Catching up with Andy Furillo


For this week's "Catching up with..." I branched out to speak with someone who's involved in the soccer scene in more of a broad sense.

Busy promoting his first book, Sacramento Bee sports columnist Andy Furillo was kind enough to take my phone call to talk about soccer, sports writing, and his father.

If you're an out-of-towner reading this, you'll likely have caught Furillo's controversial work when he blew up Twitter last year for suggesting that Sacramento Republic FC join Liga MX or his columns in support of pro/rel.

But Furillo brings much more than a fresh opinion on the Sacramento soccer scene since he moved to a columnist position from covering courts last year.

The newspaper veteran's recent book The Steamer: Bud Furillo and the Golden Age of L.A. Sports covers decades of famous and controversial Los Angeles sporting figures and events through the lens of his father, the titular figure.

Though I'm not familiar with some of the figures discussed in his book -- especially a few of the old baseball players -- I can honestly say that I've enjoyed the absurd and romantic scenes in the beautiful picture Furillo paints in it.

I caught up with Furillo on my way to Portland last week. As always, the interview is edited for content and clarity.

Me: Usually I start off my Q & A series with the question: "how did you fall in love with soccer," but for you, I don't even know if you do love soccer, but you've written extensively about the subject in the Sacramento area. I guess what I'd ask then is how did you find yourself in the position to be covering soccer on a regular basis given that I know you spent a long time doing court reporting and various other types of reporting?

Furillo: The managing editor of the paper, Scott Lebar, and the executive editor, Joyce Terhaar, asked me more than a year ago if I wanted to do a sports column and I said "great." One thing they said we really needed to focus on was soccer because of the Republic and the excitement that the Republic generates. I always liked soccer, it's not like I'm like you or anybody that hangs out at Bonn Lair, but I've always liked it, I've liked it my whole life. I've never really played it, other than in junior high school. When I was growing up, there was no AYSO, there was no weren't soccer teams in high schools, but I always liked it. I was kind of good at it I'd like to say, in the little bit that I played. And then as a columnist, it's just one of those things in Sacramento that's right there and needs to be covered.

Me: I've only read the first couple of chapters of your book, but it sounded like you were around sports and newspapers all the time when you were growing up. What was it like following in the footsteps of a legendary sports writer like your dad, and when did you know that you wanted to be in newspapers?

Furillo: I knew I wanted to be in newspapers as long as I was alive. When I was a little kid, my dad used to take us down to the office. I just loved it. I just liked the characters that were in there, I liked the smell of the building...I loved all of it. Watching my dad as a writer, it seemed like he was just having a great time. He was having a great time. He sure liked it more than when he went into radio, there's no doubt about that. It's not like I wanted to be a sports writer -- I did choose sports writing early on when I was in junior college and right out of high school for the local paper in Downey -- but I didn't really have this passion to doing sports. I was more interested in news so I kind of gravitated towards news. But I've always been a sports fan.

Me: You give a pretty good explanation of why you decided to write the book about LA sports and your dad, but what was the hardest part about coming the decision to write the book and what were the challenges of writing it?

Furillo: The thing I had to get over first of all was myself. And that meaning that after my father died in 2006, I was very much wrapped up in my own career...I went over to the courthouse and I wanted to really focus on my career and also being a dad. But then he went off to college, my son went off to college and I'm at the courthouse and this buddy of mine asks about my dad. We had a conversation about him and he said, "hey, you gotta write about him." That just kind of resonated with me. The last year of my dad's life, he spent writing his memoirs. My brother got all of the writing he had done and put on a disk. So I read it and all of a sudden I started feeling like I gotta do this. And with every year after his passing, I felt like people were forgetting about him. He'd done too much and accomplished too much for me to allow that to happen, without coming up with something that would try to establish his legacy.

Me: Going through all that writing, if you have one, what was your favorite thing or most memorable thing that your dad wrote?

Furillo: The thing I liked the most was the obituary he did for Jimmy Cannon. Jimmy Cannon was a great sports columnist out of New York in the post-World War II period. He was as good as anybody that ever lived in doing that. My father really loved the guy and was kind of an other coast protege of Cannon. Cannon liked my dad and helped him out and my dad helped Cannon...when Cannon died, I thought that my dad's obit on him was one of the better things that he ever did, that's one thing that really sticks out in my mind.

Me: Last question, and take this in whatever way you want to, but what is your prediction for the Republic in the rest of 2016?

Furillo: I know a lot of people are still into the USL and winning the championship. I'm waiting for them to go MLS. I still go to games and it seems to me like I don't hear, at least the people I sit around, talking much about the game. It's kind of like a social thing. What I want to see happen is for them to go MLS or something else, which probably isn't going to happen. I've written a little bit about Mexico but that's kind of a pipe dream and kind of a fun thing more than anything else. But for 2016, I just think you're going to see them get better and get better players. They're doing that. I think Buckle is a good coach. I think Graham Smith, he sure seems to know a lot. Warren Smith is doing a great job on the business side. They're really getting themselves established, but I'm finding it harder to stay interested in the USL. In terms of 2016, I think they'll make big progress as an organization and keep taking the steps that they need to take towards getting into MLS.

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