Archive for the ‘Journalism’ tag
Strange as it sounds, from a journalist’s point of view a stinkingly poor game can be quite fun to write about. This from The Guardian on Monday 8 October 2012.
Wasps edge Worcester but quality is in short supply at Adams Park
• London Wasps 10–6 Worcester
• Simon McIntyre try proves decisive in error-strewn scrap
Richard Rae at Adams Park
It was entirely appropriate that a final two minutes of tension as Worcester battered away at the Wasps line in search of a winning try should have come to an end when Blair Cowan spilled the ball forward in the tackle. In perfect conditions the error count in this match was almost grotesque.
Knock-ons, fumbles, possession coughed-up in the opposition 22, missed kicks to touch and at the posts, stupid penalties conceded, ridiculous forward passes, own lineouts lost, this game had the lot, and in sizeable quantity.
Finding positives, then, was not an easy task for either coach. Wasps’ Dai Young at least had the comfort of having come out on top, though as he acknowledged, his side would have beaten very few other teams with such a performance.
“We showed a lot of heart to keep them out at the end but our kicking game was second best, our ball retention was downright poor and, in the second half especially, our set piece fell apart,” Young said. “We found a way to win but we have to be better than that.”
The Wasps flanker Joe Launchbury — man of the match almost by default after playing something resembling his usual mobile game – did come in for a word of praise. “People talk about him as a star of the future but he’s already a top-quality player,” said Young of the 20-year-old. “I think England see his long-term future as a second row and that’s how I see it because being still young and maturing he’s going to get bigger and bigger.”
Worcester’s Richard Hill began his assessment with an apology. “Sorry to have subjected everybody to that,” he said. “It was a shocker. Neither team played well but we played marginally worse. Credit to Wasps for holding out at the end, we might have sneaked it but I’m not sure we deserved to,” said the Warriors’ head coach
“Both teams tried hard, but there were so many individual errors. Our lineout just did not function, especially in attacking positions. Apart from the first two minutes, when Wasps scored their try, it was pretty dour.” That first few minutes saw Launchbury’s charge to within a few feet of the Worcester line give the Wasps’ drive a momentum that ended in the prop Simon McIntyre crossing from short range for his first try for the club.
Stephen Jones converted and went on to kick a penalty on the quarter hour, a deserved return for Wasps’ territorial superiority but from then on the game became what a shambles, not helped by a fussy referee.
Worcester should have been level at the break but Andy Goode hit the post with a simple penalty and the full-back Chris Pennell, with one man to beat and a team-mate screaming for the inside pass, unaccountably attempted a chip kick that went straight into touch.
Jones, who came into this game having kicked 15 goals from 15 attempts since joining Wasps, duly missed twice, and though Goode dropped an extraordinary goal from the half-way line, the experienced stand-off otherwise had the sort of game that could see him waking sweating in the night for weeks to come.
Asked why highly trained professionals sometimes play that badlyto explain the poor display from both sides, Hill shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know why players made uncharacteristic individual errors. Both teams got into the opposition 22 and had opportunities, but couldn’t capitalise because of errors. You have to turn pressure into points.
“We just couldn’t hold on to the ball almost until that final passage of play when they defended superbly to keep us out. It’s particularly frustrating because we saw it as an opportunity to win three consecutive Premiership games – London Irish last week, Wasps today and Sale when they come to Worcester in a couple of weeks.”
On this evidence, he could not be confident of Worcester beating Sale under-15s. Mind you, neither could Wasps.
Wasps Southwell; Varndell, Masi (Daly 61), Bell, Wade; Jones, Simpson; McIntyre (Swainston 74), Lindsay, Taulafo, Palmer (Poff 54), Wentzel, Launchbury, Haskell (Johnson 66), Vunipola.
Try McIntyre. Con Jones. Pen Jones.
Worcester Pennell (Carlisle 66); Clarke, Grove, Matavesi (Fatiaki 52), Lemi; Goode, Arr (Hodgson 66); Mullan (Jones 74), Lutui (Hayes 74), Andress (Currie 74), Percival, Schofield (Gillies 61), Jones, Betty, Kvesic (Cowan 61).
Pen Goode. Drop-goal Goode.
Referee L Geraint-Roberts. Attendance 5,232
In the last ten years alone I suppose I’ve filed well over a thousand match reports for quality national newspapers on football, cricket and rugby alone, and while most have hopefully been accurate and therefore inoffensive, there are times when something I’ve written has upset readers.
Sometimes I know that’s going to be the case, but it can’t be helped because I feel strongly about an issue. In my case that usually pertains to county cricket. A few years ago, writing for The Guardian, I was tolerably scathing about the match umpires and the Hampshire groundsman when an entire day’s play was lost despite not a single drop of rain falling, essentially because the covers had been too slow in going on the day before, and once on, were inadequate.
The next morning said Hampshire groundsman marched into the press box and confronted me. We had a civilised discussion and shook hands, and that was fine. What shook me a bit was that one of the umpires — all right, it was Jerry Lloyds — told me later that day, when they’d finally deigned to come out and explain what was going on, that what I’d written was ‘disgusting’.
I felt pretty miserable until my colleagues Kate Laven and George Dobell jollied me out of it. Later the following day I was sitting in the crowd, as is sometimes my wont, and saw a photocopy of my article being passed around the Hampshire members to general approval, which made me feel better still.
Curiously enough something similar happened this summer, when a Kent player claimed a catch which I pointed out under the laws of the game simply couldn’t have been legal. I was roundly castigated by one older member of the press corps, who said the umpires had said it was OK and that should be the end of it. Later in the season he judged a new county cricket reporting award. I didn’t win.
But in those circumstances you have a fair idea what’s going to happen. It was less expected last Sunday, when a number of Norwich City supporters took umbrage at my suggestion for The Observer that Swansea City might have deserved something from their match at Carrow Road. Looking back I probably was a bit generous to the Swans, but the abuse, via comments on the internet and twitter, was remarkable. Given it was The Observer some of it was clever and amusing, but plenty wasn’t. No doubt it’s still out there somewhere.
As I pointed out to one of the more literate commenters, it’s simply a matter of opinion, and I’ve earned the right to express mine through hard work, experience and some sort of ability to express myself. After all, you can’t watch as many matches — and different teams — as I’ve watched without learning something.
Does it bother me that it bothers me? Yes, a little. Because surely there are so many more important things for people to get upset about.
As one who has long taken the News Corps shilling, both under contract and as a freelance (working for The Sunday Times) it’s been a curious sensation watching the company writhing around in an unwelcome spotlight in the last week or so.
I don’t feel as though I owe it anything — other than gratitude for the initial opportunity, obviously — firstly because at every level, the company ensures it gets its moneys-worth out of you, and secondly because it doesn’t hesitate to cut you adrift when it feels the financial need. Which is fair enough, though as I say, one consequence is it doesn’t engender any real feeling of loyalty, and so I’ve been following events with a certain sense of detachment.
But surely there isn’t anyone in the country, even News Corps journalists, who isn’t delighted? Not just about the exposure, and hopefully ending, of underhand practices such as phone-tapping, but about the chance to tear down the web of craven, self-serving politicians, unscrupulous journalists and corrupt police officers which has been making our country anything but a democracy. It’s the miserable dishonesty of that slimy cabal which has got to end, and thanks be to The Guardian for having the guts to turn over the stone in the first place. It behoves every single one of us to get on to our MPs (especially if they’re lobby fodder) and keep the pressure up — the website theyworkforyou.com is a good starting point.
But that, as Daisy said to Tom, is personal. As a sportswriter, there’s nothing you can do other cope with the inadequacy of knowing that while the world is being changed by other journalists, you are telling people Leicestershire are 152–4.
By Richard Rae at Villa Park.
Shortly before kick-off, a large banner was brandished in the Holte
End on which was written ‘Had enough. Houllier out.’
Free speech being as foreign a concept to some Premier League clubs as it is to many Middle Eastern despots, said banner was quickly removed, although how many Villa fans actually agreed with the sentiment
expressed is a moot point, given the action of the stewards appeared to receive as much applause as the banner’s appearance. One thing is certain however; there are a lot more after what has been an awful few
days for Aston Villa.
It is hard to say which is more embarrassing, the fining of Richard Dunne and James Collins after a team bonding exercise exposed the considerable divisions within the camp, or the performance of team and
Replacing the teenage left-back Nathan Baker after half an hour was an admission of error by the beleagured Gerard Houllier, but the second half substitution of young winger Marc Albrighton, who had offered Villa’s only consistent threat, was inviting the inevitable, and the Frenchman was duly informed that he did not know what he was doing.
By the end of the match, won by a crisp first-half volley by Matt Jarvis to give Wolves a first win at Villa Park for 31 years, the anger was pretty much universal.
Houllier said he understood and shared the frustration. “They are not happy with me, I am not happy with what we are doing,” he shrugged, before adding with a smile; “But please, assure them I do know what I
Villa looked slightly happier and more co-ordinated going forward than at the back, but that it was Wolves who carried the greater threat was apparent when they had two ‘goals’ disallowed. The first, when
Christophe Berra headed in a Nenad Milijas free-kick, was for offside, the second, more curiously, when the same linesman decided Matt Jarvis’s cross had curled out of play before being nodded in by Kevin
In the circumstances the visitors deserved to take the lead, and did so when Berra’s header fell nicely for Jarvis on the edge of the penalty area to hit a low volley crisply beyond Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
With Bent isolated up front, Villa’s attempts to get back into the game lacked conviction, though they were unlucky when Richard Stearman fouled Bent inside the penalty area, only for referee Phil Dowd to give a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Unfathomably, Houllier then replaced Nigel Reo-Coker and Albrighton with Robert Pires and Gabby Agbonlahor and thereafter Villa were for the most part a shambles. They gave the ball away with embarrassing
frequency and Wolves squandered several good chances to extend their lead before, out of nothing and possibly from an offside position, Ashley Young drove a shot against the underside of the bar.
Wolves manager Mick McCarthy empathised with Houllier but did not sympathise.
“I’ve been there, and I’d prefer it to be him and 18 others than me, so I don’t give a flying flute. We
wanted to drag them into the mire with us, and there’s no question that’s where they are,” he said.
Star man; Matt Jarvis (Wolves)
Booked; Stearman, Elokobi, Young, Foley.
Aston Villa (4–4-1–1 from right); Friedel 6; Walker 6, Cuellar 6, Herd
6, Baker 5 (Delph 32, 6); Albrighton 6 (Agbonlahor 61), Reo-Coker 6
(Pires 61), Makoun 5, Downing 5; Young 5; Bent 5.
Subs not used: Marshall, Bradley, Heskey, Petrov.
Wolves (4–4-1–1 from right); Hennessey 7; Elokobi 6, Stearman 6, Berra
7, Foley 7; Hammill 7, Ebanks-Blake 65). Henry 7, Milijas 7, Jarvis 8
(Ward 80); O’Hara 7; Doyle 7.
Subs not used: Hahnemann, Craddock, Kightly, Fletcher, Jones.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire)
Originally published in The Sunday Times.
By Richard Rae at Molineux
You would have to put them on the rack before they might admit it, but amid the obviously sincere disappointment expressed by Manchester United’s staff and players at the ending of their run of 29 matches unbeaten in the league, there may also have been just the faintest sense of relief.
How else to explain the lack of urgency, let alone desperation, as they chased the game on a wild and wet Wolverhampton evening? Shorn of the comforting presence of Rio Ferdinand, who suffered a calf injury in the warm-up, and faced by a Wolves side buoyed by the knowledge it had already beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Sunderland, United, having gone ahead with an early Nani strike which beat Wayne Hennessey at his near post, barely created a chance worthy of the name throughout the entire second period.
For Alex Ferguson to take defeat as well as he apparently did suggested the Scot himself may have become aware that the need to avoid defeat had, unconsciously or otherwise, begun to inhibit his players. Not, as Mick McCarthy pointed out, that it prevented Ferguson informing his opposite number that he had been “a lucky so and so”.
“Actually, he didn’t say ‘so and so’, he said something else,” grinned the Yorkshireman. “And I said, ‘Great, I’m delighted you’re saying that,’ because I’ve waited years and years and years to be called a lucky so and so by Alex. But he said it with his tongue in his cheek and a smile on his face and said we’d earned it.”
So they did, with a performance of such defensive energy and commitment that it must drive McCarthy quietly bonkers. How, he was asked, could a side which has now beaten five of the Premier League’s top seven sides still be bottom of the league? There was a certain dry humour in his response – “Because we’ve been bobbins against the teams around us” – but no one at Molineux will be laughing if a squad of players which can beat the best goes down because it cannot summon up the collective will-power to play with similar determination against lesser sides.
Whether they will make it six out of the top seven by beating Arsenal on Saturday remains to be seen, but United, as Darren Fletcher pointed out, can concentrate on preparing for a potentially crucial Manchester derby.
“Maybe people will stop talking about the run now,” said the midfielder. “The main thing for us is to win the league, not to stay unbeaten. We could have remained unbeaten all season and not won the league: what point would that have made?
“Now we will have to show character, and we have a great opportunity because matches don’t come much bigger than the Manchester derby. We will be ready for that game.”
Roberto Mancini’s team will need to be wary because Fletcher’s words sounded as much like a threat as a promise, but with Ferdinand already out, Ferguson will be hoping there is no further fallout from the this week’s internationals.
“To my mind [scheduling midweek internationals] is crazy but we have to get on with it,” he told a television interviewer. “We have plenty of players who are not involved in international games and they will all play next week. We have to give consideration to the ones who are travelling, have to play, and then come back for the City game on Saturday lunchtime.”
That United missed Ferdinand was unquestionable, though the blame for the goals powerfully headed home by George Elokobi, and fortunately deflected in by Kevin Doyle, for once lay more at the door of captain Nemanja Vidic than Ferdinand’s late stand-in Jonny Evans.
Yet to single out any United player for criticism would be unfair on a day when the collective failure was exemplified by the remarkable sight of Ryan Giggs, of all people, kicking out at Doyle as the Wolves striker cheekily attempted to waste a little time.
Had the referee seen it clearly Giggs would surely have received the first red card of his career, and it can only have been his saintly reputation which led to Doyle rather than the Welshman receiving an official ticking-off.
“I imagine if it had been a Wolves player challenging him it might have been different,” said Doyle, nursing a bloodied nose and thick lip after getting an elbow in the face from Chris Smalling.
“To be fair, I was acting a bit of an idiot by hanging on to the ball, and he probably deserves a bit of leeway after the career he’s had and all the games he’s played. I wouldn’t like to see him get done for it but it was strange me getting on the receiving end of the ref’s tongue for it!”
Scorers: Wolves Elokobi 10, Doyle 40. Manchester United Nani 3.
Subs: Wolves Foley (O’Hara, 59), Ward (Hammill, 64), Ebanks-Blake (Milijas, 88). Unused Hahnemann (gk), Craddock, Edwards, Fletcher.
Man Utd Scholes (Carrick, 46), Smalling (Evans, 65), Hernandez (Berbatov, 65). Unused Kuszczak (gk), O’Shea, Anderson, Owen. Booked: Wolves Henry, O’Hara Man Utd Scholes, Rooney.
Man of the match Elokobi Match rating: 6/10.
Possession Wolves 51% Man Utd 49%.
Attempts on target Wolves 5 Man Utd 7.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland). Att 28,811.
Originally published in The Independent on Monday February 7th, 2011.
We have all probably been in this situation at some time or other, but these days there is no safety net. In days of yore each newspaper used to have copytakers you could phone and to whom you would dictate your copy, spelling out names as you went. Not so very long ago of course — say 20 years or so — the copytakers were all you had. It was usually an efficient lady in Wetherby, where the PA had their copytakers based. Then along came a machine called a ‘Tandy’ which phoned your office from your computer and sent your copy down the wires, saving you lots of time — as long as it worked.
Pretty soon most of us had some sort of cable which connected your computer to your mobile phone, and thence to the office computer. The advent of wifi in many press boxes made that redundant after five or six years, and now, if there isn’t wifi available, everybody has a dongle as back-up.
Problems sending copy to the office are therefore very rare, but no matter what my colleague tried, he couldn’t get his computer connected to the internet. Believe me, the sense of mounting panic in those circumstances is horrible. My colleague was fortunate, in that he works for a newspaper with a very decent sports editor. In the end somebody lent him a memory stick, and he used my laptop, but for a few moments it felt very much like old times. The moral of the story, of course, is to make sure a memory stick is always in your laptop bag. If the worst then comes to the worst, another journalist will usually help you out. Contrary to their reputation, most sportswriters will help a fellow journo having problems. After all, there aren’t that many of us left.
It’s been a busy few days — West Brom (football feature, Independent on Sunday), Blackpool (football match report Sunday Times, Guardian), Leicester (Rugby match report, The Indy), a couple of subbing shifts at BBC Online.
THERE was much talk about levels of expectation at Elland Road on Saturday, and to be sure, they are considerable.
Not necessarily of quality, as anyone who witnessed the numbers of garden gnomes in club colours being carried proudly to the tills in the heaving superstore would attest. But in beating Championship leaders Queens Park Rangers, extending an unbeaten run to nine matches and moving into second in the table, it is fair to say Leeds United are exceeding the expectations of the most gnomic of their notoriously partisan supporters.
Not least because, as a group of still slightly wide-eyed fans in the train back from the previous week’s remarkable comeback at Burnley pointed out, it is essentially the same team that only just secured automatic promotion from the League One. Or even a weaker team, given top scorer Jermaine Beckford moved to Everton on a free transfer over the summer.
It certainly looked that way at the end of October, when Cardiff City came to West Yorkshire and ripped Leeds to shreds on live television. That made it four defeats in five games for Simon Grayson’s side, and the turnaround since is as much a testament to their young manager as it undoubtedly is to the players.
Firstly, he acted to improve his defence by bringing in the experienced centre-half Andy O’Brien on loan from Bolton. A local boy still living in nearby Harrogate, O’Brien has played with the commitment of one who would very much like to sign the permanent deal which by all accounts Leeds intend to offer him next month.
Secondly, helped by the return to fitness of the hugely talented Scottish wide midfielder Robert Snodgrass, Grayson changed the way the team was playing from 4–4-2 to 4–2-3–1. With O’Brien a calming organisational influence at the back, and Bradley Johnson and Neil Kilkenny as the holding players, inspirational young captain Jonathan Howson has licence to drive forward with Snodgrass and the Ivorian Max-Alain Gradel on either side of him, creating chances for both themselves as a trio and the lone centre-forward Luciano Becchio.
While far from perfect — the absence of O’Brien through injury saw Leeds revert to their former defensively suspect ways in the first half against Burnley before Grayson got hold of them at half-time — the system seems to suit the players.
“When we conceding a lot of goals and struggling to keep clean sheets earlier in the season, it wasn’t necessarily the back four that was the problem: they were making a few mistakes, but individuals in front of them weren’t doing their jobs, and now we’re defending as a group” said Grayson as a crowd of almost 30,000 departed happily.
“You can sense they’re enjoying what they’re doing at the moment, and that’s a big factor. But the reality in a tight division is all we’ve done is give ourselves an opportunity. We hope to build on it, but we can also still get relegated — you can lose a few games and confidence can dwindle away. Our first aim was consolidation, making sure we would stay in the division, and that hasn’t changed.”
The time to take stock, he insisted, would be after the Christmas period.
Not all in the gnome-filled garden is rosy. The issue of who or what actually owns the club remains unresolved, and chairman Ken Bates’ tight hold on the club’s purse-strings could result in several out-of-contract players leaving next month. One, the increasingly impressive young Argentine striker Becchio, signed a new five year deal on Saturday, but the future of Johnson and Kilkenny in particular remains uncertain.
Grayson is phlegmatic. “We have players who will be out of contract , and we hope to try and resolve those issues, but I don’t think given where we are in the league attracting new players will be too difficult — if I decide it’s the right thing to do. We’ve got a group of players who have done well, and when that happens sometimes you have to stay loyal to them.
This Thursday marks two years since Grayson was recruited from Blackpool to take over at Leeds, then going nowhere in League One under Gary McAllister. Whatever the general opinion on Bates’s stewardship, that at least is an appointment for which the former Chelsea owner continues to gain considerable credit.
The club at a glance
Ground: Elland Road, 39,460.
Average attendance: (league, 11 matches) 25,957
Manager: Simon Grayson; first-team coaches Ian Miller, Glynn Snodin
Owner: Refuse to say but deemed fit and proper by the Football league
Chairman: Ken Bates
Turnover (2008–09) £23.5m; Operating loss £1.6m; Total wage bill £12.3m
Debt: Once £103m, now nothing, according to Bates. “We made a profit last year. We don’t owe anybody any money. We have a little bit in the bank, but not much,” he told Sky Sports in November.
Net spend in last transfer window: Unknown; 10 summer signings, seven on frees, three undisclosed
Biggest signing at club: Ross McCormack reported £300,000 (August 2010)
Biggest ever signing: Rio Ferdinand £18m
Originally posted at The Guardian
For those of a certain sporting generation, there is something nostalgically comforting about his portrayal of Brian Clough.
Not so much because of the actor’s recreation, largely though brilliant mimicry, of an extraordinary character who figured large in our youthful past, as for his evocation of a sort of football manager who no longer figures in the modern, scientific game.
It isn’t just Clough up there on the screen, it’s a whole generation of sarcastic, frustrated men whose jobs depended on the slack-jawed idiots under their command doing what they’ve been told to do, and it’s a performance that was born on the Zeneca Recreation Ground, Leeds Road, Huddersfield, twelve years ago.
And I, as Peter Tinniswood’s Brigadier would say, was there.
The press release that arrived on the sports desk of the Yorkshire Post was irresistible, though as it turned out, only to me. Three actors from The Royal Shakespeare Company, then performing Henry V up the road at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, would spend a morning training with Huddersfield Town Football Club. The Earl of Westmorland, The Dauphin, and King Henry himself would be mixing it with the Terriers, then of Division One, but undergoing the worst start to the season in the history of the club. It was early October, they had yet to win a league game, and with the vultures gathering, then manager Brian Horton was pretty much at the end of his tether. Enter bravely, stage left, Stephen Bent, Tristan Gemmill and one Michael Sheen.
They dressed the part. Westmorland turned out to be a goalkeeper, who once played for Lancashire schools and claimed to have had trails for Oldham, and was clad in luminous green. Unfortunately Stephen Bent was, and presumably still is, short, had a dodgy knee, and he subsequently admitted, only one eye, so while his dives had a certain grace, they were very, very late.
Gemmill, who must have made a striking Dauphin, was built like a rugby centre, and was good enough in the air to gain the odd nod of appreciation and be approvingly christened ‘Triss’ by Horton. But while the pale, slight, curly-haired Sheen probably conformed to the players’ image of an actor, it rapidly became clear ’Mikey’ was the star, on the field as he was on the stage. Neat, quick, with a good first touch, he didn’t look out of place in any of the passing exercises, and you could believe an Arsenal youth coach had once invited him to come for a trial. Once Horton started a match however, the three wisely sat out. There is only so much humiliation a professional footballer can take, and being nutmegged by Henry V might have prompted the sort of revenge which would have required Sheen to play the role in a wheelchair.
No longer bound by the presence of guests, Horton really began to let rip. The abuse tended to the general rather than personal, but the timing was such that an offending individual cannot but have known who was to blame. Listening with obvious fascination to Horton’s increasingly apoplectic and inventive curses as he rounded on his players, Sheen responded manfully to an invitation to reflect on the similarities between directing Shakespeare — at the time he was considered an up and coming director, as well as an actor — and managing a professional football team, not immediately apparent to any watching aesthetes.
“Well, he’s urging greater application, as I might do to a company of actors, although he has a different way of expressing it. He’s trying to relax them,” said Sheen, raising his voice as, I swear, a scream of ‘Get your fucking fingers out!’ echoed around the ground.
When I suggested all three actors had appeared comfortable with the physical demands of Horton’s regime, Sheen mildly replied that the demands of a three hour daily performance — two, some days — kept them in tolerable condition, and that the RSC themselves had a useful team at the time, though he admitted they’d lost last time out to the Cyrano de Bergerac company. It was some time after the players had disappeared before I had the nerve to approach Horton, and ask him what he thought of the trio.
“They’re as good footballers as we are actors, which is to say not great” said Horton, witheringly, his face still red and lips still flecked with spittle. “On the other hand, as I‘ve got a good few actors in my team already, they’d probably fit right in.” Two days later, he was sacked. Peter Jackson was brought in, and somehow Town survived.
As, obviously, did the actors. Bent recently had a prominent role in Life on Mars, Gemmill a long-running part in Casualty. Sheen, however, clearly tucked something away. It’s taken time, but at last Brian Horton has inspired a brilliant performance.
It’s possible to become jaded in this business, certainly when it comes to keeping up with the latest sports books. Jaded AND out of pocket, considering there are so many of them, and even the awful ones — and plenty fall into that category — usually contain a nugget or two. But you can’t read them all, so may I commend to you my Independent colleague Jon Culley’s website, The Sports Bookshelf. It does a pretty good job of sorting the wheat.
My own all-time greatest sportsbook, incidentally, is Farewell to Sport, by the great American sportswriter Paul Gallico. My well-thumbed copy was published, which is to say re-published, by SportsPages. I haven’t seen it in the shops for a long time, but no doubt it’s available through various second-hand outlets online.
Gallico, who went on to become a respected novelist and base himself in England, covered US sport in the 1920s and 1930s. Every word, every insight is a fresh and relevant today as it was then.
Sometimes freelance sports journalism can mean spending an awful lot of time in the car. Mixing Korean Grand Prix work for the BBC with football and other commitments means that over a five day period I’ll have driven well over 1,000 miles — Bath, home, London, home, Birmingham, London, home, Ipswich, home. Home is Stamford, by the way.
Ordinarily of course I’d use the train for at least some of the journeys, or possibly found a reasonable hotel, but aspiring freelances should be aware that unless you live in London, it’s almost impossible to get a train home after an evening game.
Incidentally, only some newspapers pay travel expenses. The Sunday Times, for whom I’ve worked for approaching 12 years, pays freelancers, whether contracted or not, 24p a mile — a rate unchanged in all that time. Staffers get 40p.
The Guardian, bless them, pay 40p, whether you’re staff or not. Also unchanged for many years.
Not whinging, by the way — it’s just how this ridiculous life works sometimes. Some journalists are probably brave enough to turn down work if the distances become ridiculous. Not me! So, ho for St Andrews and Birmingham City v Blackpool!