1. Why journalism & why Fulham (especially as Chelsea is just up the road!!)?
I always loved writing, football and cricket. I was better at writing than I was at either football or cricket, hence writing about football (and occasionally cricket).
I should be a West Ham fan, geographically, but my uncle took me to Fulham as a seven-year-old in 1981 and I suffered the best part of 20 years of dross before these relatively good times. I’m proud of my club, though. Craven Cottage is the most evocative place to watch football I have ever come across, it’s great to take my own kids there and I’ve rarely heard anyone disagree that it’s a thoroughly likeable club.
2. What’s the hardest part of being a journalist?
Breaking news stories. So it also gives you more satisfaction than anything when you break an important one.
3. From what I have seen, football journalists seem quite a tight knit group, especially those that travel to Europe together – do you think there is a danger of forming a ‘group’ outlook on current stories because of this?
Not really. Those daily newspaper reporters who travel abroad a lot are bound to go out for dinner and drinks with one another rather than stay in their rooms alone. They’re all very capable of making up their own minds about news stories.
4. How has journalism changed during your career?
The internet and rolling 24-hour TV news channels have challenged newspapers and impacted on what we do. There are now fewer newspaper journalists doing more and more work, with less resources, so quality has been affected in some places, but there is still plenty of outstanding sports coverage in our papers.
5. Why do you think Chelsea get such a bad press?
Every supporter seems to think their club gets a bad press, especially those who follow the big clubs. Liverpool fans argue that Luis Suarez got a worse press than John Terry during the racism sagas, for instance. In my experience, newspapers and individual journalists do not have agendas against clubs. They may unearth news stories which are unhelpful towards clubs but they are not driven by vendettas as many fans believe.
John Terry and Ashley Cole, clearly, have not had a good press and have not always done themselves any favours, off the pitch more than on it. I think Cole, in particular, is a wonderful player and wish he’d try to engage a little bit with football writers, who fully acknowledge his talent and could probably help him enjoy more respect among the wider public – but apparently he couldn’t care less about his reputation, and he’s fully entitled to have that mindset.
I don’t think Roman Abramovich’s policy of absolute silence helps Chelsea’s public image. I’m sure supporters would like to know what he actually thinks from time to time. I think at the sackings of Mourinho and Ancelotti were crazy and that the hiring and firing of so many managers has caused some deserved criticism.
All in all, though, I enjoy covering Chelsea and believe there are an awful lot of good people working there.
I must say that Chelsea’s performances in the Champions League last season – as well as their very different style of football this term – have both drawn widespread praise in the press.
6. Why do you think Ryan Giggs was treated so differently by the press given his 8 year affair with his brother’s wife as opposed to JT’s alleged affair with an ex-team-mate’s ex-girlfriend?
There is a clear dividing line between the front and back of the newspapers, in the way we operate. Giggs got a lot of attention in the front end of the newspapers but far less in the sports section. Unfortunately for Terry, Fabio Capello made his alleged affair a sporting issue by stripping him of the England captaincy because of it. How could sports writers not report on a matter which had cost England its captain? I thought it was an utterly ludicrous decision by Capello – and I wrote a couple of columns at that time saying so. If we are going to run the England football team on the basis of bedroom morality then we are going to end up selecting a Sunday Boy’s Brigade XI before long.
7. Are journalists now under-pressure from editors to report on football in a more sensationalist, ‘show-biz’ manner?
No I have never been put under pressure to write in a showbiz manner. It’s certainly true that the news and showbiz reporters at the front end of the paper have taken far more of an interest in footballers over the past 20 years but as a sports writer, I have never been put under pressure to write about players’ private lives.
8. Which individuals from your profession do you personally admire and enjoy reading?
There are so many. I enjoy writers who make me laugh, so Giles Smith in The Times is a must-read.
Steve Howard in The Sun has an under-stated brilliance as a columnist. I love the fact he doesn’t do TV, radio or twitter either. Andy Dunn in The Sunday Mirror is the best tabloid match reporter around. Jim Lawton and Sam Wallace in The Independent are excellent at what they do.
Phil Thomas, The Sun’s Merseyside man, writes the best intros in the business – yet nobody seems to realise how gifted he is.
Mark Irwin of The Sun is the must-follow man on twitter – @deathirwin – no other journalist can ever take themselves too
seriously on there again, thanks to Mark.
9. Which club would you say is the most media friendly? And the least?
Most Premier League clubs are increasingly paranoid and difficult to deal with. When you cover other sports, you realise how uptight and self-important football clubs are. They honestly believe they are more important than government departments. Honestly, it’s often laughable.
10. What ramifications did the downfall of the News of the World have on your industry?
I think it’s had a profound effect on newspapers, with issues raised by the Leveson inquiry. The fact that such a mighty newspaper could fold because of the actions of a small minority of its employees was astonishing. Newspapers should be and are becoming more and more accountable.
I had great admiration for the News of the World, though. It often broke incredible stories, most of them entirely legitimately.
11. Many journalists, yourself included, are fairly active on Twitter – do you find it on the whole a positive experience? Is it helpful in what you do? Do you find the ‘feedback’ fair/useful?
I quite enjoy twitter but I can’t say I take it too seriously and rarely use it for my job, as such. You have to have a thick skin in this game anyway but it doesn’t make your life any happier to provoke any more abuse than you need to take. So many supporters react to the slightest criticism of their club in the manner of religious fundamentalists. A large percentage of Liverpool fans are the worst offenders, in my experience. Chelsea fans tend to be a lot more decent than most – which has pleasantly surprised me. Some reporters seem to live their lives on twitter but as a Sunday writer, you’re always trying to save your best ideas, comments and stories for the weekend, in any case. I’m more likely to tweet about Fulham, as I don’t really get to write about them in the paper much.
12. How do you think Chelsea will fare this season?
I’ll be intrigued to see as I admire the way Di Matteo has got them playing. Mata was very under-rated last year and to play him alongside Hazard and Oscar is admirable. They will certainly finish in the top three but I think United and City may have a little more firepower. Sign Falcao in January and that could change though. I wouldn’t rule Chelsea out of reaching another Champions League Final. They should be better suited to Europe than ever now.
Posted by Trizia