Canadian writer and Stockholm Mean Machines WR Ben von Jagow finds inspiration in European football

The story of the young writer pinching pennies and taking odd jobs to make ends meet is a staple of modern media, one told to us in many different forms. In print, film and television, the struggling storyteller awaits their big break as a barista, a bartender, a teller or clerk. Perhaps it’s time to add wide receiver to that list.

Ben von Jagow exists in two worlds. To many, he is simply the reliable import pass catcher for the Stockholm Mean Machines and Sweden’s second leading receiver through four weeks of action. To another type of audience, he is a burgeoning poet and writer with works in more than 20 different publications, including the Literary Review of Canada and the Stockholm Review of Literature. The football playing scribe has always viewed those two seemingly disparate professions as symbiotic, each demanding different aspects of himself and offering an abundance of spare time to work on the other.

“Football in Europe has afforded me that lifestyle,” he says of his ability to write. “What other job puts a roof over your head, gives you a salary and doesn’t ask too much in terms of time?”

In many way, Von Jagow’s journey as a football player and writer has been the result of leaps of faith made in the spur of the moment. Growing up in Stittsville, Ontario, Canada, Von Jagow was a hockey player until he gave everything up to try something different in the eleventh grade.

“I was on my way to a Junior B tryout, I was driving with my friend Riley and for whatever reason I wasn’t feeling it,” he explains. “I said “I think I want to play football this summer” and we turned the car around.”

That fateful car ride wouldn’t be the last time Von Jagow had a feeling which took him on an unexpected path.

Von Jagow catching a football for the Hildesheim Invaders

After playing for the Ottawa Sooners of the Canadian Junior Football League and studying at the University of Western Ontario where he held off from playing to focus on his academics, Von Jagow found himself working in a bank and deeply unsatisfied. Rather than stay stuck behind a desk, he left for South America and found a new love for putting his thoughts down on paper. In Costa Rica, he was offered a writing job set to begin that April, putting a wrench in his plans to travel Europe and play internationally for one of the continent’s larger football leagues. Determined to experience European football, Von Jagow began emailing teams in Spain to take advantage of their January season. Unfortunately for him, it was already December.

“A lot of teams told me they had finished their recruiting and had already signed their import players,” Von Jagow recalls. “The only team that accepted me was Murcia. They said ‘ok Ben, we’ve signed our import players, we can’t afford flights and we can’t afford to pay you, but we have this empty room in the basement so if you want to come here, if you can pay for your flight here, you can play for us’.”

Almost on a whim, he left for Spain. Soon he found himself living in a basement that seemed ripped from the struggling writer storyline and playing football for free.

“It was cold and it was dark. I had just come from Costa Rica so I didn’t have any clothing, just shorts and t-shirts. I remember one night I actually had to pull the curtains down off the windows and wrap up because I was so cold,” Von Jagow laughs. “I didn’t know Spain could get cold like that.”

von Jagow looking for running room against Orebro Black Knights Photo: Stefan Akander

The gamble paid off, both on and off the field. Von Jagow was a dominant player for the Murcia Cobras, translating his success into contracts with the Hildesheim Invaders, Triangle Razorbacks and now Stockholm Mean Machines. In between practices, he spent time honing his skills and finding his niche as a writer.

“I spent a lot of time at the library in Murcia, at the library in Hildesheim and in Vejle, Denmark, just to invest those hours and learn the craft of writing,” he says.

As a poet on a football team, Von Jagow might be considered an anomaly but he never feels that way. Teammates have always been supportive and he often finds himself inundated by requests for book recommendations or suggestions from others. While the culture and scenery of Europe have influenced Von Jagow’s writing, it is the people he has met through football which provide him the greatest creative inspiration.

“There are so many different characters you find on a football team. As an import, there are so many characters living under one roof. I think these characters kind of find their way into my writing,” he explains. “Guys from Germany, from the States, from Belgium, guys from all over the world. These are huge personalities. The geography and the culture have found their way into my writing but more so it’s the people.”

Von Jagow making a fingertip catch for Denmark’s Triangle Razorbacks Photo: 1st Down Photo/Mikkel Rasmussen

In European football, he has an array of those characters to choose from. The fish out of water first time American import. The German duo tied at the hip, best friends and roommates who bicker like an old married couple. Belgian oddballs, Danish intellectuals and a smorgasbord of unique cultural rivalries. There are as many characters in a European locker room as there are weapons in the Mean Machines passing attack.

Von Jagow knows he’s been given a unique blessing, able to follow two passions without being forced to choose. For that, the Canadian is grateful and he emphasizes how great an experience football in Europe can be for those who take advantage.

“This is a gift and it’s available for those who want to use it,” Von Jagow says. “I wouldn’t consider myself a gifted writer, just someone who worked hard and football gave me that luxury. It gave me the time to invest in a craft. This lifestyle is wonderful no matter what you choose to do with it.”

One day, after the tedious experience of building his writing network is complete, Von Jagow hopes to write a book. When he does, it will be a must read in the European football community as friends and opponents alike flip through the pages, looking for the characters they’ve inspired.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.