Tuesday, 23 December 2008


It wasn't just on the pitch where Sam Allardyce made a difference at his first game as manager of Blackburn Rovers. There was a distinct change of atmosphere in the media room too.
I was at Ewood Park a few weeks ago to see Blackburn play Sunderland. After the game, Paul Ince arrived in the media theatre for his post-match conference. A reporter from local radio started off with a series of questions. When he finished, Ince got up and departed, leaving the newspaper reporters stunned. They hadn't been given the opportunity to ask a single question.
This was typical of Ince's approach to the media. He didn't seem interested in working to the usual system and almost went out of his way to alienate reporters.
Allardyce, on the other hand, enjoys his media opportunities and will usually find time to deal with the different demands of daily and Sunday press, local and national radio, as well as TV.
This of course matters to the reporters because it enables them to do a decent job. It ought to matter to the managers too, because there's little point in antagonising influential observers. They never know when they might need an ally. But when results went against Paul Ince and the confidence of players and fans evaporated, there were few members of the press campaigning for him to be given more time.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Echoes of the Past

We all know that newspapers are having a hard time. It was well and truly brought home to me a couple of days ago when my old paper the Liverpool Echo announcd that 43 editorial jobs are being axed from a total of 173. Many of the journalists affected were there when I was on the Echo in the 1970s and early 1980s. They've devoted a lifetime of service to the paper and its stablemate the Daily Post. The knowledge, experience and affection which they've brought to bear on the papers' coverage of a very special part of the world is incalculable. Those qualities will be impossible to replicate once this cull is over.
I also heard that all the journalists have already been issued with redundancy notices and have been told to re-apply for their own jobs - knowing that 43 will be unsuccessful.
All this follows an equally controversial decision by the paper to move its printing operation out of Old Hall Street to Oldham.
In any other industry, one could expect the local paper to be championing the cause of the unfortunate workers. But who will be campaigning against the Post and Echo management? Who delivers messages for the messenger?

Monday, 17 November 2008

The News that Never Was

Saturday provided the story that never was. Roy Keane did not walk out on Sunderland - but enough people believed that he might have done to keep my phone buzzing. Setanta are based in Dublin and much of my freelance work is for their Irish service, including Saturday's match between Blackburn and Sunderland. With so many Irish personalities involved at Sunderland there is terrific interest in anything that moves at the Stadium of Light.

So as rumours spread that Keane had quit, I was receiving calls on Friday evening and Saturday morning from Setanta producers anxious for me to find out the truth.

It didn't take long. A chat with Sunderland's media team was followed by evidence with the naked eye that Roy Keane was indeed with his team at Ewood Park, where they went on to win 2-1.

But it wasn't just Setanta who were on the case. Everyone was asking the same questions, making the same checks, and afterwards, putting the same questions to Keane - questions which, it has to be said, Keane dealt with in an admirably patient way. In this business, no-one wants to be left out when a story breaks. Even if it turns out to be a red and white herring.

Saturday, 8 November 2008


The first half of Wigan v Stoke was the least eventful 45 minutes I've watched in a long time. Happily the action perked up in the second half when Wigan were unlucky not to win it (0-0 was the result, as most pundits predicted). Two players caught my eye. Wilson Palacios showed terrific determination. The Wigan midfielder was one of the smaller players on the field, especially in comparison to Stoke's team of giants, but he didn't allow the physical pressures of an over-crowded midfield deter him from putting on very creative display which deserved better reward. Arsene Wenger, take note. In the Stoke rearguard Abdoulaye Faye had an excellent game - although he lost his cool with his own teammates towards the end.
Only problem for me was that my line to Dublin went down just before I was due to give my live report after the final whistle. By the time the guys had Setanta had restored communication the slot had passed and I was stood down. My report for Setanta's UK channel made it on air but - a bit like Wigan and Stoke - I had to settle for half a loaf.
Meanwhile Chester's 0-3 home defeat to Millwall in the FA Cup means we have won just seven matches in the last 12 months. In just over half those matches we have failed to score. It's becoming embarrassing.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Lewis is tops....isn't he?

Lewis Hamilton's F1 World Championship win is the top story tonight...or maybe not, depending on which TV channel you're watching.
While ITV led their news bulletin with Lewis's dramatic victory, the BBC only ran the story at number six.
The reason of course is that ITV are the rights-holders for F1 while the BBC are not (yet). Editorial judgement seldom operates in a vaccuum and this was a classic example of journalistic decisions being influenced by matters of contract, finance and technology.
ITV seized the chance to maximise their exclusive UK rights to live coverage of F1 with a report which included a one-on-one interview with Hamilton and shots inside the McLaren garage. The BBC had to make do with audio of Hamilton lifted from BBC radio and a piece to camera from reporter Adam Parsons which showed so little of Interlagos that it might as well have been shot alongside the M25.
Expect F1 to feature somewhat more prominently on the BBC's news agenda next year - when they take over from ITV as UK rights holders.

That sinking feeling

Sports journalism contains some challenging tasks. Being the commentator who provides live audio coverage of Fulham's away games for the club website has to be high on the list. One point from 15 on the team's travels this season doesn't provide much to get excited about. He was in the next seat to me yesterday for Fulham's latest defeat, 0-1 at Everton. He parked his car in an unofficial car park on waste land near the stadium. The cheery attendant took his fiver and directed him to a space where the car promptly sank halfway to the axles. "Don't worry," says the chap, "leave me your keys and I'll have it sorted for you by the time the game's over." Fortunately our man hasn't allowed the trials and tribulations of Fulham's season to overpower his better judgement. "Good offer but in all fairness I've only just met you and I'd rather keep the keys and sort it myself."
After setting up his kit in the press box he nipped back out to see if he could rescue the car - to find the cheery attendant and his mate being escorted away by constables from Merseyside Police for operating an illegal parking facility. Happily, without my pal's car keys in their pockets.
The match was likewise a close call, Everton edging a disappointing affair despite Fulham hitting the woodwork twice.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Goodison Passion

Everton v Manchester United was my game for Setanta today. It was a cracking game too, despite the ungodly hour. Kick-off was 12 noon, a time decreed by Merseyside Police, not the TV people. I was a bit worried about Everton's propsects when Louis Saha was quoted in the match programme that he isn't much of a morning person, but it was obvious that David Moyes had got their alarm clocks working. Everton were well wound up and gave United a real contest. Darren Fletcher scored a lovely goal, expertly set up by Ryan Giggs who had a fine game in centre midfield, but Everton equalised with a header by Marouane Fellaini and nearly grabbed all three points when Yakubu hit the post. Exciting game, fair result.
The Everton crowd is one of the most under-estimated in the game. People talk in awe of the impact of the home fans at Anfield and St James's Park, but the Everton crowd creates a passion which takes some beating. It was like that today - massive, unequivocal encouragement tumbling down from the stands from the moment the teams appeared in the tunnel, a vibrant accompaniment to the robust approach of the players. Goodison Park is not modern, it doesn't have uninterrupted views from every seat, and there are no hotels embedded in the infrastructure - but it is still a wonderful place to experience a game of football. Of course, it helps if the opposition includes a hate figure, and today it was Wayne Rooney who played the part to perfection. Making a big show of kissing the United badge in front of the fans who used to worship him could not be better calculated to raise the temperature. Not long after that Sir Alex hauled him off.
I bumped into a number of ex-Everton players from the days when I spent more time reporting on the club than I do these days: Graeme Sharp, Ronnie Goodlass, Ian Snodin, Mickey Thomas, all good lads who were great company in their playing days and are just the same today. The first person I encountered was Duncan McKenzie, whose magical home debut for Everton against Birmingham City still lingers in the memory more than 30 years later. Dunc has a regular gig hosting guests in the VIP lounges. A couple of weeks ago I encountered him doing the same job at Blackburn Rovers, another of his former clubs, and last night he was on a speaking engagement at his very first club, Nottingham Forest. Which made me think that players who clock up a good number of clubs in their career are laying a valuable foundation for the future - no shortage of places to earn a living when talking the talk becomes easier than walking the walk.

Friday, 3 October 2008

OWN ******* GOAL!

You'd think Joe Kinnear had enough problems at Newcastle without antagonising the media. He is never going to win the fight he picked with reporters yesterday. Exactly the opposite - his "foul-mouthed rant," as most of the newspapers describe it, played into their hands by giving them a juicy story in which Kinnear himself is the bad guy. The Mirror, whose reporter Simon Bird was the man in Kinnear's sights, is gleefully streaming the whole exchange, uncut, on its website. The official Newcastle Utd website, unsurprisingly, makes no mention at all of the headline-grabbing antics of their new boss.

Sunday, 28 September 2008


On Match of the Day it was very amusing to see Alan Shearer condemn referee Rob Styles for failing to give an interview to the media. Styles messed up big-time by awarding Manchester Utd a penalty for a perfectly good tackle by Bolton's JLloyd Samuel. Shearer expressed outrage that the hapless whistler hadn't fronted up afterwards. "He would have earned more respect if he'd come out and answered questions and accepted that he'd made a mistake," was the gist.

Just like you always did in your playing days, then, Al?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


At Anfield last Saturday, reporting on Liverpool v Manchester Utd for Setanta. Great atmosphere and an exciting game. The choreography was interesting too. They've moved the "Walk Alone" slot. For many years George Sefton, Anfield's venerable announcer, has played the club's famous anthem after announcing the team selections, just before the players come out. On Saturday he played it with the teams already on the pitch, so that Gerry Marsden's hymn perfectly filled the time leading right up to the kick-off. If they make this a new ritual, it means visiting teams will have 40,000 voices hurling emotion at them until the very moment they start the game. Could be an effective weapon - although United clearly took it the wrong way by scoring after only two minutes play!
Another note from Anfield was the appearance of a light aeroplane which spent the entire second half circling the stadium, towing a banner in the shape of a red shirt. This was part of the fans' protest against their American owners. This bit didn't really work - partly because the lettering on the banner was too small to read, and also because the action down below was far too absorbing to encourage distractions from overhead.

Friday, 29 August 2008


I'm in the Isle of Man to commentate on the Manx Grand Prix motorbike races. It's been a frustrating time because bad weather has delayed the races all week. Today, the last scheduled day, there is no racing at all because low cloud has taken up residence over the island and, like an ageing tax exile, shows no sign of moving on. Not that that prevented us from delivering a modicum of entertainment. I presented a 30-minute programme, live and unscripted, from the commentary box in the Grandstand. The highlight was a contribution from Roy Moore, our commentator at the famous Ramsey Hairpin, up to the north of the island. Having discussed the prospects of racing being rescheduled for tomorrow, Roy inadvertently handed back "from Randy Hairpin"!! Well, I guess after all the delays for the team locked down in the box at Ramsey, that could well have been accurate!
Do you remember Radio Caroline North? If you're a certain age, you do. Radio Caroline was a ship which anchored off Ramsey in 1964 and broadcast pop music to the UK and Ireland at a time when all the BBC offered was an hour of pop with Alan Freeman on a Sunday afternoon. It was fantastic and kept all of us kids in the North West of England locked onto 199 metres in the medium wave. Then the Government clamped down on this non-licenced broadcasting and the pirates went off the air in 1968. There's an exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary in Peel on the island at the moment and it brings back so many memories. A video shows all the ups and downs of the saga, including priceless footage of Freddie and the Dreamers visiting the ship. If you can't get to Peel there's a book about the Radio Caroline years which has just been published - "Manx Giant, from the Wonderful Isle of Man" by Andy Wint (ex Manx Radio). All that and some wonderful classic motorbikes on the roads: we've been reliving the Sounds of the Sixties in more ways than one!
An update on the two battered-but-not-beaten riders: Alan Jackson completed one lap of the race on Wednesday and retired in the pits; Steve Ferguson went the full distance.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Twiddling thumbs time in the Isle of Man. I ought to be commentating on the first races of the Manx Grand Prix right now. Instead, I am hanging around waiting for bad weather to improve in the hope that we can get some action later in the day. Fingers crossed. That's if it is possible to cross your fingers while twiddling your thumbs.
The other day I met a man with no ankle. Alan Jackson is a very fast motorbike rider who holds the lap record for the Manx at over 122mph. Two years ago he crashed at high speed and smashed his legs up pretty badly. He hasn't fully recovered yet but he was passed fit to race in May, despite having his left foot bolted to the end of his leg without the usual convenience of an ankle joint. The left leg is an inch shorter than the right, and the right leg is due to be operated on soon. In the meantime he is scheduled to race around this dangerous course yet again on Wednesday and Friday, in the Junior and Senior events. He can't wait. Neither can another competitor, Steve Ferguson, who crashed last year, broke his back in 10 places, broke his ribs, and went home with his collar bone at a funny angle. He was riding again before Christmas and he's back here, ready to race again. Brave or mad? I'm not sure if the dividing line between the two is visible.

Monday, 18 August 2008


I wonder if Liverpool FC's chief executive Rick Parry has time to reflect on his own contribution to GB's sensational achievements in the cycling events in Beijing?

There's no doubt that Lottery funding has played a huge part, but equally significant is the mere presence of the Manchester velodrome, which Parry did much to create. In the late 1980s Parry was chief executive of a very small operation trying to win the Olympics for Manchester. Two bids failed before success was achieved in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, by which time Parry had moved on to become chief executive of the Premier League before moving again to Anfield. It was those early planners - Parry, Sir Bob Scott, and the then leader of Manchester City Council, now MP, Graham Stringer, who started the process which saw the velodrome built. It was Manchester's statement of intent, a symbol of their ability to deliver a world class facility. Now that same facility is delivering world class competitors, among them bronze medalist Steven Burke who was brought up in Lancashire and would never have taken up cycling if it hadn't been for the presence of this sensational track on his doorstep.


My 38th season as a football reporter began with one of the most dramatic matches on the Premier League card: Everton 2 Blackburn 3. It was also an assignment which threw up several of the occupational hazards which make the reporter's task that little bit more interesting!
The ISDN port assigned for my use didn't work, the seat allocated to me in the press box was in the wrong place, and - once those practical problems had been resolved - goals were scored deep into added time at the end of each half, necessitating a rapid re-write both times.
As a way of blowing away the cobwebs, it couldn't have been better!


National newspapers in the UK are facing their own challenge during the Olympic Games - how to make their coverage relevant when the seven-hour time difference means that there is little their readers don't already know. With one week completed, they are doing a very good job.

Simply relying on reports of the various events to fill their pages is, of course, inadequate. The formula for success comprises follow-ups, off-beat stories, comment and analysis.

The serious papers were gifted Page One winners on the very first day. The Russian invasion of Georgia on the day that animated doves were propounding their peace message in Beijing gave editors a wonderful chance to juxtapose headlines and pictures, one which the Guardian seized particularly well. At this stage the tabloids seemed unconvinced about the value of the Games as a sales-driver. Even after a spectacular opening ceremony, the red-tops found activity in the Big Brother house more interesting, with no Olympic presence on the front pages. But the row between young diver Tom Daley and his partner Blake Aldridge catapulted the Games onto page one even among the tabloids: "Belly Strop" was the Mirror's headline.

That sorry little episode also produced examples of informative, thoughtful writing by the columnists. Jim Lawton in the Independent filed a compelling piece in which he blamed not Aldridge - the fall guy in the eyes of most phone-in callers - but "a huge fault line in the culture of our sport." He defined it as our eagerness to make 14-year-old Daley a "ready-made little hero" long before his time. Meanwhile, to prove that the tabloids are not simply the home of snappy headlines, the Mirror's Oliver Holt wrote an incisive piece about the same incident, taking a much harder line against the 26-year-old Aldridge.

There's been so much going on in Beijing that the feature writers and photographers are spoiled for choice. Among the best images so far are a shot of Russian boxer Islam Timurziev having his nose flattened by Britain's David Price, by Phil Noble of Reuters, and Tom Jenkins' picture of cyclist Rebecca Romero whose visor reflects the track and the crowd at the velodrome. That pic was used on page one of the Guardian, while inside the sports section Marina Hyde revealed that 100,000 condoms have been supplied to the Olympic Village - and are all expected to be used. Which paper will reveal who are the medalists in that particular event?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


Five Live's reporter at Lancashire's cricket match away to Hampshire lifted the lid on one of the little irritations which journalists often encounter - when the key player in a running story is made available for interview, on condition that he/she isn't asked any questions about the big story of the day. In this case it was Andrew Flintoff. Freddie had been working his way back to fitness while the England team failed to capitalise on an overwhelming first innings lead in the first Test against South Africa. The Five Live reporter, clearly frustrated, informed listeners that Freddie had initially been forbidden from answering questions from anyone bar the local (Manchester) media; then, when the rest of the press corps understandably complained, only questions about Freddie's fitness and Lancashire would be accepted. Questions about the fruitless travails of England's bowlers on a lifeless pitch at Lord's were barred.

It is of course up to the journalists as to whether they accept such restrictions. If a question is important enough, it is often worth tossing it in, regardless of any so-called ban.

What really surprised me about this particular episode was the presumption by Lancashire that Flintoff, an experienced hand at dealing with the media and a former England captain, could not be trusted to decide for himself which questions to answer, and which to sweep away to the boundary ropes.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


As if nearly seven hours of live sport were not enough, BBC1 tonight follows its Wimbledon/Euro 2008 marathon with a programme devoted to those who describe the action. Adrian Chiles introduces "The Story of Sports Commentary, part 2" at 1045pm this evening. This follows on from part 1 which went out last Saturday featuring, among other highights (highlights?) a tongue-tied Clare Balding failing to fight back the tears when interviewing her trainer-father and jockey-brother after they had won a horse race. Part 1 also featured the best-known line of football commentary, Kenneth Wolstenholme's "they think it's all over....it is now!"

The funny thing about that line from the 1966 World Cup Final is that no-one really picked up on it at the time. Speaking as one who is old enough to have watched the game live on TV and still has scrapbooks of cuttings from the great day, it was only when the 20th anniversary came around that Ken's magic moment received due attention. By then we were into the VHS era and, unlike 1966, sporting highlights could be replayed time and again.

For the commentator this usually means mistakes are celebrated more than neat phrases. But hey, that's showbiz.

Friday, 13 June 2008


Today I received some really good news.

It was a phone call from one of my former students who graduated from our Sports Journalism course last summer. He rang to tell me he has got his dream job - football statistician for Sky Sports.

At university Andy Dalton was such a legend for his knowledge of sporting trivia that he quickly acquired the nickname "Statto." Well, it's not so trivial now. It's his passport to a successful career, one which will see him travelling to Sky's outside broadcasts as well as working at their HQ, digging out juicy facts for the commentators.

What also pleased me is that Andy has kept up his cheerful dispositon and his confidence despite the inevitable knock-backs in his search for the right opening. His reward arrived this week.

This is a tricky time for students as they move from university into the wider world. A number of our graduates this summer are fixed up with jobs already, heading for national and local papers, Granada TV and Talkback Thames and elsewhere. Those who don't find the door opening right away can be encouraged by Andy's story. Just because the chance doesn't come at once doesn't mean it won't come at all. And that's a fact.


Many people believe that radio is the most personal form of mass communication, whether it be delivered over the air, via the internet or even by loudspeaker. In the case of Manx Radio's coverage of the famous Isle of Man motorbike TT races, it's all three. I've just returned from a lively fortnight anchoring Manx Radio TT's commentary team, for whom the challenge is probably unique in the field of sports commentary. It is hardly the norm for commentators to be expected to keep talking when there is absolutely nothing taking place in their field of vision - or to have a proportion of their listening audience in clear line of sight while they do their stuff.

At the TT, a time trial in which competitors set off at 10-second intervals, the usual rules of broadcasting go out of the window. The commentators - in this case Maurice Mawdsley, Roy Moore, Chris Kinley and myself - have to fill the gaps, which can become quite lengthy as the field spreads out over 200 miles of racing. And the knowledge that eager aficionados are monitoring your every word while listening just outside the commentary box does wonders for your concentration. The time when I got the name of the Isle of Man's Lieutenant Governor horribly wrong at the very moment that I decribed his appearance in front of 2000 people in the Grandstand is not an episode I want to re-live!

But if you can rise to the challenge, the TT is the most rewarding broadcasting gig imaginable. The reason is that the radio service is an integral part of the event. No-one following the TT, even if they are there in person, can do so without listening to the radio commentary. When the course stretches 37.75 miles it is impossible for fans to keep up with the action any other way.

The other big bonus is that the TT has a worldwide army of intensely loyal, knowledgeable supporters who, thanks to the internet, follow the races from all over the globe. This year we were intrigued to receive an enthusiastic email from a NASA engineer who had our commentary feeding into his earpiece at the Kennedy Space Centre! It was also a great moment for me personally when Australian rider Cameron Donald, who won his first two TT races this year, thanked me for the commentary which his family had been following at home in Melbourne.

For those who are not of the two-wheeled faith, TT 2008 was a wonderful, dramatic, vibrant success producing wins for Bruce Anstey of New Zealand and Steve Plater and John McGuinness of England, in addition to Donald's double. Nicky Crowe of the Isle of Man and his pasenger Mark Cox won both the sidecar races.

McGuinness is a fabulous rider who took his total of TT wins to 14, the same as the legendary Mike Hailwood, leaving him behind only Joey Dunlop as the most successful racer over the Mountain Course. McGuinness is also a great guy who always has time for the media and even popped up alongside me in the commentary box after his bike packed up in one race. I gave him the mic to have a go at commentary and he was worryingly good at that as well.

The TT is a great buzz from start to finish and not just for the riders - in the commentary box too.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


We hear and read a lot about courage in sport. Courage, determination, sheer bloody-minded cussedness, going the extra mile - they are all qualities which make for dramatic stories and eye-catching headlines. And occasionally, the courage, the determination, the cussedness come from such a rare stock that no headline seems adequate.

In Northern Ireland on Saturday a young man called Michael Dunlop won a motorcycle race in such exceptional circumstances that it deserved headlines far beyond the shores of his native island.

Michael, 20, is the son of a motorcycle legend Robert Dunlop who was killed in practice for the North West 200, an annual series of road races held on an 8.9 mile course linking the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine. Robert was the most successful rider in the history of the races as well as being a multiple winner at the Isle of Man TT where his late brother Joey holds the record of 26 victories. Robert's death on Thursday evening was a huge shock, even for a sporting community well versed in the unforgiving nature of motorbike road racing. It made the odd down-page paragraph in Britain, but in Northern Ireland there was no other story on the next day's front pages while south of the border RTE's afternoon radio phone-in discussed no other topic.

Robert and his two sons, William and Michael, were all due to race in the 250cc event on Saturday. Michael was uncertain whether to take part but William was determined to ride, convinced that his dad would have wanted nothing else. So Michael decided to go ahead too "out of support for my brother." Just before the start, William's bike failed and Michael was on his own.

What followed was one of the most astonishing pieces of sporting theatre I have witnessed. For five laps of this thrilling circuit Michael was dicing for the lead. Five times he sped past the spot where his father had died. He took the lead, lost it, and then on the very last lap surged to the front again. This was no lap of honour; it was full-on tyre-squelching stuff against gritty, experienced racers. The chequered flag waved on victory for Michael Dunlop, and if you want to know what a sporting victory can mean to one man and his family, this one nudged the bar a little further upwards.

The media in Britain missed an incredible story. In Northern Ireland, it was wall to wall, with brilliant TV coverage by BBC NI leading the way. Check it out at http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/nw200/watch/highlights.shtml?year=2008

Friday, 9 May 2008


How much research should a commentator do? How critical should he/she be? What sort of microphone is best? These were questions which came up at an excellent session given by the Radio Academy in London last night. And the answers? Ah well, that's not so simple!

Top radio sports commentators Jim Proudfoot (Talksport) and Simon Brotherton and Alan Green (both BBC) made up the panel to discuss their trade, chaired by Moz Dee.
With questions raining in from an audience mostly made up of people working in the industry, the one thing that was clear was a total lack of clarity!

Research? "Do plenty," said Jim and Simon. Alan: "I hardly do any."
Do you ever write down any lines which you plan to use? Jim: "I used to." Alan: "Never!"
Is it your role to promote the sport? "Yes, I do see that as part of my job," said Jim. "Definitely not" - Alan.
And that microphone question? Simon: "Lipmic." Jim: "Headset." Alan: "Don't like lipmics but we have to use them."

Where there was complete unanimity was the love of the job and a commitment to share exciting experiences with listeners. And, a time when the pressure to entertain and to reflect the agenda of those who bestow broadcasting rights is increasing, all three asserted that they still see themselves primarily as journalists, doing a job of journalism.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008


The moment when an original piece of imagination becomes a cliche is hard to spot. Like an old milk carton turning rancid, you can't pinpoint the exact second - but, sure as hell, you know when it's happened. And it's happened to "squeaky bum time."

Yes, we know it's a tense time in the football world, but that is no excuse for commentators and radio presenters to trot out the now-unoriginal line time and time again. Usually, it comes with the accompanying credit to Sir Alex Ferguson as the supposed originator of the expression. I don't know who invented it, but the first person I heard use it was Steve Bruce, and that was several years ago.

It was funny then. It isn't now.

Sunday, 4 May 2008


It just takes one phone call and everything changes. So it was last night, when the news reached me that Martin Finnegan had been killed. Martin who? If you're into motorcycle road racing, the name needs no introduction. Martin was one of the most talented riders on the road racing scene as well as one of the most genuine people. He died yesterday after crashing while racing at Tandragee in Northern Ireland. Martin will be remembered for his spectacular riding style which endeared him to every spectator at the Isle of Man TT where he was due to compete in less than a month's time.

Martin was born in Dublin and looked destined to be a TT winner sometime soon. He made his first appearance on the Isle of Man's famous Mountain Course in 2000, winning the newcomers' race at the Manx Grand Prix. The step up to the TT was immediate and in 2005 I commentated on his first podium succeess, third place in the Superbike TT. He was consistently in the top six or seven and would have made it to the top spot if fate had not decreed otherwise.
Road racing is a glorious antidote to the safety-first, hype-over-substance nature of much of today's sport. The risks are real and unforgiving. The notion of "putting one's body on the line" is no tabloid exaggeration. The rewards are a fraction of those on offer to an under-performing squad member of many an English football club. But men and women still live for the thrill of riding high-powered two-wheeled rockets through country roads with incredible skill and courage.

Sometimes, tragically, they die for it.

Martin Finnegan, R.I.P.

Thursday, 1 May 2008


So is now the time to proclaim Avram Grant as a great manager, on the strength of leading Chelsea to the Champions League final? Not just yet, I think. BBC 5 Live has been buzzing with debate over Grant's status compared to that of Jose Mourinho, but while Grant has certainly done a good job it has to be placed in the context of his inheritance. The majority of Grant's players went to Stamford Bridge for two reasons: Roman's money and Jose's personality. Only Anelka has been added to the squad bequeathed by Mourinho.

Avram may well go on to earn universal acclaim, but for now he is in the same bracket as Tony Barton, who won the European Cup for Aston Villa with Ron Saunders' team, and Joe Fagan, who did the same for Liverpool with Bob Paisley's. The acid test is whether he can emulate Bob Paisley himself. Bob inherited a fine squad from Bill Shankly and made it not only better, but continued to renew it and handed it on in better shape again.

Meanwhile it was surprising to hear Liverpool radio station CityTalk running a clip with Manchester United chief executive David Gill in the top story of their news bulletins, the morning after Liverpool's Champions League exit. Gill's musings on the importance of United fans obtaining visas for the final in Moscow must have gone down a treat with CityTalk's target audience!

Tuesday, 29 April 2008


...is, of course, Chester's triumph in holding promotion chasing Stockport 0-0 to ensure we survive in the Football League. Will tomorrow's back pages accurately reflect this, I wonder?

Sunday, 27 April 2008


At the end of BBC TV's "Match of the Day" on Saturday a smirking Gary Lineker invited us to enjoy a shot of Sir Alex Ferguson dropping his chewing gum on the floor of the tunnel at Stamford Bridge - then picking it up and popping it back in his mouth. If Sir Alex had not boycotted BBC inteviews for the last few years, would the Beeb still have shown that shot?

Just a thought.


My brief at the weekend was to cover the match at Manchester City where there was much talk of City having achieved their record points total for the Premier League. An impressive statistic which reflects well on Sven in his first year as manager. The achievement was widely reported in the papers and was also highlighted by City chairman Taksin Shinawatra in his column in the club programme.

But hang on a minute! How impressive is this tally of 55 points, really?

It is far from City's all-time best. It is not on a par with the 70 points they achieved under Peter Reid in 1992, never mind the equivalent of 84 points, converting from two-points-for-a-win, that they racked up when winning the old Football League in 1968. And that is taking account of the old format of 42 games in a season, compared to 38 today.

So why the fuss about the comparatively puny 55? Its only significance is as City's best tally since the formation of the Premier League in 1992 - and so is only of interest to those who run and publicise the Premier League itself. To anyone with a serious interest in football history City's record this season is, well, underwhelming.

I don't blame those who market and promote the Premier League for blowing their trumpets, but I do worry about the parading of meaningless stats as matters of historical importance.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


They go out and meet people. The thought came to mind when I read the obituary of one of the UK's most respected football writers, Norman Wynne, who died at the age of 77. Norman was an outstanding sports journalist, who wrote for the People for over 25 years. Norman and his colleague John Maddock knew all the gossip on the football scene because they would get out of the office and find out what was going on. The obit printed in the NUJ's newsletter quoted John Maddock: "Norman spent every Friday night during the football season watching either Southport or Tranmere Rovers. He wasn't there for the game but waited for travelling managers or chief scouts to learn the latest gossip."

There's only so much that can be achieved by email.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


Despite strong competition from Avram Grant and Tom Hicks, the quote of the week comes from one of the students in Year Three of the sports journalism course at the university. He's been investigating the failure of young English talent to make it at top level in the Premier League and discovered that one big club has a scout who's known as the Martian - "because he's only interested in players who are out of this world."

Friday, 18 April 2008


A disgruntled manager is manna from heaven for journalists - even if it is the journalists he is disgruntled about! Chelsea's Avram Grant made the daft decision to throw a strop at his post-match presser at Goodison Park last night. Instead of dealing with routine questions in a co-operative manner he indulged in a monosyllabic yes-no interlude before informing a surprised radio interviewer: "I'm still alive. You cannot kill me." Looks like the media's underwhelming response to Avram has got to him. Some reporters, like Henry Winter of the Daily Telegraph, have been scathing about Grant for months. But if Avram wanted to get his own back, this wasn't the way to do it. Instead the papers gleefully went on the attack again with headlines like "Grant's losing the plot" (Express), "Avram Grunt" (Star), "Grumpy Grant" (Mail), and the Sun, tactful as ever, "Av you gone Mad?" All this after a match which his team actually won! Coming after Rafa Benitez's mantra "I am focused as usual on training and coaching my team," it's been an interesting season for press conferences.


It's one of the most frequently-asked questions, and it doesn't have an easy answer. But it always helps to keep a diary. That has come in handy for the national press this week. Unusually, we have had a midweek without Premier League matches, Cup replays, Champions League or Internationals. So most of the papers booked reporters on flights to Lesotho. Not that they have suddenly acquired a fascination for football in that African nation. The attraction was that the England coach Fabio Capello was there on a trip organised by the FA. Accompanying Capello meant the writers could gain much better access to the England coach than usual. And so it proved.

On Tuesday, Paul Joyce of the Daily Express filled three pages with Fabio's thoughts on Wayne Rooney (he doesn't take as many chances as he should), John Terry (he's not nailed-on to return as England captain) and players failing to turn up for England squads (they'll be banned from the squad in future. Can't see that one working). Today there was more, with Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail filing a moving piece about youngsters diagnosed with AIDS.

A week without football is always a challenge, but knowing it was coming, and finding an alternative source of copy, paid off.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


It isn't often that the crowd makes the most notable contribution to a football match - at least, not in a positive way. I was at Pride Park on Saturday, covering Derby County v Aston Villa for Setanta, when the Derby fans came up with a stroke of imagination that would have impressed J K Rowling. Fed up with seeing not a single win since September, and equally frustrated that their team was now losing 0-4 midway through the second half, they decided to celebrate an imaginary goal. How they arranged this I don't know, but all of a sudden, as one, thousands of Derby fans leapt out of their seats, cheering and shouting, dancing, and generally acting as if their team had just scored the winning goal in the Cup Final. It was one of those surreal moments you see at football grounds on the last day of the season, when news comes in from elsewhere that the team's rivals in the promotion race have conceded a goal. In the press box we were all wondering what we had missed, while the Villa fans were dumbfounded for the first time in the match. After a few moments, the Villa support begain enquiring: "What the f***ing hell was that?" To which the Derby faithful responded: "You're not singing any more!" Which was plainly untrue, but it is what they would have sung if they had indeed scored a goal. At this point the Villa fans got the joke and chanted back: "Stand up for the Derby boys." Brilliant performance by both sets of fans - and it underlined the amazing fortitude of the Derby crowd, who again packed a sold-out stadium despite the team's relegation being confirmed.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Welcome to my blog. I have to thank - or blame - my students for inspiring this contribution to the discussion of sport. The other day I sat in on presentations they were doing as part of their assessment in Online Sports Journalism. Online is not a form of media that I'm adept at creating, although I love the potential it offers as a means of information and research. I was so impressed with the knowledge and technique that they demonstrated that I thought I'd better get started myself. So here it is. The aim is to offer my view of developments in the world of sport, selected not by the "news agenda" of the day but by what catches my eye, and also my thoughts on the way sport is covered by the journalists whose work is a daily source of information, entertainment, amusement and aggravation to millions.

Where will we end up? No idea. But I hope you'll check in from time to time to see what's going on, and add your own comments.