Pressing Matters With Henry Winter
Henry Winter was born in 1963 and attended Edinburgh University He is a respected Football Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and columnist for the Sunday Telegraph. Follow him on Twitter @henrywinter
1. First – a bit about you – why journalism? And I believe you were a Liverpool fan as a youngster – how did that come about?
Always wanted to be a football writer since I was 15-16. Only job I’ve ever craved. If I wasn’t doing this I’d be stacking shelves in Selfridges, the only other job I’ve done. University was all about being sports editor of the student rag, playing for the Uni and waiting impatiently until I could get into Fleet Street.
I wasn’t a Liverpool fan when I was younger – or older!
2. How would you describe the relationship between football clubs and journalists these days?
Ranges from very good to very tense, peace and love to stand-off. I got kicked out of a ground last season because of a disagreement over tweeting info during a game. Fortunately, clubs now appreciate that publicity via journalists in print and digitally helps them, that it shouldn’t be war. I’ve been writing on football since 86 and we’ve had bigger meltdowns. Football correspondents are like weather-men: if there’s a dark cloud over Chelsea, we’ll say so. If it’s sunny, and you’ve just won the Champions League, we’ll gush praise. I get asked to write things for clubs, appear on their TV etc, and always agree.
We are not on different sides of a barricade; we’re all here because of a love of the game.
It is possible to criticise a club over certain negative events such as Chelsea’s sacking of RDM/ the mishandling of the Clattenburg claims and get on with the media department who have to defend the club.
Chelsea’s are a really good bunch for example. I’ve got a lot of time for Steve Atkins. One new theme is that some of the top players are becoming savvier about their image, and the need for good press, so more are employing PR advisors to link with press. Hargreaves did it brilliantly when he was being criticised. Players’ charities/foundations are often being promoted via interviews.
3. Do you think that the vilification of John Terry by the press was justified? Do you think he deserves to be one of the most hated men in football?
I had a chat with John the other day. The team miss his leadership. He and Ashley Cole have been England’s most consistent defenders over the past decade, and absolutely central to Chelsea’s success on the field.
I called the pair the “toxic twins” after their recent FA travails but I’ll always praise their football. But both need to employ an advisor to address their off-field image problems. They have to think about life after playing, about their families. When they retire, they should be remembered solely for their footballing achievements; sadly, they won’t be completely.
4. Who was the most interesting person you have ever interviewed football wise?
Loads. Mourinho, Pele, Cantona, Cruyff and Ferguson are probably my top five one-on-ones, although I once rang the Vatican to get a quote from the Pope when England’s Euro 2000 qualification hopes rested in Polish hands (no quote but the Vatican were very gracious given they’d got quite a lot of more important things to do).
Arshavin is always good value, always ranting about bad English drivers or the terrible salads here. Favourite Chelsea one would be Zola, who apologetically broke off from an interview at Harlington because he had to get to a piano lesson. Wonderful player, lovely man.
5. You are very active on Twitter – what impact has social media had on you and your profession as a whole?
I can speak only for myself. Some reporters don’t tweet and that’s their choice. Personally, I find it incredibly useful. Even on holiday, I spend an hour a day on Twitter. My wife once locked my blackberry in the hotel safe, went out, and returned to find me sitting in front of the safe, going through the combinations: 1111, 1112, 1113 etc.
I follow two or three fans from each of the leading clubs to give me a more informed and tribal view of match-day. For instance, I didn’t hear the “Roman Abramovich, is this what you want” chant at Upton Park until told by a few fans present. There has to be an element of circumspection but if enough fans say it then you react.
Twitter is like having an army of advisors. If I’m writing a column, I’ll tweet a vague thought like ‘Moses could play central’, go off for a run, come back, and I’ll have 50-odd replies, some of them providing invaluable detail, some of them saying “don’t be so bloody stupid’’. Even the invective is useful as it gives an insight into mood etc.
I’ve never blocked anyone. I don’t mind the death threats, it’s the marriage proposals from the Far-east that are unsettling. I wouldn’t mind if I could work out whether they are from men or women.
On a match-night runner, when time is of the essence, I’ll also tweet lines I’m thinking of using in the intro. If the line gets groans, I’ll try something else. Twitter’s also quite useful for player contact; I’ve had DMs off players that I’d never use (DMs are off the record in my eyes) but it does give an insight into their thinking.
6. Very well done for carrying out your forfeit on losing the Newcastle bet – tell us about the experience? Will it prevent you making such statements in the future?
The Tyne swim raised £2,000 for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation so it was worth the humiliation and risk of dysentery. I reserve the right to continuing making daft pronouncements.
What’s the ‘average reader’? The audience is splintered. If I write a piece, it goes to 600,000+ Telegraph readers, 400,000 twitter followers and countless online. Different people. To borrow a terrace chant, “I write what I want”. If Suarez, Dalglish, Terry, Gourlay, Ferguson etc deserve criticism over a specific incident, then I’ll criticise. Rio Ferdinand didn’t talk to the press for a couple of years after we hammered him for the missed drugs test.
8. I know you are very passionate about the national team – do you think the influx of foreign players into the Premiership has had a directly detrimental effect on the team?
Obviously. Look at Josh McEachran.
9. Which individuals from your profession do you personally admire and enjoy reading?
So many. If I had to pick a top six, I’d go: Paul Hayward, Martin Samuel, Matt Dickinson, Sam Wallace, Olly Kay and Olly Holt. If I was picking the press team, I’d have Wallace and Dickinson, good players.
It’s a great job, wandering around, covering matches. Since 1986, there have probably been only three journalists I’ve seriously disliked.
10. The perception by many is that the papers now try and shape public opinion on stories, rather than just report on them – do you think that is a fair comment?
No. I don’t try to shape public opinion; we’re hardly politicians. I’m just expressing my own opinion as a punter with a lap-top who drives 50k miles a year, goes to 130+ games a year and enjoys writing on them. There’s no grand plan.
11. What advice would you give to a youngster embarking on a career in sports journalism?
Survive on five hours’ sleep a night. Deliver 1000 words in an hour on an unfolding story while sitting in a service-station car-park. Juggle passion and perspective in your columns. Specialise in one field but understand the need to deliver via many outlets and do radio, TV, books, Twitter etc. Drink a lot of coffee. And never complain.
12. What have you made of the goings on at Chelsea this season and how do you see the remainder panning out?
The key issue for Chelsea this season is that they have lacked real leaders on and off the pitch.
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