Thursday, 31 December 2009


This has been an amazing year for the sports media. On the one hand we have seen an astonishing run of compelling stories, and yet on the other it has been achieved against a backdrop of job losses and closures.

The year has been neatly bookmarked by the closure of radio stations - Abbey FM (Barrow) went in January, Central Radio (Preston) in December. In between there has been all manner of downsizing, reorganisation and general cost-cutting, frequently at the expense of journalists' jobs. Experienced staffers have been made redundant or ushered into premature retirement.

Newspapers, radio and TV have all taken a huge hit with the Liverpool Echo and Manchester Evening News both making large numbers redundant. The most spectaular implosion was Setanta UK which collapsed in the summer despite holding a contract to cover Premier League football. Setanta's misfortune was terrible news for sports journalism with both their sports channel and sports news channel disappearing. The company's Irish sports channel survives, albeit with a reduced workforce.

Many commercial radio stations have withdrawn from football commentary because the advertising revenues no longer match the expenditure. This has left the BBC in a strong position, especially in the lower leagues where many clubs are agreeing to let the Beeb mount live commentary for free, reckoning that the exposure and promotion they receive is worth having even if no money changes hands.

A worrying trend for sports journalists is the reduction in freelance fees. My own freelance income has dropped because of the Setanta problem. National and Sunday newspapers have cut back freelance fees to the extent that one of my colleagues, an experienced football writer in the North West, has given up because the pay no longer makes it worthwhile.

The cause of all this is the cataclysmic double-whammy suffered by the media. The digital revolution has made a lot of journalistic content available worldwide free of charge, and simultaneously the global recession has taken a huge chunk out of advertising revenue and general investment.

For young people like the students graduating from our sports journalism course at the University of Central Lancashire the year has been very difficult. Media organisations are more interested in shedding jobs than recruiting. My heart sinks when a reference request arrives for a talented graduate who's been offered a job in a call centre. And yet even in this nightmare landscape our graduates are finding work. One went for a production assistant's post at the broadcasting operation of a big betting company and made such a good impression he was given the job of broadcast manager. Another has landed what he describes as his dream job at a specialist tennis website.

There are jobs out there, but not necessarily in the traditional places.

Meanwhile the opportunities for bright students to make contacts and gain experience have never been better. With no money to splash around, all manner of companies are happy to give work experience. We have students engaged in a terrific variety of exciting projects with football clubs from the Premier League to League Two, rugby union and rugby league clubs and news organisations from the BBC to local papers. I am well aware that this suits a lot of those organisations very well indeed and in an ideal world much of this voluntary work would attract payment, but one thing 2009 has taught us is that the world is very far from ideal.

It will not always be like this. Around the corner we have the BBC's move to Media City in Salford which will create a lot of jobs for sports journalists in the North West. The Olympic Games in 2012 will also require the services of the bright youngsters who are gaining vital experience now. And as the media becomes more savvy at generating income from online activity we can expect to see job opportunities begin to pick up again.

The big thing for sports journalists is that sport itself has never been bigger. Harlequins and the blood capsule, McLaren and the barefaced lies, Renault and the dodgy crash, Manchester City and the managerial regime change - all great stories well reported in 2009, along with reports, debate and opinion about compelling drama on the the pitch, the track, the court and the water.

Saturday, 26 December 2009


As the year draws towards an end, here are i-ontheball's sports media awards for 2009:

Top story: The sports reporting teams of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph for uncovering the full extent of Harlequins 'bloodgate' scandal, a story that was sadly all too symptomatic of the state of fair play in sport 2009.
Best columnist: Brian Reade (Daily Mirror) for his uncanny knack of hitting the nail on the head and making it incredibly entertaining.
Best commentator: John Murray (BBC 5 Live). Paints the picture superbly.
Best presenter: Richard Keys (Sky Sports). Guiding us through another marathon season with good humour and the ability to put pundits on the spot.
Best pundit: Geoffrey Boycott. (BBC 5 Live and Daily Telegraph). He has the authority to speak his mind and uses it.
Digital award: Perform, the company that made the streaming of big-time sport a reality in an exclusive deal to show Ukraine v England.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009


Manchester City have been given a serious panning in today's papers. At a press conference yesterday reporters really went on the offensive over the way the club dispensed with Mark Hughes. It was awkward for new manager Roberto Mancini but not half as awkward as it was for chief executive Gary Cook. Cook was forced onto the back foot by Mancini's admission that he first met City over a fortnight ago, an open goal for the journos.

The Times describes it as the most humiliating experience of Cook's career at City. The Telegraph described events as "a wave of duplicity." The Mail was one more paper ridiculing the mess City have created for themselves.

Mancini may well prove to be a good acquisition. He can certainly be expected to improve City's porous defence. But it will take a little longer for a club which usually enjoys a good press to rebuild the old relationship.

Meanwhile the Daily Mirror's website reports that City have banned newspapers from being delivered to their training ground so that players aren't distracted by negative headlines!

Saturday, 19 December 2009


Unhappy journalists after the Manchester City v Sunderland match today. The word went round the press box during the second half that City were to make a statement about their manager at 7.30pm, from which we instantly deduced that that meant the exit of Mark Hughes. There was also a strong rumour that Roberto Mancini was to be appointed in Hughes's place, strong enough for me to use the Mancini line in my report for Setanta Ireland just after the final whistle blew on City's 4-3 win.

That's the beauty of broadcasting - you can get your information straight out to the consumer. The writers for the Sunday papers were desperate for confirmation that Hughes had gone and Mancini had been appointed, knowing that all the time they were missing deadlines for the early editions of their papers. When a member of City's communications staff appeared in the interview room to state that no-one from the club would be saying anything or answering questions, she received a pretty scathing response from one or two of the Sunday writers.

All she would say was that a statement would appear on the club's website and would be emailed to individual journalists. That was little value to the reporters who had actually turned up in person.

Digital advances of course mean that the papers can publish the news on their own websites as soon as it appears. But the dear old hard copies of the newspapers are dealt another blow. The value of the Sunday paper as a source of "new" news is diminishing all the time - we can get much of the news quicker elsewhere. The papers' value is their ability to analyse, discuss and develop stories, but those early editions of tomorrow's papers will be hamstrung because their knowledge of the situation at City will be wildly out of date.

Meanwhile, for many journos, this late-breaking story meant a cold and dark vigil, waiting for news and interviews. Ian Cheeseman of BBC Radio Manchester remained at his commmentary point till 7.30pm, anchoring an extended phone-in while Alan Myers and his crew from Sky Sports News had the short straw, waiting in the chilly rain outside the main entrance to pick up what titbits they could.

Many City fans were dubious about the timing of Hughes' sacking. For different reasons, so were the journalists.

Picture: Cold comfort for Sparky: City of Manchester Stadium this evening.


Journalists are making a bit of a nuisance of themselves at the moment.

Southampton FC have banned their local paper the Southern Daily Echo from attending matches after the paper refused to hold back a report on the club's plans to redevelop their training ground. The plans were already open to public scrutiny on the council website and details had been published elsewhere so it's hard to figure out where Southampton were coming from. Apart from wanting to micro-manage the news as it affects themselves.

Down the coast Portsmouth have banned a reporter because they didn't like one of his match reports. Leeds Utd's ban on the Guardian has previously been noted in this blog. So much for the compliant press which English football is often accused of nurturing.

Even the snappers are ruffling feathers. Oliver McVeigh of the Irish agency Sportsfile has been dragged into the row betwen rugby union giants Ulster and Stade Francais. McVeigh is accused by Stade Francais of doctoring a shot of a French player gouging the eye of one of the Ulster forwards to make the incident look worse than it was. McVeigh vehemently denies the accusation. One to keep an "eye" on.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Great news is that Setanta Ireland have signed a new three-year contract to keep showing Premier League matches on Saturday afternoons for another three years.

Good news for me personally because I've been freelancing for the company for a few years now. It's also superb for all the team working on the football show in Dublin. There were more than few wobbles when Setanta UK folded in the summer. Jobs were lost in the Irish operation but the company stayed afloat and now they can plan long-term with confidence.


I'm not liking the situation at Liverpool FC. When the serving manager attacks one of the club's iconic players it is a bad sign.
Yesterday Rafa Benitez derided Graeme Souness's record as a manager and also had a dig at Jurgen Klinsmann after the two of them criticised Liverpool's performance when losing at home to Fiorentina in midweek.
I watched the analysis delivered by Souness and Klinsmann on Sky and it was compulsive viewing. They could hardly believe the spineless performance Liverpool had delivered and they called it how they saw it. Having seen an equally feeble display by Liverpool at Blackburn a few days earleir, I couldn't disagree with them.
It was certainly extreme for Graeme to describe LFC as being "in meltdown" but let's be honest, the garden is hardly rosy. I've been a huge supporter of Rafa but right now there are too many question marks at the club. On the field no-one can be happy with team selection, transfer policy, and defensive strategy, while off the field there are even more concerns about the club's finances and the new stadium project. It might not be meltdown but it is certainly crumbling round the edges.
I'm reminded of an episode towards the end of Gerard Houllier's reign when he rounded on former LFC legend Alan Kennedy after Alan had voiced criticisms on the radio. Houllier banned Alan from entering the guest lounges at Anfield where he'd been employed to entertain sponsors and guests. This for a man who had twice scored goals that won Liverpool the European Cup.
Not long after that Houllier got the guillotine.
Rafa must be careful. Souness was a magnificent manager for Rangers and did a very good job at Blackburn. He won more for Liverpool than Rafa has. And it certainly isn't the Liverpool way for this kind of falling out to erupt between men who've each earned the respect of a very demanding group of supporters.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


Relations between the media and top sports stars are often undermined by a perception by the stars that we need them more than they need us. When push comes to shove, or more pertinently when Tiger hits a hydrant, this fallacy is exposed.

Data gathered by an American agency Nielsen reveals that Tiger Woods has all but disappeared from advertising on US TV screens. The last primetime advert featuring Tiger was a 30-sec commercial for Gillette on November 30th. This is quite a shutdown considering that 15 different companies including Tag Heuer watches, Gatorade and Nike had been using Tiger in regular TV commercials since June.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


If you believe in patterns and portents, the World Cup draw produced something to mull over.

In Group A we find Mexico, France and Uruguay. Back in 1966 the same three nations were also drawn together in the opening phase. They were accompanied by the host nation, England. In 2010 they will be accompanied by....the host nation, South Africa.

Time to lump on Steven Pienaar and co!

Saturday, 5 December 2009


The first half of Blackburn v Liverpool was one of the most dismal sporting spectacles I have seen for a very long time. I can never remember making so few notes. Liverpool were dull, disjointed, and so lacking in passion it is hard to believe they belong to the same tribe as Bill Shankly, who took over at Anfield 50 years ago this week.
One moment summed it up. Yossi Benayoun received the ball in his own penalty area as Liverpool defended a corner and he was the most advanced Liverpool player on the pitch. There was no outlet for him to move the ball on to. Every single Liverpool player was in his own 18-yard box. As for Blackburn, they put in plenty of effort but had no bite to their attacks. The only good thing I could say in my half-time report was that at least the lack of excitement meant Sam Allardyce's surgeon didn't have to worry!
Second half was a bit better but the teams had obviously made a pact not to score. Ngog missed a sitter for Liverpool and Rovers went all weak at the knees as soon as they got within 20 yards of Liverpool's goal.
Afterwards Sam told the media that Rovers had played very well and he was delighted. I can understand what he meant. Rovers did defend well and neutralised a team who are above them in the table. Rafa said that Aquilani will play against Fiorentina next week and Torres could be on the bench. They were missed today. One reporter was quite forceful in questioning Rafa about Aquilani's fitness. Had he gone backwards over the last few weeks? Was his original injury still a problem? How could he get match fit if he didn't play matches? Rafa's answers, summed up, were no, no, and we have to choose carefully which matches he plays in.
Another reporter didn't have much luck. He asked each manager what he thought of England's World Cup chances and who would win? Both managers gave him the brush-off (a lot more politely that Fergie would). "Under instructions from my editor," he explained apologetically.
Ewood Park seemed a long way from the World Cup finals this afternoon.

Pic: Jack Walker Stand, Ewood Park


Memorable moment on 5 Live today. Kit Symons, ex pro footballer and now pundit, previewing Portsmouth v Burnley: "This isn't a must-win game. It's game they must win."

Friday, 4 December 2009


The Football Conference have allowed Chester City to stay in the Blue Square Premiership after the club produced a cheque for £36,600 yesterday in payment of football debts. But the next hurdle for City's embattled rulers may not be long in appearing.

The Football Association have replied to my letter of November 22nd (see blog entry for that date). It is interesting stuff.

The FA point out that the definition of "director" as it applies to implementation of the Fit and Proper Persons regulations is much wider than the usual definition. The FA's definition of the role is not simply a person who is a member of a company's board. A director in their terms is (among a range of definitions) "a person exercising direct or indirect control over a corporate director of the Club."

It is hard to see how Stephen Vaughan can claim he is not in that position in respect of his son, Stephen junior, to whom Vaughan senior apparently gifted his 100% ownership.

By any reasonable interpretation therefore, Stephen senior is still a director of the football club.

That places him in clear contravention of the FA's regulations pursuant to Rule J1(F) of the association.

And when that happens, the FA will, according to Paragraph 4 of the Fit and Proper Persons Test for Clubs Competing in the Football Conference Ltd, issue a written notice requesting the Conference to suspend a club's membership.

I suspect the FA was waiting to see what action the Conference would take yesterday. Surviving one threat simply puts Vaughan (senior or junior, take your pick)in line for the next.

The fact that the helpful gentleman from the FA pointed me in the direction of the key sections of the regulations suggests that the authorities at Wembley Stadium are only too well aware of what is going on.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


This has not been a routine Saturday.

First of all, credit where it's due. Manchester City have broken new boundaries in media relations by not only producing a first class pie but also serving it direct to my seat. Let me give more details about this important development. The matchday media sheet states: "For members of the media a bespoke pie has been created as a half-time snack by our Consultant Executive Chef John Benson-Smith". Full marks to the chef and also to the member of City's staff who, spotting me still hardwired to my mic and cans as the rest of the media headed for the press room at half-time, brought me one tasty bespoke pie to make sure I didn't miss out.

That's what I call style.

I was there to report City v Hull for Setanta Ireland. Pre-match, things hadn't gone so well. Setanta always ask for their reporters to be allocated a seat which has an ISDN port so we can connect up our kit and dial through to Dublin. Unusually for City, they hadn't done it this time. I was switched to a seat which DID have an ISDN port...but when I dialled Dublin, nothing happened. So I asked the media assistant if the ISDN was enabled. At City, unlike most clubs, they route lines to the various ISDN points themselves on a match by match basis. "Yes, the points are all live," he said. Then I got the club's telecom engineer to have a look. "It's not live," he said.
And away he went to get it sorted. It took another ten minutes before I was through to Setanta's sound gallery. Good job I wasn't in a mad hurry to get on the air.

Then, while City and Hull occupied themselves with a 1-1 draw, the mobile starts beeping with tales of the unexpected from Chester City's match v Eastbourne. Fans on the pitch in the first half protesting about the "ex" owner Stephen Vaughan (see countless previous posts for the background). Game held up. Fans on the pitch again in the second half. Game delayed. Match abandoned.

Back home, straight onto the fans' message board to find out what went on. One thread has had over 14,000 hits already. I shouldn't approve of fans invading pitches but a) this was clearly a peaceful protest and b) I can't say anything other than it was totally, totally justified.

Friday, 27 November 2009


Could be the end of the road for Chester City this Saturday. At home to Eastbourne. All the signs point to us emulating Accrington Stanley four decades ago and have our results wiped from the records in mid-season.

Quick upsum:

Our best players, on loan from league and even Premier League clubs, have left in the last fortnight.
Remaining players have been on strike this week because their wages haven't arrived.
Club's MD has been in talks with the PFA about large loans made by the PFA which we can't repay.
Home end will be closed against Eastbourne because we haven't got enough stewards.
On Monday we face the latest deadline to pay money owed to Wrexham and Vauxhall Motors as well as the PFA. There is no sign that this will be forthcoming.
Owner has been declared not a fit and proper person after admitting a £500,000 VAT scam and told to dispose of his shares in club.
He refuses to enter into negotiations with a former director who wants to buy him out.
Instead he hands ownership to his son.

This is football's equivalent of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

The sun will shine again one day. It's just a bit hard to see it from where we sit right now.


The Isle of Man Government has announced that next year's TT will not include the Billown TT races for 125 and 250cc machines.
If you're not familiar with this tale, the addition of these races for two-stroke machines took place in 2008. The idea was to create a challenging race for the two-strokes who no longer race over the Mountain Course during the TT meeting. For the previous few years they had been frozen out of the festival altogether.
The races took place over the 4.25 mile Billown circuit in the south of the island.
At the same time as cancelling these races, the Manx authorities have announced a massive programme of public entertainment for next year's TT fortnight. Looks like it was an either/or debate and the racers lost.
I think this is a terrible shame. It was a controversial move to give TT branding to races which were not staged on the Mountain Course, but they proved very popular and to cancel them after only two years doesn't give them a chance to build up a tradition and heritage of their own. I can't help feeling that it devalues the efforts of those who rode their hearts out to win podium places.
I don't know how this will impact on my commitments next year. I commentated on the first Billown TT in 2008 (picture above is of the commentary box at Billown, the best commentary position in the world) and I was due to do so again next year - if Manx Radio secures the contract for radio coverage, which is up for renewal at the moment.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The situation at Chester City goes from farce to tragedy. I have sent the following letter to the Football Association's Compliance Unit.

Compliance Unit
Football Association
25 Soho Square

November 22 2009

Dear Sir/Madam

I am a journalist who has covered professional football for over 35 years. I am also a supporter of Chester City FC for 47 years.

I am writing to ask you to investigate the transfer of ownership of the club from Stephen Vaughan to his son, Stephen Vaughan junior, as announced by Mr Vaughan senior in a radio interview yesterday.

You will be aware that under the terms of a Disqualification Undertaking signed by Stephen Vaughan senior on November 11th 2009 he accepted a bar on acting as a company director for a period of 11 years. The FA then indicated to David Conn of The Guardian that it would take the necessary steps to ensure that the ownership of Chester City complied with your “fit and proper persons” test.

It is inconceivable that the transfer of ownership to Mr Vaughan’s 24-year-old son, who is a professional footballer on the books of Chester City, should create a situation in which Mr Vaughan has no control or influence over decision-making. This would appear to be an attempt to circumvent the rules and regulations of the FA.

You will also be aware that the entire future of the football club is hanging by a thread for financial reasons. I ask you now to act swiftly and decisively to ensure that the ownership of the club is transferred to genuine purchasers at a reasonable price. There are potential buyers who have expressed interest. Any delay could be fatal to the future of the club which, without a genuine change of ownership, will (by its own financial projections posted on the official club website in September) be insolvent long before the end of the season.

I would be grateful if you could contact me to let me know what action you will take.

Yours faithfully


Friday, 20 November 2009


I've been reunited with my best mate in broadcasting. He's been away down south for around 10 days and I was worried that he wouldn't make it back in time for our trip to Anfield tomorrow. But he's turned up, freshly scrubbed, all set for the big game.

He's called Glen Sound and he's been with me to football matches all over the country. He was there when Newcastle were relegated on the last day of the season. He was with me when Adebayor set off on that crazy celebration after scoring against Arsenal. And I'm very pleased that he'll be at my side when Liverpool play Manchester City this weekend. He's my voice and my ears, and he comes in a compact little case with a couple of leads, and sockets for microphone and headphones.

This invaluable chum is my ISDN broadcasting kit, manfactured by a company called Glensound based in Kent. I stupidly left the batteries in too long and they began to corrode. So I sent it down to Glensound to be cleaned out and serviced. Heart in mouth in case it didn't make it back in time for my next booking. That's why I despatched it during an international break.

It is one of the downsides of being a freelance that there is no-one else to take responsibility for maintaining your kit. If it doesn't work, you can't blame some faceless engineering department in Shepherds Bush. On the other hand, the upside is that you can always ensure your kit is present and correct. I recall turning up for a late call-out by the BBC to cover a game at Maine Road. The Beeb were supplying the kit which would be delivered to the stadium. Sure enough, when I arrived, there it was. But when I opened it up in the press box, there was one item missing - the microphone.

The ISDN kit, commonplace these days, took over from its bulky predecessor, the COOBE. It stands for Commentator Operated Outside Broadcast Equipment. There was another version called a SOOBE. (Self Operated Outside.....fill in the rest yourself). Like the Glensound, the COOBE could be operated by the reporter alone. It came with mic (well, usually) and headphones. You plugged in to a bulky GPO socket, cranked a handle as if you were starting a 1933 Austin Seven, and with luck someone picked up in the BBC studio. You could then broadcast in microphone quality while hearing the studio in your headphones. The big drawback was that telecom lines had to be booked with the Post Office (later BT) on every occasion, and the lines only went to one destination.

There was a problem one day at Everton. A wire became disconnected from some vital component. I can't recall all the details but I do remember going to the restaurant to borrow a knife and strip back the sheathing to expose the bare wire. Not having a soldering kit to hand, I spent the whole match jamming the wire against the terminal with my thumb to enable me to get on the air.

ISDN technology has made everything more flexible. The kit is smaller, lighter, and you can dial from your seat in the press box anywhere in the world. That is a godsend to freelances servicing more than one client. When it first arrived the system was somewhat fragile. Every reporter was petrified that the connection would suddenly trip out and refuse to reconnect. Today (touch wood) it is much more reliable.

So long as you don't leave your batteries in too long.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Amid the furore of Thierry Henry's handball, the failings of the until-then-very-good officials, and the bad luck of the Irish, an accolade for excellence should be awarded. To the French TV director who had the camera in exactly the right place and made brilliant use of the replay facility. Bravo!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


Chester City's plight is brilliantly summed up by David Conn in today's Guardian. In a detailed analysis Conn traces the path from Stephen Vaughan's takeover in 2001 to today's situation in which the club is broke, cast adrift at the foot of the Blue Square Premier, and facing expulsion unless football debts are cleared by Monday week.

The main story inside the Guardian's sport section is also written up on Sport's front page, under the news line that Vaughan has become the first person to fail the FA's "fit and proper person's test." Another dubious distinction for our club.

David's piece performs two other functions. It gives us, the club's supporters, a real boost knowing that someone in a positon of influence has noticed what is going on. And I hope it also embarrasses the FA who should have taken action much, much earlier.

Meanwhile the Liverpool Daily Post today reports that the club is talking to potential new owners. I'll wait and see on that one - there have been too many false dawns already.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


This unusual view of the River Swale in Richmond, North Yorkshire, was taken by framing the river through the window of an old building under renovation.

Friday, 13 November 2009


The DVD of the world's first zero-emissions motorbike race is on sale now. Well, it's not quite zero emissions because the producers hired me to do the commentary so that accounted for quite a few emissions.
This is the story of the TTXGP which was raced around the Mountain Course on the Isle of Man in June. Check it out at
Recording the commentary was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the hardest piece of broadcasting I have ever done. I'd already done one version in August which went reasonably well, but the producers wanted an updated version. So it was back into the studio to do it again. Unfortunately by this time I was really unwell with a cold and a badly inflamed throat. Production deadlines meant there was no chance of a delay so I doped myself up and got on with it. But that process whereby words travel from the brain to the lips via the voicebox was suffering a significant malfunction. I kept stumbling over the simplest of words. The recording kept having to stop, sections were erased, the pictures would be lined up again, and off I'd go once more. It took two and a half hours to lay down commentary for 40 minutes of video. All the time the vocal chords were getting more and more mangled, while mentally I felt like a dead parrot.
By the time I stumbled out of the studio the entire building had been locked down for the night. As soon as I reached the corridor the intruder alarms began to go off. Next thing a security guard arrives and I'm making my apologies and wishing I'd never got out of bed that morning. The video editor was desperate for my voiceover to be emailed to him that night but with security on my case I had no choice but to leave the building right away.
Next day I woke up with a raging toothache to add to everything else. An emergency appointment at the dentist's ended with the tooth being extracted and an anaesthetic that wore off as soon as the tooth left the cavity, aaaagh, not good. No chance of getting that voiceover away that day. Next day things began to improve and at last I was able to fire the audio file away (useful website for sending large media files by the way:
So I am very pleased that the DVD is out there and I only hope my contribution has not done more harm than good.


Media relations at Leeds Utd are going from bad to worse. The Press Association has been banned from taking photographs at Elland Road for some time. Now PA is hitting back. In a statement released today PA say they will scale down their coverage of Leeds and photographs taken at away games will not major on Leeds players.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


The wolves are beginning to circle around the owner of Chester City, Stephen Vaughan. Mr Vaughan has now been banned from holding a directorship of any company for 11 years as a result of an alleged VAT scam when he was in charge of Widnes RLFC. This involved an illegal claim for just over £500,000.

He remains as owner of Chester but one wonders for how long. I am sure that HM Revenue and Customs, encouraged by their findings at Widnes, are even now scrutinising the books (such as they are) at the Deva.


The Daily Mirror has lost a libel case brought by Cristiano Ronaldo. I am pleased about this. Not that I wish misfortune on the Mirror, but they admit that a story they published in 2008 about Ronaldo being on the lash in Los Angeles when he was meant to be recovering from injury was untrue.

It is difficult teaching young people the values of journalism when they see national newspapers printing false stories on a regular basis. Any reminder that we are all accountable in the end is good news.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


The first woolly-hat day of the football season. It was cold at Villa Park and at half-time the thinsulate beanie emerged from my reporter's bag for the first time since last winter. The match was a good one - though not for Bolton Wanderers who lost 5-1.

The press box at Villa Park doesn't provide a good view of the whole of the pitch but today four of the game's six goals were scored at "our" end and we got a good eyeful.

I don't think this game did a lot for two men hoping to go to the World Cup with England. Bolton centre-back Gary Cahill did not impress, whereas John Carew of Villa did - and Carew's form means Emile Heskey will find it even harder to get the games he needs to cement his place in Capello's squad.

Today I came across the name Amisco for the first time. Amisco is not Bolton's latest signing, it's the name of a sports analysis system which competes with Pro Zone. Most football fans know about Pro Zone, the system that uses video and data-processing to inform coaches' analysis of each individual players performance in every match. I thought Pro Zone had the market to itself but Amisco is clearly a lively competitor, having Villa as one of its clients. It has just signed up its first Championship client, Swansea. I chatted to Amisco's UK manager Chris Bradley who told me that Swansea regularly complete over a hundred more passes per game than their Championship opponents. Interesting info, and it gave added pertinence to the Swans' 3-2 win over Cardiff which was playing on the TV in the Villa Park press lounge.

A minute's silence for Remembrance Day was impeccably observed. My mind flicked to a visit I made to the Normandy beaches a couple of years ago. Looking over Gold beach, where the British landed on D Day in 1944 (pictured top), I thought of my late father-in-law Tom, who came ashore that day in a tank, splashing off a landing craft and facing the worst of the German artillery. As I scanned the empty, peaceful sand it hit me like a hammer in the stomach that if he hadn't survived that day I would not have my daughter today, or my two lovely granddaughters.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


Meeting of the committee of the Chester City Former Players Association tonight in what is becoming our favourite pub on the outskirts of the city. It was time to grasp the nettle of who does what. Gary Talbot, our legendary goalscorer from the 1960s is our president. Grenville Millington - goalkeeper in our most successful team of the 1970s - is our chairman. Alan Tarbuck, another superb goalgetter for Chester in the late 60s, is treasurer. My pal Chas Sumner, Chester City statto and historian, is secretary and I am (guess what) media officer.

Gary and Gren went to Chester's home game with AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. They were guests of the club which was a very nice gesture. The invitation followed on from the FPA's approach to the club back in September to inform them that the association was being set up and to ask permission to incorporate the club's badge in the logo. Bob Gray, managing director, has been very supportive.

There was a bit of a problem on Saturday when the FPA was wrongly announced as being match sponsors. Some fans understandably concluded that the FPA was putting money into the club and wondered why that was the case. In fact, Gary and Gren were asked to select the Man of the Match, which is usually the role of the sponsors, and the mistake seems to have taken off from there.

The FPA did not sponsor the game and paid out no money.

Saturday, 31 October 2009


I hear there was a lot of trouble at the boxing promotion at the Liverpool Echo Arena last night.

There was much more fighting outside the ring than in it. The scrapping was orchestrated by lads on mobile phones. The main event inside the ring had to be delayed while police and stewards restored some sort of order.

I gather that the police were only present in numbers because they were using the occasion for a training exercise.

Doesn't bode well for the future of boxing at the venue.

Friday, 30 October 2009


Daily Mirror columnist Guillem Balague identifies one of the greyest of grey areas in journalism in the sports pages of today's paper.

Guillem is an acute observer of Spanish football and he is also no mug when it comes to the fancy footwork of the media.

His theme today concerns the comments attributed to the Wigan Athletic boss, Roberto Martinez, who was quoted in Spain as criticising Sir Alex Ferguson. Martinez denies making the comments.

Guillem points out that "journalists work within an unwritten set of rules when it comes to what is said 'on the record.'"

He goes to explain that to some journalists "off the record" means it's OK for the information to be used, providing the name of the person who gave the info is kept quiet.

To others, "off the record" means the info is for background only.

He is quite right. My advice to anyone dealing with a reporter is to forget "off the record." If Martinez didn't want his opinions reported, he should have said so.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


Last week the Chester Chronicle asked me to write an article about the sad state of affairs at my favourite football club, prompted by the Conference's threat to expel us for non-payment of debts.

Interesting to note that the Chronicle has published it online today, ahead of the print edition. They also posted a link on the main fans' messageboard, Devachat. Clever way to maximise attention and good use of digital media by so-called traditionalists.

My pal Jonathan Legard also has his say. The BBC's Formula One commentator is a stalwart Blues fan. Like most of us, he is appalled at the current situation. Something has to give, and soon.

Read both articles at


Bernie Ecclestone today stated that plans to shift the British GP to Donington next year are dead in the water. That's a verdict that will come as great interest to BBC Radio's Sporting Inquisitor in Chief Gary Richardson.

On the day Donington pulled off their coup in snatching the GP from Silverstone, some 18 months ago, Gary gave the Donington chief exec Simon Gillett a real grilling on Radio Five Live's Sportsweek. The dogged but ever-so-courteous Richardson wanted to know if there was a get-out clause should Donington fail to upgrade their track in time, one which could take the race back to Silverstone after all.

After much sparring, Gillett conceded that there was.

So Gary's scepticism has been proved justified. Others who will have heard today's news with a knowing look are the students on the Sports Journalism course at the University of Central Lancashire, where we have often studied that interview as a good example of sport making news away from the field of play.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Another spat (no, I'm not talking about the spread of swine flu here) between the media and a football manager. Everton's David Moyes refused to talk to reporters after his team lost to Spurs in the Carling Cup. This was apparently in protest at the absurd scheduling of three games in five days for Everton.

The irony is that most of the media are in complete agreement with Moyes. The scheduling of away games againast Benfica, Bolton and Tottenham between Thursday and Tuesday was ridiculous. Last night Radio Merseyside's commentators criticised the arrangements several times, and it wasn't just the local media, Radio Five Live's Mark Pougatch made the same point and had Spurs' boss Harry Redknapp agreeing with him.

So why a bright chap like David Moyes should take out his frustration on the reporters baffles me. He simply made their job harder, when they were pretty much on his side.

Memo to Moyesey: right message, wrong address.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Another significant step has been taken today regarding the showing of live football on the internet.

The FA have sanctioned the showing of one FA Cup first round tie via the internet. It will be Oldham v Leeds at 5.15pm on Saturday November 7th. Perform, the company which produced the webstream of England's match in Ukraine recently, are again putting the show together.

This would not have happened but for the demise of Setanta UK who originally held the rights. The FA is being imaginative in its exploration of the new possibilities on offer and the availability of live sport via the internet is bound to increase.

The game can be seen at

Monday, 26 October 2009


A stay of execution but we remain on Death Row.

This evening the Conference backed off from expelling Chester City due to non-payment of football debts. New deadline is November 16th. So much for the club's assurance that the monies would all be handed over in good time.

To me the delay serves only to underline how skint the football club is. If they had the money, surely they would have paid up. And yet, barely three months after managing to get their debts wiped out by going into administration, they can't make this very important payment.

It looks like we will make it to Hallowe'en after all. But will we still be around on Twelfth Night? I'm not betting on it.

Sunday, 25 October 2009


The Molineux press box is a little cramped but reporters have a great view of the pitch and the fans are close enough to generate a good atmosphere. Some scribes don't like having the supporters in close attendance but I enjoy the atmosphere. Glassed-in press boxes, like the one the print reporters had at Leeds the last time I was there, are horribly anti-septic. Wolves encourage a sense of tradition with not one but two statues outside the stadium - ex-manager Stan Cullis (top)and former captain Billy Wright.

Star rating out of five: 3

Saturday, 24 October 2009


Burnley v Wigan was a lively game. Not a classic but full of effort and some good individual moments. I like Wade Elliott. He has poise and imagination, but Burnley's midfield couldn't retain control for long enough. Wigan had more power and purpose and deserved their 3-1 win.

I chatted to a young lady on stewarding duty. Her sentry post was not an enviable one. She was on duty at the foot of a concrete staircase, behind a closed blue gateway. The public didn't enter the ground by that route; the only passers-by were members of the media coming out of the press room to begin the dizzying ascent up to the press box. No view of the pitch and given that the reporters at Turf Moor are a pretty law-abiding bunch there was little chance of any unexpected action. But she had a smile on her face and was playing her lonely part in ensuring a Premier League match could take place within the boundaries of the ground licensing regulations.

I hope the music on the i-pod was good.

Friday, 23 October 2009


It's early Friday morning and I am reflecting on an absorbing evening in Chester.

My role tonight (last night!) was to chair the launch of City Fans United, the new organisation for Chester fans which has been formed by the amalgamation of two previous groups.

We met as the shadows gathered over our club once again, with the Conference threatening to boot us out if the club does not pay certain debts by Monday. I gather that the owners will cobble together enough cash to see off this particular threat. But there will be another. And another. The club doesn't know how to conduct itself properly and is on track to inevitable self-destruction.

The fans' meeting was packed. The mood was serious. It was also focused. And the biggest applause of the night came when one supporter said he fully expected the present club to go bust in the next few months, and that in August we, the fans, will be part of the foundation of a new Chester FC starting from scratch in a lower league. The response spoke volumes - that the punters recognise the seriousness of the situation, that they are sick of the present regime, and that they don't see the birth of a new club as a disgrace. Rather, they see it as a way to reclaim our pride.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Liverpool's fourth consecutive defeat has turned the spotlight on the strength of their squad. No Torres or Gerrard, so what are they left with?

Liverpool have a good team when everyone is fit. But I reckon Everton have a better squad.

Don't believe me? Look at the evidence. Let's say this is Liverpool's best team if they're all available and Rafa is thinking straight: Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua; Kuyt, Mascherano, Aquilani, Riera; Gerrard; Torres.

This is Everton's best team: Howard; Hibbert, Yobo, Jagielka, Baines; Arteta, Neville, Fellaini, Pienaar; Cahill; Yakubu.

OK, having selected those two teams, this is each club's second string - the best way to assess who has better strength in depth.

Liverpool: Cavallieri; Kelly, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Aurelio; Benayoun, Spearing, Lucas, Babel; Voronin, Ngog.
Everton: Nash; Heitiga, Neill, Distin, Baxter; Osman, Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov, Gosling; Anichebe, Saha.

There's nothing to choose between the defences but Everton have a clear edge in midfield in attack. And they still have James Vaughan and Jo available. Liverpool have, er, El Zhar.


Relations between reporters and football clubs are tetchy at the moment. Yesterday I noted Mick McCarthy's sharp exit from a Five Live interview. Later yesterday Sir Alex Ferguson abruptly terminated his Champion League press conference when he was asked about his spat with referee Alan Wiley. "Silly question," said Sir Alex. But it wasn't a silly question. It was perfectly reasonable for a journalist to ask him abut an ongoing contriversy in which Sir Alex is a key player. It was only a silly question in the sense that more seasoned reporters would expect Fergie to react in exactly the way he did.

The right tactics for a journalist in such a situation are to get plenty of answers from Sir Alex to routine questions about the Champions League, and only lob in the explosive question about the referee afterwards. That way, the inevitable walk-out doesn't ruin the routine report. And also, of course, it gives you another headline.

Yet another episode is that The Guardian has been banned from reporting Leeds Utd matches at Elland Road. This is because Ken Bates has taken exception to reports by David Conn in the Guardian's print and online editions over the confusing ownership of the club. Bates does not question the accuracy of David's reports. He just doesn't want the topic to be aired at all.

Interesting times. And I'm delighted to announce that David, one of the country's top investigative sports journalists and the author of The Football Business, will be visiting the University of Central Lancashire next month to discuss his work with students on our journalism courses.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Not quite so slick was Five Live's interview with Mick McCarthy on this morning's show. Asked by Shelagh Fogarty to comment on Rafa Benitez' problems ahead of the Lyon match, big Mick snapped: "I was asked to come on to talk about Lyon, not Rafa Benitez. So I'll swerve that one." Some swerve. The next sound we heard was the phone being put down.

Monday, 19 October 2009


Producers of 5 Live's Breakfast Show ought to have been pleased with themselves this morning. After a weekend of supreme sporting success for UK competitors they got world champions Beth Tweddle and Carl Froch on the show live and ran recorded one-on-ones with Jensen Button, who could hardly be live due to the time difference. Getting the top people live on your show is what it's all about. It helps if they're as articulate as those three.

Big congrats also to Beth. She is as tough as she is modest.

Sunday, 18 October 2009


View from the Press Box is i-ontheball's exclusive review of media facilities at the UK's Premier League grounds.

It doesn't claim to be comprehensive because it all depends on where I am despatched as a freelance reporter. But it does give an insight into the varying standards of work environment on offer.

Each stadium is rated on a five-star basis, with zero being the worst and five being the best.

Last season we finished with the rankings looking like this:

5: Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City
4: West Bromwich Albion
3: Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool
2: Everton

Now i-ontheball adds Aston Villa to the list. Two years ago, Villa Park would have been up alongside the Reebok and the City of Manchester Stadium on five stars, thanks to an excellent press box, centrally located with ample room for hacks and radio types to set up their kit. Surprisingly, at a time when press facilities generally are improving, Villa have gone the other way. The press box has been replaced by VIP seats (we are definitely not VIPs, in case anyone harbours any illusions!) and the reporters have been shifted sideways towards the Witton Lane End. This means many of them have a desperately poor view of action around the Holte End goal. Worktops and seats have shrunk like a budget airline. And the once-palatial press lounge is a shadow of its former self.

Star rating out five: 2

Coming soon: Molineux, KC Stadium and Turf Moor

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Today was my first visit of the season to the School of Science, aka Goodison Park. I love going to Goodison. OK, the press facilities are horribly cramped but this is a stadium where I spent much of my working life in the 1970s and 1980s when I was the Everton reporter for the Liverpool Echo. When I go there now there is a familiar face around every corner - fans I've known for years, press colleagues, and men who I knew as players who are now involved with the media or working for the club.
Today I dropped in at St Luke's Church Hall where many Evertonians gather pre-match. I wanted to say hi to the Rev Harry Ross, almost as staunch in his support for EFC as he is in his faith for an even higher power. Harry has been great in his encouragement and advice while I and my Chester colleagues have been setting up the Chester City Former Players Association.
He told me that an international conference of European FPA's is to be held in Liverpool next summer, which will be a memorable event given the number of great names from clubs across the continent who are likely to show up. There'll be football matches between teams of ex-stars which suggests they plan to have some fun amid the talking.
Ex-Blues I bumped into today were John Bailey, Jim Pearson, Ronny Goodlass, Derek Mountfield, Duncan McKenzie and Graeme Sharp. They all looked fit and well and it's so good the way sport generates a cameraderie that lasts decades - I first knew Jim when he played in Gordon Lee's Everton team some 30 years ago, and my first encounter with Duncan was the day Billy Bingham signed him from Anderlecht in 1977. I remember one reporter, eager for some insider quotes about Continental football, asking what Dunc had learned from his time in Belgium. "Oh, French and a bit of Flemish," said Dunc.
The game against Wolves ended 1-1. Everton were off key. Playing Rodwell and Heitiger as the central midfield duo was never going to produce the kind of creativity needed. Everton looked a bit better when David Moyes moved Cahill back into midfield at half-time but by this time Wolves had built up a fair amount of confidence and they could well have won it. Doyle showed a beautiful touch to divert a long ball from the keeper past Howard, and after Bilyaletdinov equalised Doyle almost nicked another.
I like the look of Bilyaletdinov. He's got a lot of skill and a lovely touch on the ball. I'm not so keen on the sound! His name is a challenge and I had to mention it twice in my report for Setanta Ireland on the final whistle - a report which was hastily re-written thanks to Billy's goal and the sending off of Wolves' Austrian giant Maierhofer in added time.
The guys next to me in the press box, from commercial radio in Wolverhampton, had a horror show when their ISDN connection went down 15 minutes from half-time. It's the commentator's worst nightmare and trouble-shooting is so hard at Goodison. They were able to solve the problem at half-time and at least they were not off-air when Wolves scored.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Full marks to Andy Findlay and the rest of the team behind a superb Road Racing calendar for 2010. It sells for £4.99, all proceeds to go to the Rob Vine Fund and the Manx Grand Prix Supporters Club's Helicopter Fund. Both charities do an invaluable job supporting the provision of emergency kit for road racing on the Isle of Man.

It has been produced by  and every penny will go to the charities thanks to the support of Neil Hallett of Hallett Aviation Racing, Steve Mort of Hein Gericke Chester and Matt Warren of Lincolnshire Meat Co Ltd.

The photos are very impressive with my favourite being one of Guy Martin just about staying on speaking terms with the Hydrex Honda at the Southern 100.

You can order the calendar from

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Carolynn Sells has retired from motorbike road racing. Carolynn may not be as big a sporting name as, say, Dame Ellen Macarthur, but her achievements have been just as great. Dame Ellen risked her life sailing round the world; Carolynn risked hers piloting very fast motorbikes round the most dangerous course in the world, the Mountain Course on the Isle of Man. And a few short weeks ago, she became the first woman to win a race there.

As the commentator who called her home I am sorry that she has decided to call it a day but I am also pleased that she has been able to make this decision without waiting for serious injury to make it for her.

She is a top person, a great racer, and the road racing community has been all the better for having her around.

Monday, 12 October 2009


On the heels of the Ukraine-England webstream, another fascinating development is a decision by the Professional Squash Association (PSA) to show around 250 live pay-per-view matches per year on its website. The PSA has signed a five-year partnership with digital sports company Perform, the company which set up the streaming of the England game. The scheme will feature squash matches which are being shown on TV and, most significantly, others which are not. These will require outside broadcast facilities and crew to be brought in solely for the purposes of the webcast, a task which Perform is expected to oversee.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


Good news for British sport is the election of Sir Craig Reedie to the IOC's executive board. I would go further and state that it's also good news for sport worldwide. Craig is one of the most pleasant and capable people in the complex world of sports administration. He played a key role in bringing the Commonwealth Games to Manchester in 2002, an event which paved the way for GB's successful Olympic bid for 2012. His elevation to the top table within the Olympic movement risks giving the IOC a good name.


The convergence of media business takes another step today with the live showing of England's World Cup match in Ukraine via a newspaper's website.

The Daily Telegraph is advertising live coverage of the match which is not being shown on television.

Closer inspection reveals that the Telegraph is not actually generating any of the webstream itself, merely piggy-backing the service which has been set up by the rights holders, Kentaro, and has been acquired by the online betting company The Telegraph's link takes you through to the Bet365 site where you can either pay £11.99 to access the match - or view it for free if you open a betting account. A lot of mutual back-scratching is going on here.

But the arrival of a national newspaper, especially a non-Murdoch paper, as a player in what was once the sole preserve of TV companies is another interesting development in the pellmell progress of multimedia sports access.

Kentaro is another name worth watching. The Swiss company has been a backroom player for some considerable time, buying rights to sporting events from the organisers and selling them on to TV companies across the globe. Now they have emerged as a rather more than a go-between, willing to engage directly with the public if they can't obtain then price they want via their usual marketing methods.

Monday, 5 October 2009


At Hull v Wigan on Saturday when I was sorry for Wigan, losing 2-1, but very pleased for the Hull boss Phil Brown.

I rate Phil as a good guy and a good coach. OK, he may have overplayed his hand once or twice last season, but he has shown his ability to assemble decent football teams. As luck would have it, I have been assigned to cover the last three of Hull's Premier League games, and Phil's response to defeats in the first two was excellent - changing the training routine, working on the mindset of the dressing room, and shaking up team and tactics to very good effect. Saturday saw Nick Barmby, a Hull lad, recalled to the team and made captain and that seemed to inspire players and crowd alike. The selection of Kevin Kilbane in the problem position of centre-back was unexpected but worked very well.

A few years ago, when they were at Bolton, Phil and Sam Allardyce ran a memorable day for the media. We were all invited to become a Bolton Player for the Day, and put through various fitness exercises which the players go through. These included tai chi, sprinting (!) endurance (!!) and tactical defending. It was great fun and the trouble that Sam and Phil took over giving us that insight into the professional world has stuck with me, even after the strains and humilation of the sprinting exercise wore off.

I hope Phil continues to guide Hull safely up the table.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


There was an astonishly bad piece of editing in last night's Match of the Day.

Alistair Mann, commentating on Bolton v Spurs, with the score at 1-1, observed: "You just get the sense that the scorer of the next goal might be Spurs." Moments later we saw the next goal being scored by Bolton.

How the heck was that comment by Alistair left in?

There was nothing wrong with his piece of speculation. In the context of a 90-minute commentary it's fine. But when that 90 minutes is later edited down to seven or eight minutes, the VT editor and the producer have the chance to tidy up anything which, when viewed in the context of the edit, is clearly out of place.

Alistair was entitled to expect much more professional treatment.

Saturday, 3 October 2009


Here's a mean little scam. I was at Lime Street station in Liverpool and went to the Upper Crust shop for a small cappuccino.

No cappuccino, the machine's been switched off. But we do have straight coffee.

OK, I'll have a coffee.

Medium or large?

Er, medium.

Here you are mate. £2.09 please.

As paid up I noticed that the price list overhead also offered a small coffee for £1.79. So I ask the guy: Couldn't you do a small coffee?

The company only allows us to offer medium or large.

So if I ask for small I can have small (at £1.79) but if I don't know what the options are, I'm only offered medium or large?

Er, yes.

Very small-minded Upper Crust.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


It's nice to be able to report something positive from that beleaguered outpost of footballing turmoil known as Chester City FC. For the last couple of weeks I've been working with three other Chester fans to set up a Former Players Association for the ex-players of the club.

The other fans are a bit more than simply fans. They are Gary Talbot, our legendary goal-getter from the 1960s who once scored 33 goals in one season, Grenville Millington, our goalkeeper in the 1974-75 season when we reached the semi-finals of the League Cup anbd won promotion, and Chas Sumner, Chester's club historian and statistician.

The four of us met at the Shrewsbury Arms, just outside Chester, to discuss setting up an FPA and by the time we broke up the Association was formed. The aims are to give ex-players the opportunity to get together, raise some cash for charity, and give fans a focal point for paying tribute to their heroes.

The club may be on its knees at the moment, but it hasn't always been like that and it's good to reflect on great days and happy memories. Who knows, it might inspire better days in the future.

Work to build on that decison at the Shrewsbury Arms is racing ahead and we now want anyone who has played a first team game for Chester to contact us and sign up via our website:

The picture shows Gary and Grenville in front, and Paul Baker of our generous sponsors UKS Transglobal and Chas at the back.

Big thanks to the Rev Harry Ross, of Everton's FPA, for his encouragement and advice.


I was at Anfield on Saturday for Liverpool's Premier League match with Hull. It struck me that Liverpool and their fans have done a wonderful and dignified job of keeping alive the memory of the 96 supporters who died at Hillsborough. It is over 20 years since that disaster and the promises made at the time have been kept to the letter. Before the game on Saturday George Sefton, the club's long-serving announcer with that wonderful, gravelly bass voice, played a recording of the unofficial Anfield anthem "Fields of Anny Road" which includes a verse dedicated to the Hillsborough victims and the ongoing fight for justice. Outside the Shankly Gates the floral tributes at the Hillsborough Memorial were as fresh and plentiful as ever. No pathetic plastic wrappers which tend to be all that's left by roadside crash scenes after the first few weeks, these tributes are constantly refreshed. The vast majority of the students who've just enrolled on my university course were not even born when Hillsborough happened but the fierce commitment of Liverpool supporters means that their generation is fully aware of what took place and why it matters.

Football as a culture is very good at protecting and honouring its own, in a positive way. Liverpool fans have been just as consistent in their support of Michael Shields. Their campaign, in which the club itself played no small part, prevented the Shields case from falling off the agenda, much as Jack Straw might have wished otherwise.

It's not just Liverpool. I found the tribute to Sir Bobby Robson at the Ipswich v Newcastle match moving and memorable. Laura Wright sang My Way beautifully and the way the crowd joined in made an even more special moment.

Fans and clubs spend a lot of time at each other's throats, but when they all sing from the same hymn sheet they can create a very potent force.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


The Manx Grand Prix is all over and I've had a relaxing day after a hectic week. Yesterday was the best day. The first race (for 250cc Lightweight machines) produced a very dramatic duel between Dan Sayle and Neil Kent who set off side by side at the front of the grid and after four laps, 150 miles, were less than a second apart when they passed the last transponder point before the finish. That told me, via my computer screen, that they were virtually neck and neck with just over a minute to go before they came into my line of sight. Filling that minute with meaningful words is usually quite tricky, because I can't afford to go off into some rambling descriptive or opinionated spiel. I have to be ready to snap into live description of the bikes as they shoot into view and I have only three or four seconds to tell the listeners what is going on before they cross the line. Anyway, it all worked fine and Dan took the win by two tenths of a second. Close finishes like that are brilliant for the commentator because excitement and interest are maintained to the end. Back in 2006 I was the commentator for the closest finish ever on the Mountain Course when Craig Atkinson beat Derek Brien by one hundredth of a second in the Junior MGP. That was awesome.

The second race was history in the making. Carolynn Sells, who comes from Preston, used to live in Liverpool where she worked on Hollioakes, and now lives on the Isle of Man, became the first woman to win a Manx GP or TT race, the Ultra Lightweight race for 400cc bikes. It happened on the 20th anniversary of the rules being changed to allow women to compete. Carolynn is a skilful, determined rider and a lovely down-to-earth person and to see the joy that her win brought to her family and her team emphasised so much that is uplifting about sport.

Her strategy was based on going the whole four laps without a pit stop to refuel. All the other contenders, as usual, came in for a pit stop after two laps. When Carolynn rocketed straight past the Grandstand I was aghast, thinking she had forgotten to come in! Should have known better, and at least I didn't voice those fears on air. She knew exactly what she was doing and went on to build up a lead of over a minute, suggesting that she would probably have won anyway. It was terrific to be able to describe the moment and join her for the celebrations in the beer tent. It was also great for her team, led by Martin Bullock, who has put a lot of cash and care into supporting many riders at the MGP and TT.

Among the riders she overtook was her own dad, Dave, whose bike obligingly packed up in time for him to watch his daughter write her name into the history books.

The last race, the Senior (600cc and 750cc), was very difficult for the riders as the weather deteriorated and squalls blew in unpredictably. Several pulled in after one lap. It looked like Ryan McCay, from Ireland, had it in the bag but he crashed with less than 10 minutes' racing to go. That opened the door for Michael Russell, from Birmingham, to take the win. Michael is with the RAF. He's already seen service in Basra and he's due to go to Afghanistan later this year. I'm not sure what is more dangerous, taking on the Taliban or riding a motorbike at crazy speeds around the Isle of Man, but clearly he is not a man to settle for an easy life.

So, after some real emotional highs, long hours in the commentary box, the sadness of knowing that one rider, Richard Bartlett, had lost his life after crashing, and the cameraderie that comes from working with a tight-knit group of broadcasters under pressure, it's all a bit of an anti-climax. Not that that will last for long. It's back to Premier League football next week and then the challenge of starting the new academic year at the university.

Monday, 31 August 2009


Half past eight in the morning and I should be arriving in the Peter Kneale Media Centre in readiness for a long day commentating on the opening races of the Manx Grand Prix. Instead I am sitting in my window looking out on low, dismal skies, grey seas rolling in on Douglas beach, while raindrops clatter against the glass. Racing has been postponed until tomorrow.

The forecast yesterday made it pretty obvious that we would have no action today but I still had to set my alarm for 7am, just in case. At around the same time the clerk of the course Phil Taubman was making the decision to call it off for today and I received a text from Tim Glover, Manx Radio's sports editor, half an hour later to that effect.

Disappointing for me, all dressed up in my corporate Manx Radio gear with nowhere to go, but much more so for the competitors. They've had a rotten time so far this year with most practice sessions badly affected by rain, while conditions in the paddock are getting more like Glastonbury every day. Many riders and their families and crew are sleeping under canvas or in caravans and motorhomes. Poor drainage and lack of hard-standing is making their lives miserable.

The forecast for tomorrow is better, but the rest of the week is looking dodgy.

I'm looking out of the window again and the freight ferry Ben My Chree has just left Douglas harbour heading into the murk, bound for Heysham. It won't exactly be a scenic voyage today.


It has been a cracking year for journalism in the Daily Telegraph. Their MPs expenses scoop has been the story of the decade and the last couple of weeks has seen the sports team weigh in with the fascinating Bloodgate revelations.

This tale involves pre-meditated cheating by Harlequins RUFC in high profile rugby union matches, the unmasking of the villains and further revelations about a cover-up. It's great stuff, and perfectly tailored to the paper's readership which has a greater interest in rugby union than, say, readers of the Sun or Mirror.

Rugby union is, of course, no stranger to widespread deception on an organised scale. For decades the so-called amateur sport surreptitiously paid its leading players. It was often said that the only difference between union and the openly professional rugby league was that the league players paid income tax on their earnings.

More worryingly, the bloodgate scenario is part of a wider culture. The stakes are so high in top sport that cheating is sometimes too much of a temptation. The McLaren F1 team's attempt to deceive the authorities when Lewis Hamilton was overtaken under safety car conditions this season was another sign that integrity is not the thing it used to be. Now it has also emerged that the FIA are investigating suspicions that Renault ordered their driver Nelson Picquet to crash during the Singapore GP last year, knowing that the safety car would be deployed and that in turn would help their principal driver Fernando Alonso protect his lead - which it did.

Journalists must continue to expose this sort of action, whether writing about it in the Telegraph's print and online editions or using TV slomo replays to reveal footballers taking a dive.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


I'm on the Isle of Man for the second time this year. This time it's the Manx Grand Prix, a motorcycle event which is often described as an amateur version of the TT but is actually more complex than that. The Manx gives us the same awe-inspiring race track with classic and post classic bikes racing along with modern 600 and 750cc machines, plus a goodly array of two-strokes which are no longer seen on the Mountain Course at the TT.

Racing doesn't start till Monday but there are practice sessions every evening. Tonight I've been talking to a number of riders who are here for the first time. They've all got good stories to tell, none more so than Stefan Cook, from Letchworth, who started his racing career when his partner Lorraine gave him a Yamaha R1! Some gift. Some partner. And Lorraine will be working in Stefan's pit when racing starts. Max Faulkner, from Bude in Cornwall, has been here many times with a gang of mates to watch the racing. Four years ago, in a pub, they all decided they would try to enter the Manx themselves. Beer talking? Not quite. Two of that gang have made it and this year Max and his buddy Dan Millard will go to the start line to live the dream.
And I loved meeting David Mulligan from Portadown in Northern Ireland. For David, 2009 is not just the year he first raced at the Manx GP, it's also the year he qualified as a doctor.

It takes all sorts to make the Manx GP what it is.


I take a small amount of comfort from the closure of the freebie, The London Paper. I'm gutted for the journos who are losing their jobs but encouraged by the response of several media commentators who see this as evidence that Rupert Murdoch (owner of The London Paper) is moving towards paid-for news instead of giving it away for nothing.
The Guardian quotes Murdoch recently stating that his goal is to "increase our revenue from all our content." And that includes online content.
That is where, perhaps, a glimmer of light can be found in what has been a pretty dark sky this year. If Murdoch's News Corp really is developing a method by which money can be made from online news, then the long-term benefits to journalists will far outweigh the current gloom at The London Paper.
The Guardian quotes media analyst Douglas McCabe: "Murdoch is saying 'enough is enough.' He's saying newsrooms have value and by giving away free content you devalue them."
That isn't just music to my ears as an educator of journalists of the future - it should resonate with the entire industry as well.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


When a new kid moves into the street it's always a cause of gossip, and the arrival of a new presence in the TV football market is no different.
Generally, the columnists have given ESPN a positive reception although Martin Kelner in The Guardian complained that there was "scarcely a whiff of innovation." Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror described presenter Ray Stubbs as "excellent" but Giles Smith in The Times was unimpressed by the set, describing it as "somewhere between the interior of a building society and the inside of a dishwasher."
The man who caught the critics' eye though was none of the players in Everton v Arsenal but Peter Reid in the pundit's role. "The world's first made-for-HD sideburns," was Smith's description, while Kelner reckoned that Reid's "patchy grey mutton-chop sideburns make him look either like a Dickens character or the new face of Special Brew."
High Definition is one of TV's latest advances but it does few favours to anyone with a less-than-perfect complexion. Smith used this to neat effect: "Who would have thought that Reid's facial hair would end up driving HD set-top box sales? But that's football in the 21st century."

Monday, 17 August 2009


At Molineux on Saturday where Wolves lost 0-2 to West Ham. Wolves lacked composure at both ends of the field while West Ham, without being outstanding, produced a tidy display and had a bit too much class.
Talking to Martin Keown in the press room beforehand. We were watching TV pictures of Hull v Chelsea and Martin was bemused that several of the press guys were taking no notice. "Maybe they're completing their preparation for this one," I suggested. "Should have done it before," growled Keown. The spirit of the Highbury back four lives on.
John Motson was the BBC commentator at this one. It's his 39th season, he told me, which means he's only one ahead of me. My first season as a professional sports reporter was 1971-72 when my debut was Rochdale Reserves v Southport Reserves and a skinny young lad called Peter Withe couldn't get a game in Southport's second string. A few years later he won the European Cup with Aston Villa.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


The FA has cleared the way for Chester to carry on. Our first game will be at home to Cambridge on Saturday. But it was a close-run thing. The FA fined the Conference £5000 for failing to apply their own rules correctly. If they had done so, we would have been expelled from the competition for failing to exit administration correctly. The additional 15-point penalty imposed by the Conference still stands, so we start our campaign on minus 25.
In the relief all Chester supporters feel at the club still being alive, I hope no-one overlooks the reasons why we ended up in this situation in the first place.
This blog will now move on to other matters!


This is another mega day. The FA and the management of the Conference are debating what to do with the game's basket case, us. That's Chester City FC. We expect an announcement today.
This evening I'm chairing a meeting for all CCFC supporters and whatever the FA announces will obviously fuel the mood.
I've just done an interview over the phone for Radio City about our situation.
It's getting horribly close to push coming to shove.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Things stagger from bad to worse. Our first home game of the season, against Gateshead tomorrow, has now been called off. The FA have still not accepted our affiliation and they're now having a spat with the management of the Conference for saying it was ok for us to start the season. The Conference chiefs have been summoned to the FA on Thursday to explain themselves. Meanwhile the supporters, players and manager of Chester City are left like King Charles I with his head on the block, waiting for the axeman to take one last swing.
I am not hearing many positive noises. It is not inconceivable that Thursday's meeting will sound the deathknell of the club. The FA are taking a tougher stance with Chester than they have with any other club that's hit a crisis. Trouble is, they are probably justified.

Meanwhile I have accepted a request to chair a supporters' meeting in Chester on Thursday evening. It could be grim.

Saturday, 8 August 2009


After a few days which have redefined the word ineptitude, the new Conference season kicks off today with my club, Chester, sitting on the sidelines like the class dunce.
On Thursday, the Conference announced that the imposition of a 25-point penalty on Chester had cleared the way for us to kick off as planned, away to Grays.
Yesterday, late on, the Conference issued another statement saying that the FA were still not happy with Chester's arrangements in coming out of administration, and so the game was off.

The lack of communication between the FA and Conference is astonishing.

But the real architects of the crisis are the owners of CCFC. Even when the Conference gave them the go-ahead on Thursday I could not see how this would be acceptable when the owners have so far failed to reach an agreement with the taxman and the vatman over the little matter of £982,742.61 in outstanding debts. The FA will not accept a club's affiliation unless an agreement is in place.

Chester may not have millions of supporters worldwide. But to those of us who do support the club, it means as much as any team of galacticos. It ought to be a good, lively, well-run set-up performing a valuable role in the community of one of England's smaller cities. Instead it has become a useless, washed-up embarrassment which will only change when someone buys out the Vaughan family.
The only very small consolation today is that the asking price must be more affordable than ever.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Today has been like waiting for an exam result through the post. Except that the postman never called.
We - Chester fans - were told there would be a statement today about the club's future, which readers of this blog will know is hanging by a tarnished thread right now. Readers will not be stunned to know that, up to this late hour, there has been no statement. But then the person who promised the statement is our owner, Stephen Vaughan, so maybe the failure to deliver even a simple communication to the fans is not a shock.
So while we wait to see if we can kick off the season at Grays on Saturday, and whether we will incur a further points deduction to add to the minus 10 we already have (the smart money is on another 15), and indeed whether the club will even exist on Saturday, we can ask a pertinent question.
How did we end up in this state?
Clearly the misguided policies of the current owner are almost completely to blame. But one can also ask what the Football Association, the guardians of the national sport, have been doing while the storm clouds gathered. Answer - nothing until it was too late.
The FA must learn a lesson from the Deva debacle. Small clubs mean a lot to their communities but can easily fall into the wrong hands. In Chester's case, no AGM was held for 17 years from 1991 to 2008. The meeting that was eventually held last year broke up in confusion when the owner reacted angrily to questions from the floor. In the meantime debts were climbing to £7 million.
The FA should insist that all clubs hold an AGM annually - that, after all, is what the 'A' is meant to represent - and should reserve the right to send an observer to monitor AGMs of clubs where a crisis might be looming. As the Chester case proves, leaving some owners to their own devices is like leaving MPs to monitor their own expenses.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


It is still gloomy. Our owner and the Chester FC secretary had a meeting with the FA and Blue Square Conference chiefs yesterday. The outcome was silence with the promise of a statement tomorrow. No doubt the FA and the Conference guys will be consulting lawyers as well as accountants in the meantime. We are now four days away from the start of the season and we don't even know if we have a football club any more.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


Ok all you guys eagerly looking forward to the new season with multi-million pound Premier League teams. This is the other side of that very fat coin. Today Chester have had their CVA thrown out by the courts - this basically is the so-called agreement which allowed the financially-embarrassed club to be bought by new owners and prepare for the new season. Except that the new owners were actually the same as the old owners and the agreement wasn't actually an agreement at all because the tax and vat people hadn't signed up to it. Today the court agreed that the tax and vat people were fully justified in giving the plan short shrift, so the 'new' company can't go ahead and the prospects of us kicking off the campaign as scheduled on August 8th are looking more remote by the hour.
If all this results in the man who has steered the club to such a crisis, Stephen Vaughan, walking away then it won't have been in vain. It's time for a new start under (genuinely) new owners.

Friday, 24 July 2009


The latest development in the Chester City story is that HM Revenue and Customs are due to meet the club's administrators on Monday. This clearly means that the administrator failed to secure an agreed settlement with HMRC when the club was in admin. Without such agreement, the new club cannot proceed. No wonder the FA is refusing to let us play any matches. But what made the club's owners think they could put a team on the park when the set-up hasn't been approved by the governing body? Sadly typical of the blundering which has characterised the Deva for too long.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


This year's graduates from the Sports Journalism course are heading out into the world seeking jobs. It is not an easy task at the moment. Many of them are working for nothing, looking to improve their cvs and hoping to be in the right place should a vacancy crop up. But this is nothing new, and by way of example and encouragement I offer this tale which starts more than 25 years ago.
As sports editor of BBC Radio Merseyside I was delighted to have the services of an enthusiastic volunteer who turned up every weekend to work on the station's Sunday football show. This involved reading results from the various local amateur leagues on Merseyside, and compiling match reports from details sent in by the clubs. Soon my man began to head out to matches and report himself, using the reel-to-reel tape recorders we used in those days to interview the players and managers. He was good at it, so he began to pick up paid work filling in when staffers were on holiday. His agenda included off-beat reports like going up in a hot-air balloon and commentating on homing pigeons. Then a full-time contract became available and he was the obvious choice. He was in.
His agenda was now Liverpool and Everton, and his destinations were Wembley and various big venues across Europe including the 1985 European Cup Winners Cup Final. Then came a move to BBC TV, initially as an assistant producer with A Question of Sport in Manchester. From there he moved to TV Sport in London, climbed a few more rungs on the ladder, became established as a presenter and a personality in his own right and this week made headlines by becoming the new face of football on ESPN.
His name is Ray Stubbs.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


It is impossible to tell where tragedy divides from farce if you are a Chester City supporter. The latest development is that all our (I still say 'our' despite the club's efforts to alienate everyone who cares about them) pre-season friendlies have been cancelled because the club is being investigated by the FA's Compliance Unit. The FA are not satisfied with the way Chester emerged from administration last month, when the owner Stephen Vaughan did a deal which left the club's creditors out of pocket to the tune of 85% of money owed. The outcome is that Chester are not currently affiliated to the FA which means we can't play any organised football.
I'm delighted that the FA are looking into the situation. They have left small clubs to their own, often unsatisfactory, devices for too long. Clubs like Chester, sad to say, have conducted themselves poorly in almost every respect, with appalling performances on the pitch allied to equally dismal direction from the boardroom. The current issue of When Saturday Comes carries an interesting feature on Darlington who seem to have run out of friends much the same as we have.
In the wake of our relegation in May Mr Vaughan promised a searching review of the way the club is run. I doubt if a single supporter had any confidence that this review, if it ever happened, would produce any serious improvement, and here we are, building up to the new season with even more public humiliation. Marine, Telford, Liverpool and other clubs we were due to play must think Chester is a complete shambles.
And it gets no better. Today we've seen two players who were with us last season, Jay Harris and David Mannix, suspended by the FA after being found guilty of betting malpractice. It doesn't exactly make the heart sing.
The only positive signs - and believe me, I look hard every day to find any - have been the appointment of a sound football man in Mick Wadsworth as manager and the appointment of Eric Whalley to the board. Eric is well known as the man who inspired the revival of Accrington Stanley. I'm not quite sure what either of them will make of the challenge of working at the Deva Stadium but I can only hope that they have the courage and determination to make good decisions for the benefit of the club, team, fans and wider community, none of whom has much reason to anticipate the new season with pleasure.

Sunday, 19 July 2009


TV technology has seldom been used to better effect than in the BBC's current coverage of the Open Championship.
Replays in the new hi motion system, which provides a very slow replay while retaining the finest detail, of Tom Watson's swing demonstrate the key to successful golf in a way that mere words have never been able to emulate. Seeing the rock-steady positioning of the head while the rest of the body appears to rotate is to understand exactly what a succession of golf pro's have tried, and in this writer's case, failed to explain over a long period of time.
TV technology is brilliant when used appropriately. Sky's coverage of the Test is using the hotspot device which demonstrates precisely where the ball strikes - bat, pad, body. Again, this adds a lot to the viewer's appreciation.
Golf and cricket are ideal for this approach. There is time for the analysts to do their work while nothing is happening on the field. It doesn't work so well in fast-paced sports like football and rugby league where over-indulgence in video analysis occasionally means live action is missed.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


There's no doubt that the real winner in the ESPN takeover of Setanta's UK rights is Sky. Where will viewers access ESPN's matches next season? Via the Sky platform. Who will produce the match coverage for ESPN? Sky Sports. This is surely not the outcome that the European Commission was looking for when it tried to enforce elements of competition in the sports rights market.
But maybe Sky should not brag too loud or too long. ESPN plans to use its new foothold in the UK market to introduce a load of American TV sport which we don't have. It will not stop with football. And as part of the Disney organisation, ESPN has resources that Setanta could only dream about. When the next round of bidding for Premier League bundles comes along, Sky will face a much tougher opponent.

Monday, 13 July 2009


I've been away for a couple of weeks. Since my last update Setanta UK has folded. I received a document from the receivers inviting me to submit details of the money I am still owed. I haven't bothered to fill it in. As an unsecured creditor I will receive nothing and the amount I'm owed by Setanta UK is fortunately not that much. The following day, bizarrely, I received two cheques from Setanta. The cheques were both from Setanta Ireland which is still in business. Setanta Ireland has always been my main client - it's their producer in Dublin who assigns me matches and it's they who pay the majority of my fee and all my expenses. Because I've been abroad in Greece and Canada I couldn't pay the cheques into my account until today so I wait to see if they are of the rubber variety!

Thursday, 18 June 2009


The problem with being a freelance in a volatile world like sports broadcasting is that your employment often depends on circumstances completely beyond your control.
At the moment two of my main clients are under pressure. Setanta has been through a well-publicised financial crisis and is not safe yet. If a proposed takeover by a Russian billionaire named Lev Blavatnik fails, then Setanta could well fold. This would leave me needing to find a new organistion to work for in the next football season, and the money Setanta still owe me for work in season 2008-09 will never find its way into my bank account.
Meanwhile Manx Radio's contract to cover the motorbike TT races ends this year. A rival radio station, Energy FM, has announced it will put in a bid for the new contract, to be decided by the Isle of Man Government. I've been Manx Radio's main commentator for six years, but there is no guarantee that I'd be retained by a different broadcaster.
I'm watching developments with keen interest!