with no means to pay. His generosity is a rarity in this world. He did it all out of love.
Jim was my podcast partner. We hosted what seems like hundreds of podcasts on a variety of platforms together. We’d wake up at 2 a.m. to call the other so we could interview someone on the other side of the planet. We joked about my dogs and his cats making noise on the podcasts, which he nicknamed “Pet Sounds”. We had a cadence and chemistry on the podcasts that made three hours seem like three minutes.
One of my favorite memories is waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. and having to call Jim 20 times so we could get Andrew Flint on a call for a podcast. It was Jim’s idea to do the podcast and the guy slept in!
“What time is it in Russia?” I asked.
“Shit, I don’t even know what time it is in my house!” Jim responded.
When my son was born, he asked about him frequently. He told me how lucky my son was to have me as a father. He thought the world of my wife, Sara. Jim and I spoke recently about putting together some ideas for These Football Times. We wanted to write a book together. Jim spoke fondly of every writer at These Football Times. He adored Omar like a brother. He wanted the best for all the writers.
Many may or may not know this, but Jim had discovered a zest for travel writing. He planned to travel to different football stadiums and venues and write about his experiences. Jim’s free spirit and encyclopedic knowledge on all things Grateful Dead, Chelsea Football Club, Calcio, politics, and computer science were truly magical.
We did our best to understand one another beyond the football. Jim and I spoke about the ups and downs of life. His love for classic and folk rock music always intrigued me. His stories of days surfing some major swells or climbing yet another mountain were not boastful — he truly believed in the human spirit.
I am forever grateful to have known Jim.
To some, he was the gentle voice of The Lob or a Year Zero Talk.
To others, he was one of the brilliant minds behind the magic at These Football Times.
Many will remember him as the hilarious man on social media that chimed in on a debate, stirred the pot, and of course, who built bridges and connected people.
Jim was my friend. I will miss him dearly.
This song is dedicated to Jim Hart — a true gentleman.