Thursday, June 29, 2006
The Bretos interview
Max Bretos Hammers Home His Enthusiasm, Love Of The Game To U.S. Audiences
BY JAMES CLARK
We football fans in the United States are extremely lucky for a number of reasons.
Video images of the world’s best club sides and players are pumped into our living rooms nightly via the satellite-television offerings of Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV, while the Internet has given us a portal to the latest news, views and pulse of the soccer universe.
This improved access has bred a new type of consumer of the world’s game: one who’s savvy, informed and, most importantly, able to tell the wheat from the chaff.
That’s why, in many ways, 33-year-old Max Bretos has come to represent the best of America’s new breed of broadcaster. He’s able to speak in the soccer vernacular, and does so during his multiple hours on FSC without thumbing his nose at the casual fan who might be tuning in.
The fact that’s he’s an unabashed West Ham United supporter also shows the lad has some taste.
Seriously, though, Bretos’ journey to Hammers fandom bears a resemblance to those taken by many of us Yank Hammers. The circumstances always seem to revolve loosely around pure chance, the team’s colours, and an instinctive tug at the heart strings that says what we seem to have stumbled upon is well worth clutching to our bosoms and never letting go.
“The more I learn about West Ham, the more I love the club” the globe-hopping Bretos said in a late-March telephone interview from his home base in Los Angeles. (His recent assignments for Fox Soccer Channel included broadcasting the Scotland v. United States friendly live from Hampden Park in Glasgow, as well as the unveiling of the new United States Nike uniforms in Berlin.)
Bretos, like any of us native-born Americans, could have taken the easy route and cast his lot with Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. We have no geographic ties to our English soccer clubs, which allows those who love a front-runner to pave an easy road toward glory.
But when Bretos, who was born in Ohio to a family of Cuban immigrants, found himself transplanted to Australia as a young boy, he chose to follow the exotic rather than the familiar.
“My father moved us to Australia,” Bretos said, “and there was plenty of English football on the television. There was just something about West Ham. There was a certain way they played, plus the color of their shirts made an impression on me. As much as I could at the time, in an unconscious way, I chose to support them.”
The Bretos clan moved back to the U.S. and settled in Miami for 11 years. Max still kept his eye firmly trained on soccer, but his stint Down Under had also spawned an interest in rugby and cricket.
“All of the Commonwealth sports had this sort of mystical pull on me,” said Bretos, who eventually reconnected with his Cuban roots through baseball. The quintessentially American sport of basketball also gained some sway over him.
“Cricket was actually my favorite sport for quite some time, and until recently I played a lot of rugby.”
After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in International Relations, the multilingual Bretos unexpectedly found himself working as an on-air personality for the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox TV conglomerate in Los Angeles.
By this time, his allegiance to West Ham was growing stronger by the day.
“I had continued to be a West Ham supporter from afar,” Bretos said. “But little things kept pulling me in more and more. Paolo Di Canio was a big factor in me getting closer to the team. He was such a skillful player with a real flair for the dramatic.”
Bretos cemented his Hammers fandom with a trip to the Boleyn to see the match against Cardiff last winter. Carl Fletcher scored a late winner in our 1-nil win over the Bluebirds at a time when manager Alan Pardew’s side was far from a sure bet to emerge from the second flight (or “Coca-Cola Championship,” as the rebranding merchants would have you call it) and claim a spot in this season’s Barclays Premiership.
“It was by no means a classic game of football,” Bretos said. “But the atmosphere was second to none. It was unbelievable. I was trying to explain to my sister, who came with me and my brother to the match, the significance of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’ We made it just in time for kickoff, and I got goosebumps when the song started playing.
“She didn’t understand why a song with that sort of lyric would mean anything to a bunch of football fans,” Bretos continued. “I told her to stop thinking about it so much and just take it all in. It was a real East London moment.”
And should any of you think Bretos’ Hammers roots aren’t deep or permanent, revise that position right now.
“We recently had that seven-game winning streak,” he said, “but I got just as much satisfaction from following the side when they were down in the Championship the last two seasons. Once you decide to become a Hammer, there’s no going back.”
You can understand Bretos’ level of devotion when you hear his tale of exchanging drinks, as well as three hours’ worth of Hammers-based banter, with Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris at the Rainbow Room in Los Angeles one night.
“It was a chance encounter,” Bretos said. “I’m a huge fan of Iron Maiden’s music, so I introduced myself as a Hammers supporter. That was right about the time the club sold Jermain Defoe for Bobby Zamora and cash (in 2004), and Steve was full of opinions. No one loves the club as much as he does.”
Such a personality trait that allows a willingness to engage in deep conversation with a total stranger serves Bretos well as a soccer broadcaster. He has a rhythmic, urbane and physical style while calling a match. His wit is sharp, and his eye for a match’s essence seems second to none.
“I’d love to do a World Cup someday,” Bretos said. “That would represent a pinnacle for me in this profession.”
And don’t be surprised if during a halftime break during a broadcast of, say, a Belgium-Nigeria match somewhere in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Bretos marks the time by whistling a chorus of “Bubbles.”
After all, once you’ve got the Hammers in your blood, it seems fortune’s always hiding. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.