Football reporting appears to be a glamorous job. If you take the Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday or the BBC’s Match of the Day as the gold standard then football coverage – whether it be commentary, punditry or presenting – appears to be a pretty nifty gig.
You get to watch the crème de la crème on a regular basis, complimentary tickets for the finest seats in the finest stadiums are thrown at you, you have unprecedented access to managers and chairmen and, for the egotistical, you get an incredibly high profile for merely saying what people say in pubs by being able to say it on national television.
That’s fine if you cover one of the big clubs. If you cover a club which is out of the limelight, however, then the aching gap between the mega-money of the Premier League and the pennies of the rest is only emphasised further.
Speaking to Hazel Irvine for a previous issue of The Saint, she spoke of having to scale a temporary press pen in the swirling wind and rain at Burntisland for a Scottish Cup tie. While she admitted that she enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t quite covering the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games. Therefore I decided to hit the local beat to see what it is like to cover football at the coalface.
For a dosage of gritty reality I went to Dundee. Having enjoyed my dalliance with city life – pound shops and high levels of carbon monoxide being spouted from the riparian buses on the city streets – I made my way to Dens Park, home of local Scottish Championship club Dundee, to cover their match against Queen of the South, the only team to be mentioned in the Bible apparently.
Conditions in the press box in the historic, mothball stocked Main Stand were positively biblical. A chill ran through my veins as the increasingly swampy pitch turned a shade of quagmire. My notepad was also sodden, which threatened to put my journalistic endeavours at risk. As the floodlights flickered on, however, the stands began to fill up and the waft of Bovril soothed my nostrils. I realised that this was quintessentially Scottish football weather.
The atmosphere in the press box was incredibly clubbable. Team sheets were shared out, stories exchanged and jokes guffawed at. In the pre-game build up I managed to chat to The Sunday Post’s man in Dundee about the life of a local hack. Brooding, he said that it was a great job to have but now, semi-retired, he enjoyed picking and choosing his matches to cover. “Because a 12 hour stint in Glasgow then having to drive back on a Saturday when winter is approaching isn’t fun.” I can see why. To get your ‘in’, as it were, in this business you have to grease palms, travel far and wide and have an almost academic retention of information and statistics from not only this season but years gone by. As Gary Lineker sits on the Match of the Day sofa pontificating, he belies the hard work that goes behind reporting and covering football.
The teams emerged onto the swampy Dens’ pitch to the strains of Scottish singer Hector Nichol’s ballad Up Wi The Bonnets, which features such stirring lyrics as, “There’s many a battle been fought on this field and there’s many a team learned that Dundee never yield”. They don’t write them like that anymore.
It is days like this, in a just-under half-full stadium with football being played in horrendous conditions with a fair amount of long ball going on, which gives Scottish football such a bad name. It was blood and thunder; there were plenty of fruity tackles in the mud, goal line clearances and cross bars saving the day but these were balanced out by the poor first touch, woeful passing and generally inept finishing which were all prolific during an at times dull tie. There was one bright spot however; young Dundee starlet Craig Wighton deserves tremendous credit for being the only man on the park who could pass with precision.
Despite being only 16, the Scottish media are already touting him for a move to a bigger club. The match trundled on, with a 2-1 win coming for the home side in the dying embers of the final minute which sent the home support into a rapturous rendition of Hey Jude.
While the Dark Blue massive headed off to jive in Fat Sam’s, the press centre was a hive of activity as the professionals in the room filed match reports and hunted players down for quotes.
It was here that many bad clichés about footballers were played out; phrases such as “solid performance” or “credit to the boys” were lashed out with gay abandon in what was a surprisingly informal press gathering with players and management stopping to chat, something far removed from the highly choreographed press conferences that Manchester United hold. The man from The Sunday Post said that this was the most stressful time of the day, making sure that your copy was in on time and his feverish scribbling paid tribute to that.
It was a worthwhile experience to see that inner workings of a football club which are not often in the limelight in terms of learning how to compose a match report, live report on a game and develop your interview techniques it is probably a rather tranquil way to do it. After all, John Motson had to start from somewhere.
The Saint would like to thank Dundee Football Club for providing media accreditation for this match and their excellent hospitality. The Saint will also be at their next match against Raith Rovers FC on 9 November which will be the start of our “Local Heroes” series, which will feature clubs from in and around North East Fife.