Training advisers need to realise journalism is changing

Before we start, here is a warning. Things are going to get meta. And I’ll have to discuss my own life. Please be assured, as anyone who gets a glimpse of the brief and unsatisfactory story that is my pay cheque would attest, there is no triumphalism here. What’s troubling me is the article on the Sports Journalists’ Association website entitled ‘How do I become a sports journalist’ by Keith Elliott, the SJA’s training adviser. It’s been there for five years. It may have been out of date when it was written. The fact that it’s still sitting there now is beyond frustrating. But much worse, it’s potentially damaging to the very people it purports to help. Consider the opening lines:

“Wish I had a pound for everyone who comes to see me saying: ‘I’d like a job in sports journalism.’ Sadly, their qualifications rarely match their ambitions. For many, it comes as a surprise that watching Match of the Day and being a member of Plymouth Argyle Supporters’ Club are not enough to have The Times offering huge sums for their undoubted talents. I don’t know what careers officers are telling today’s kids, but it’s a pile of the stuff left behind in the stables after Cheltenham Festival. Yes, you can get a job on Sky Sports, FourFourTwo or The Sun sports desk – if your dad’s the editor. Otherwise? No chance. They don’t take beginners.”

Anecdotal evidence isn’t always helpful in refuting an argument but in this instance you’ll have to indulge me. I work for Sky Sports as a football feature writer. It’s my first full-time writing job. And yet, my dad is a retired mechanic from Wolverhampton. He’s not the editor of Sky Sports. In fact, I had no contacts in the industry. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did have some contacts. I wrote a blog. I was a blogger. Here we come to the crux of the issue. You might think blogging is a significant development in the recent history of journalism, particularly at the aspirational end of the scale, but it’s not mentioned once in Elliott’s article. Magazines and websites, meanwhile, get one line:

“The days of knocking on an editor’s door and getting a job because he (it was always a ‘he’ in those days) liked your nerve are long gone. Editors want people who are immediately useful, rather than enthusiastic amateurs. The latter are a liability: they work too slowly, miss out key facts, can’t spell or punctuate and make too many mistakes. So don’t even bother applying unless you’re coming to me with the core skills. But how do you acquire them? By working on a newspaper, magazine or website, dummy.”

Amateur it may be, but there are a lot of skills you can gather from blogging that are highly relevant. Firstly, there are the implied skills that any potential employer can quickly assume. You’re a self-starter, enthusiastic and committed. You have some experience of content management systems and HTML. Perhaps most crucially, as an employer you get to try before you buy. Magazine editors offering freelance work have a portfolio they can peruse. Through your Twitter presence, websites can get a feel for the extent your ideas will resonate and find a ready-made audience.

Websites, Twitter, magazines and broadcasting companies. It’s not real journalism though is it? As John Humphrys said this week: “Reporters matter above all others. The reporters on the road that report. You can do without almost everyone else.” Having noted the way experienced hacks lose interest in offering a word of advice once it emerges I work for Sky rather than the Croydon Advertiser, it seems there is a certain prevailing snobbery when it comes to the new way of doing things. But while the current generation might be a product of local papers, there are other routes.

Michael Cox is perhaps the finest example of parlaying a blog into a journalism career, writing for the Guardian and elsewhere, but there are others: Jack Pitt-Brooke at the Independent, Ed Malyon and Jack Lang at the Mirror. Andi Thomas does great stuff online. Let’s face it, even Matt Stanger is almost making a living. Elsewhere in the football industry, there is Chris Mann at Prozone, Chris Mayer at Opta and many more. Ultimately, it would be foolish to overlook, as Elliott apparently does, (a) the changes brought about by new media, and (b) the importance of specialist knowledge in a niche area such as sport:

“Subject knowledge is important. But would you know what to do if a fire broke out in the ground and dozens of people were trapped? Could you file a running story? If you had been covering the Munich Olympics when members of the Israeli team were taken hostage, would you have had the wit to dress as an athlete (as the late John Rodda did) and get into the Athletes’ Village? That’s why you need to learn the core journalistic skills.

“Imagine a giant house, with a huge party going on. Inside the house are lots of rooms with Art, Sport, Political, Foreign, Theatre and so on written on the doors. You knock on the door. A bouncer the size of a redwood answers. ‘You can’t come in unless you’re a journalist,’ he growls. You wanna join the sports writers? Was that the pop of Dom Perignon from their room? Then you’ve got to get through the main door.”

He paints a vivid picture and it’s a view being supported in classrooms all around the country. When I was studying for the NCTJ qualification – pertinently, one I’m not convinced my current employer or indeed any of the editors for whom I’ve freelanced are even aware I possess – I was also writing for When Saturday Comes and FourFourTwo. It felt incongruous to be getting paid for this but then being told on work experience at the Stafford Newsletter that five years of court reporting would be expected before I got to cover my first Stafford Rangers game.

Maybe I’d be a better journalist if I had done it that way. The grammatical errors in this piece might be less. Or fewer. Or something like that. I’m not saying this is a better way. But aspiring sports journalists should know that it is a way. Otherwise you risk spending a fortune you can’t afford on a three-year journalism degree and a further five years earning a pittance on your local paper only to discover that all the jobs have gone to Michael Cox and his buddies because they spent that time getting to know the subject you’d wanted to do all along. What a shame if young people are led down an unnecessarily costly and meandering path to their career of choice or – even worse – discouraged from a career in sports journalism altogether based on outdated information.

Wayne Allison – Bristol City vs Liverpool – 1994

Nostalgic reminiscing by Steve Wright, community manager at The Football Week, a new iPad magazine.

This goal technically never happened. Or did it? To this day I’m not sure.

Beating Liverpool in January 1994, in an FA Cup 3rd round replay, is probably the finest moment in my team Bristol City’s mediocre history. That replay was actually the third match between the teams that month, after the first game had to be abandoned due to floodlight failure.

I’d celebrated when the two teams came out of the draw together, and again when I’d managed to secure one of the rare-as-hen’s-teeth tickets to that initial match. City were nothing special: we finished that season 13th in Division One, or the Championship as it is these days. But although Liverpool were a massive club, they were in decline under Graeme Souness – surely we could give them a game.

I remember the game in flashes and blurs of colour: scrappy challenges in the muddy midfield; the annoying kid in front of my in the outsize beanie. John Barnes shrugging off a couple of challenges to cut in from the right and present another man in the twilight of his career, Ian Rush, with a tap-in. City’s keeper Keith Welch’s Grobbelaar moment nearly gifting a fresh-faced Robbie Fowler a goal. Liverpool’s iconic South African regaining his erratic custodian throne soon after by beating two men in the left-back position before having to be rescued by his defence. Heroically profligate City striker Liam Robinson spurning two great chances to equalise.

But I remember our equaliser like it was yesterday. The ball broke from midfield to stoic left-back Martin Scott, who advanced before sending over the perfect near-post cross. Where, arriving like a train, was cult striker Wayne Allison. Oh Waynie Waynie is Dr Wayne Allison these days, but as he powered a sinewy header past a despairing Grobbelaar a knighthood seemed appropriate.

It was an explosion of pure euphoria; the crowd spilling out of seats and towards the hoardings. Black spots swimming before my eyes, my vision clearly unable to cope with the majesty of it all. And somewhere, a voice complaining, “Someone’s stolen my hat!”

Shortly after half-time the lights went, and that was that. 10 days later they tried again, the same players scoring in a 1-1 draw; and finally, at Anfield, Brian Tinnion’s curler got Souness the sack.

I wasn’t there. I’d had to turn down a ticket because my mum wouldn’t let me skip school for the afternoon to travel up to Liverpool. But I’m content with my memories of that Allison header, and the life-affirming, visceral celebration that followed. It’s unlikely to ever be toppled as my favourite football moment.

Does it even count as a proper, in-the-history books goal? I’d rather not know. That pathos only makes me love it even more.

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Everton Error?

Arsène Wenger has won the double twice with Arsenal but the fans have now turned. Manchester City are the current Premier League champions and yet criticism of Roberto Mancini is growing. But knocking David Moyes? Now you’re really on dodgy ground. Unless you’re Gary Neville armed with a touchscreen, it’s one of those things you just don’t do.

After all, Everton continue to overachieve. Having finished in the top half of the table just once in the decade prior to Moyes’ arrival at Goodison Park, they have now achieved that feat eight times in the 10 full seasons the Scot has been in charge. The five teams above the Toffees have vastly bigger wage bills and free-spending neighbours Liverpool look likely to finish below them for a second successive season.

The narrative is clear: the only thing holding Everton back is the fact that chairman Bill Kenwright can’t find the funds. So it was particularly strange during the January transfer window when Dutch international Leroy Fer came mightily close to signing for the club. Everton talked of finding a whopping £8.6m to secure the deal with FC Twente as others might describe the discovery of a pound coin down the back of the sofa.

TO READ ON CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE ON BT LIFE’S A PITCH

IBWM – The First Two Years

large-ibwmby Adam Bate

I’m proud to say that I had the pleasure of contributing – albeit in a very small way – to the success of the In Bed With Maradona website. It’s a hell of a place, with regular features from around the world of football that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Thanks to the hard work of Dave Hartrick they’ve now released a book that includes some of the best stuff from the first two years of the site. The contributors include the likes of Andi Thomas and Nick Miller, and generously they’ve also included something by me in there too. It’s well worth a look.

In Bed With Maradona – The First Two Years

 

Why Mark Hughes deserves the sack at QPR

“The team played as planned,” claimed QPR owner Tony Fernandes on Twitter following his club’s latest defeat, a 1-0 reverse at Stoke last Saturday that left the Hoops with just four points from 11 games and Mark Hughes clinging to his job. But with the team bottom of the Premier League, QPR fans are entitled to wonder whether there was ever a plan to all of this in the first place.

When the club signed Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar just two months after awarding Robert Green a lucrative two-year contract, the temptation was to shrug at the crassness of it all and embrace ‘the project’ – onwards and upwards. But it turns out it was merely the most obvious example of the lack of any coherent strategy whatsoever at Loftus Road.

PLEASE READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON THE EXCELLENT BT LIFE’S A PITCH HERE

Thuram – France v Croatia – 1998

Ben Weich writes for the EPL Talk and Soccer Fan Base blogs. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenWeich

While there may have been more beautiful goals scored, few have been as remarkable as this one. This was a hugely important goal, not only for French football but also for the country as a whole.

France and Croatia were locked at 1-1 in a tight, closely fought World Cup semi-final. Neither team had made it past that stage before, but it was Les Bleus who were undoubtedly playing under the greater pressure. With an exceptionally talented squad, and the advantage of playing at home, 1998 was the year France were expected to finally lift the famous trophy.

But they were playing for much more than just footballing glory. The ’98 France team were one of the first truly multi-ethnic national sides in history. The squad boasted players who could trace their ancestry to Armenia, Algeria, Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Argentina, Ghana, Senegal, Italy, French Guyana, Portugal, Spain and Martinique. Star player and poster boy for this multi-racial generation, Zinedine Zidane was born in Marseille to Algerian immigrants.

Before the tournament, the Fédération Française de Football had come under fire from the country’s far-right. Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen had criticised the side’s mixed make-up, complaining that the team did not look sufficiently French. He complained that the black players didn’t sing the national anthem before matches, and in doing so attempted to make them look unpatriotic. At a time when the country was fraught with racial tension, Les Bleus were playing to protect the future of social integration. They represented French multicultural fraternité.

Having played Davor Šuker onside for Croatia’s opening goal, unassuming right-back Lilian Thuram levelled the match with his first ever international goal. With the tie finely
balanced, both teams were looking to swing the match their way.

Thuram is one of football’s most admirable figures. In the age of players’ excesses and
ostentatious consumerism he is the perfect tonic. Intelligent, articulate, reflective and politically-aware; Thuram embodies all that is missing from today’s professionals. Throughout his entire career, his play was diligent, always putting the team’s needs before his own. Never one to push forward in search of personal glory, he understood exactly what his role required of him and he went about it without fuss. It’s a shame there aren’t more like him.

It’s fitting that it was Thuram who scored arguably the most important goal of France’s World Cup campaign. Unsung hero and member of the rock-solid defensive line which only conceded two goals in the whole tournament, Thuram almost had to be dragged into his own moment of glory.

In the 69th minute, Zidane picks up the ball on the left wing at around the halfway line.
He sees Thuram across the pitch, well inside his own half, reliably occupying his full-back position. The ball is crossed intentionally in front of him, forcing him to advance up the pitch. Outside of his comfort zone, he seems for an instant uncertain – he gestures to Thierry Henry to come nearer, almost as if to ask his teammate what he should do now. He plays the ball into Henry’s feet.

Perhaps it’s the confidence gained from his earlier goal. Perhaps it’s the sheer will to win. But now Thuram does a most uncharacteristic thing – instead of retreating to his
familiar deep role, he surges towards the penalty box with attacking intent. Henry plays the ball back to Thuram but it reaches Croatia’s Robert Jarni first. The move looks over. But Thuram, now pumping full of adrenaline, controls the ball in between his opponent’s legs as he pushes him off the ball. It’s a completely fair challenge, and he shows what an imposing physical presence he is as he totally outmuscles the Croat. Jarni is sent stumbling in the other direction as Thuram shapes to shoot.

What happens next surprises everyone, including his teammates. He lashes at the ball with his left foot, sending it curling around the diving goalkeeper. It bends in to
nestle perfectly inside the post, causing the Stade de France to erupt. Thuram, propping himself up on his knees, places his index finger over his mouth in the classic ‘thinking man’ pose, befitting his future role as a social philosopher. The French players mob him as Fabien Barthez raises his hands to his head in disbelief. “Sensational!” cries the English commentator.

It turned out to be the winning goal. Les Bleus reached the final where they comprehensively defeated Brazil 3-0. The first French team to win the World Cup, they were celebrated as heroes of a new, multicultural France. Thuram, despite going on
to become the most-capped player in French history, never again scored for his country.

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Misleading first impressions?

When Queens Park Rangers’ eager communications department described new signing Park Ji-Sung as a “global phenomenon” it was easy to mock. After all, a quick Google search of the phrase mentions the decline of the honey bee but little of the similarly busy Korean midfielder.

And yet, who hasn’t at some time got carried away with outrageous optimism about their club’s summer signings? It’s common knowledge that every team in the country, from Manchester United to my own five-a-side rabble, is perennially three players away from success.

And so, in the heady days of July, Chelsea fans will elevate Eden Hazard to the status of all-conquering hero; Man Utd fans can cling to the hope of Shinji Kagawa smashing Man City; while Arsenal fans might believe Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud could make light of a Robin van Persie exit.

By August the dream will have died for some. Who knew that the free transfer centre-back from Rotherham was quite so limited? Or that Kieron Dyer’s knees were little better than a cut-and-shut job done by a dodgy mechanic. Hazard and Kagawa will have their every touch analysed and those modern-day Roman emperors – aka Alan Hansen and Gary Neville – will be waiting with their equivalent of the thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

Sometimes you do just know – instantly. Sergio Agüero’s brilliant brace on debut for Man City against Swansea had football fans frothing, and nine months later he proved to be the man who defined the Premier League season. Equally, Chris Sutton never was going to recover from stumbling like a drunk at a disco when clear on goal in his Stamford Bridge bow.

But it isn’t always so…

To read on, click here

This article appears in full at BT Life’s a Pitch 

Why La Liga is irrelevant to Barcelona’s legacy

by Adam Bate

“In my time as manager, it is the best team we have faced,” said Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United were comprehensively dismantled by Barcelona in last year’s Champions League final. Three-time European Cup winner Graeme Souness went further, saying: “I think they are the best team ever and, in Lionel Messi, they have the best player ever.”

Ten months on, and Barca’s football continues to bewitch. Like the Dutch exponents of Total Football in 1974, and the brilliant Brazilians of 1982, this Barcelona side provides a visceral joy that goes beyond scorelines. Unlike those illustrious predecessors, Pep Guardiola’s team have not only sustained it for longer but also have the trophies to back up their claim to greatness.

And it’s quite a collection of trinkets. The statistics can only hint at the style but they do convey their relentless dominance of world football. Since Guardiola’s ascent in the summer of 2008, Barcelona have won three La Liga titles, three Supercopas, two Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups and a Copa del Rey.

But there’s a problem with crowning Barcelona as the finest team the world has ever known. It’s the pesky inconvenience of the current La Liga table. Arch-rivals Real Madrid boast an eight-point lead over Guardiola’s men that will surely prove insurmountable. Can a team justifiably be labelled the greatest of all time while simultaneously being second best in their own league? It may appear incongruous, but history suggests it is surprisingly common.

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Appointing a football manager? Forget the interview

by Adam Bate

There are lots of reasons why an interview is important when deciding which candidate should get the job.

A smart appearance is indicative of a fastidious approach. A personable style can suggest a warm and engaging individual capable of motivating others.

It is also a chance to find out more about a person’s career beyond the bland statistics of a written CV.

Anybody can find a couple of references. It is far trickier, when put on the spot, for a person to explain how their ideas were received and how they interacted with colleagues.

But none of these factors should be quite so significant in the world of football management.

A football manager’s record is there for all to see.

While the sales figures at Wernham Hogg’s paper company in Slough might not be common knowledge, it takes about 10 seconds to google the win-percentage record of a football manager.

Their tactics will have been endlessly evaluated in minute detail by a plethora of pundits and bloggers.

The world will have watched on as they battled through hundreds of press conferences and media interviews. Daily assessments will have been made of their ability to handle pressure.

In short, a football manager’s CV does not require a reference.

There are literally hundreds of thousands only too willing to provide that reference – even if, for many, it may involve just two words with one of them being of the four-letter variety.

And yet, despite all this, the indications are that this week a Premier League manager will be selected on the basis of a seven day job search and a 45 minute interview.

Some employers recruit temporary admin staff more thoroughly.

So while Wolverhampton Wanderers insist they had nobody lined up when sacking Mick McCarthy on Monday, chief executive Jez Moxey will place his faith in the interview process.

“There has to be chemistry and you never really know until you get it,” said Moxey.

As a result, the manager – arguably the most important figure at a football club, capable of shaping fortunes for decades to come – will not be decided on the basis of their CV, but over a quick chat and a coffee.

The irony, of course, is that you can learn how to perform well in an interview. These skills can be picked up. And one of the reasons for having lots of successful interviews is due to jumping ship a lot. Or, heaven forbid, sacked.

The very qualities a football club does not want in a manager.

So while Steve Bruce flounced from Sheffield United to Huddersfield, and from Wigan via Crystal Palace and Birmingham then back again, Alan Curbishley stayed put at Charlton. For 15 years.

Curbishley was learning how to guide his club to the dizzy heights of seventh in the Premier League.

But Steve Bruce was learning how to give a damn good interview.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise then, that Curbishley’s son Michael took to Twitter to confirm that that his father “wants it but didn’t feel very confident after the meeting!”

In football, as in any other walk of life, a good interview can be the difference between success and failure.

But when a football manager’s career can be pored over in greater detail than could ever be explained away in an interview, doesn’t that just feel wrong?

Mick in context – a look at McCarthy’s Wolves reign

by Adam Bate

To put Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers reign into perspective you need to go much further back than its beginning in 2006. You need to go back to 1989 – the year that Wolves won the old Division Three title.

Until McCarthy’s arrival at the club that was not only the last team to win a league title but it was also the last team that had a meaningful connection with the club’s supporters. It was the team of Steve Bull and a collection of other hard-working souls determined to give their all for the club despite being forced to train on the stadium car park because there was no training ground.

The facilities changed for the better when Sir Jack Hayward took the reins at Molineux in 1990 but somewhere along the way something more vital was lost. Wolves became a byword for big spending and bigger failures as the club became a victim of its own hubris.

Graham Taylor was indulged with the seven-figure signings of players such as Dean Richards, Steve Froggatt, Tony Daley, Don Goodman and Mark Atkins as Molineux heaved with expectation once more. In the 1994-95 season, Wolves’ average attendances were over 10,000 more than those at Sunderland, Derby, West Brom, Stoke or Bolton – but promotion did not come.

Mark McGhee followed and blew millions more before the spending reached an inglorious crescendo when Dave Jones splashed more than £13million in 2001 alone – only to see the disconnect between players and fans reach its nadir as the team collapsed in the run-in to allow rivals West Brom to claim promotion instead. The infamous ‘You’ve let us down again’ banner said it all.

By the time promotion finally came twelve months on, Hayward was spent-out and relegation was inevitable. Suddenly Wolves were saddled with an owner who’d lost interest and so it seemed strangely appropriate to go the whole hog and appoint a manager with little interest in the shape of Glenn Hoddle.

When the diffident Hoddle left the club in the lurch by quitting in the summer of 2006, Wolves were left with just nine fit players to report for pre-season training. Things appeared to have hit rock bottom.

Enter Mick

This was the environment into which McCarthy walked and immediately set about scaling back ambitions by declaring he was no magician. Fans feared the worst but with a young and hungry agenda and a fierce work ethic, McCarthy went to work.

Karl Henry was his first signing – a £100k capture from Stoke’s reserves. Stephen Ward arrived from Bohemians for £150k and Michael Kightly was snapped up for just £25k from non-league Grays Athletic.

Of course, some of the freebies weren’t up to scratch but it was refreshing to see a Wolves team battling against the odds for the first time in a generation. An extraordinary 6-0 home defeat to Southampton summed up the mood at Molineux as the fans supported the players – not because of some lame gallows humour – but out of a genuine belief that the players were giving it everything.

Two years later, McCarthy took Wolves to the title in brilliant fashion. His young team – only two of the first XI were older than 24 – played with enthusiasm and gusto as Wolves’ wingers Kightly and Matt Jarvis tore defences apart on a regular basis. It was a team to bring pride back to a city.

Going backwards

That McCarthy should find himself sacked three years on, having twice kept the club in the Premier League, may seem strange to some. But for all the accusations that can be thrown at Wolves owner Steve Morgan, the claim of the Daily Mail’s Des Kelly that the club has shown “no loyalty” to McCarthy must be particularly galling.

Premier League table as it stood in November 2010 (taken from the BBC website)

There were difficult days in McCarthy’s second season at the club, after which the manager himself admitted that if the fans had been given the choice between keeping him or keeping misfit striker Freddy Eastwood – a divisive figure at the club, who had become a champion for disenchanted fans – it would have been the manager to go.

But Morgan backed his man. He did so again when McCarthy was labelled a disgrace to the Premier League for making 10 changes for a trip to Manchester United. And the owner still remained calm throughout Wolves’ second season in the top flight, despite Wolves picking up just nine points from the opening 14 games and eventually being just three minutes away from relegation on a traumatic final day.

Morgan and the fans have watched on as arch-rivals West Brom have prospered. Albion were supposed to be the neighbours with the tight budget; the epitome of the yo-yo club. And yet, while McCarthy trudged on against the backdrop of ludicrously ambitious stadium expansion plans, it was the Baggies who acted so ruthlessly in ditching Roberto di Matteo in favour of Roy Hodgson just months after the former had taken the club to promotion.

For McCarthy it has been a death by a thousand cuts. There have been the bizarre selection decisions, the limited tactics and the nonsensical formation changes. The nagging belief that while the club made big plans off-the-field, on it things were beginning to slide – as evidenced by the fact that despite spending well over £40million since promotion, eight of the Championship team still regularly featured in McCarthy’s starting XI this season.

All that remained was for a knockout blow to be delivered. And a 5-1 derby defeat to your rivals is just about as emphatic as it can get. It was an insipid effort that crystallised feeling as it showcased many of McCarthy’s failings and none of his strengths. The tactical flaws were there for all to see – starting with all three strikers for the first time ever in a game he could not afford to lose. But gone was the fight and commitment so clear to see in all of his finest Molineux moments.

It was a result that changed the debate. No longer could the issue remain about who could do better. It now had to be framed in terms of who could do worse.

That’s a sad way for things to end for Wolves’ most successful manager in a generation. But as Morgan himself put it: “We had little or no choice.”