Saturday, 28 February 2009


Looking towards the Gwladys Street End. Early 1970s architecture does not offer clear lines of vision!
Star rating out of five: 2

Friday, 27 February 2009


There are always two sides to a story and last night's ceremony at Liverpool Town Hall proved the point. In my home city we've had a gutful of shootings and other malicious crimes. Last night I joined Radio Merseyside's Alan Jackson in hosting the City of Liverpool annual sports awards. The city honours all the young sports contestants who have won national championships or represented their country. Dozens of talented kids were there, from sports as varied as football and tae-kwon-do, cricket and trampolining, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis. The hard work which the youngsters put in on a daily basis is awe-inspiring, personified by Katarina Thompson who has won a breathtaking array of athletics events and tops the UK under-20 rankings in the pentathlon, heptathlon and high jump despite still being in the under-17 age group. Katarina was named the city's Young Sports Personality of the Year and I predict she will become known far outside Liverpool in years to come.
It was also great to see top sports names turning out to support the youngsters - Phil Thompson, Sammy Lee, Derek Mountfield, Beth Tweddle, Mike Watkinson and ex Sports Minister Richard Caborn all helped made it a fabulous evening under the spectacular chandeliers of Liverpool Town Hall.
This blog doesn't make a habit of plugging sponsors, but it is well worth giving Capita a pat on the back for their backing on this occasion. Sponsorship of mega events like the Premier League is attractive because your name is known everywhere, but providing some cash to help an event like last night's is never going to win huge headlines. That's what makes this sponsor's support even more valuable. If we don't invest in our kids, we'll all be the losers.


Fascinating session today in which the Year 3 broadcast students were shown Rebecca Romero's Inside Sport interview. Before we started I asked them to write on a piece of paper three buzzwords they would immediately associate with Rebecca, and then collected in their papers. We watched the seven-minute interview. When it ended you could have heard a pin drop. Immediate responses included: "It was piece of art." And "It was a metaphor for Rebecca's own way of life."
We discussed the journalism on show. What had we learned that we didn't know before? How did we learn that? We also discussed the ethics of this piece. Was it ethically justified to expose her to such an unusual scenario?
At the end of it I asked the students to write on a piece of paper three buzzwords they would now associate with Rebecca Romero. We compared their new buzzwords with the originals. It was revealing. The originals had been purely factual: icon, winner, medal, Olympics, etc. The new ones were all about emotions and character: focused, ruthless, conflicted, deep, driven, complex. 'Vulnerable' was an interesting one.
In January the Sunday Times ran an article by Paul Kimmage in which Rebecca complained about the BBC programme. So, from the group of 12 students, I asked for a show of hands on the question: did Rebecca come out of this interview well? Verdict: Yes 11 No 1
Something to interest her management team, Octagon, perhaps!

Monday, 23 February 2009


There are interviews that are interviews. And there are interviews that are events. Into the latter category comes BBC TV's interview with Olympic cycling gold medalist Rebecca Romero last autumn.
The interview, on Gabby Logan's Inside Sport, was remarkable because there was no interviewer. Instead, Romero was positioned in an empty warehouse and the questions were relayed by an audio link. Instead of looking at a reporter, she was looking at a loudspeaker (and a camera crew, of course).
The result was a strangely powerful piece of television in which the attention of the viewer was focused more sharply than usual on the person being questioned. (The word "interrogated" came to mind for some reason.)
Today I spoke to both the producer of that piece, Mike Jackson, and the reporter whose questions were relayed from another part of the building, Eleanor Oldroyd. I was researching a lecture to be given later this week on unusual ways of conducting a TV interview. Why did they choose this method? Mike told me it was because he wanted to recreate the pressurised, isolated world in which Romero excels in her sporting life. And also because he wanted to probe this unique Olympian's personality by putting questions which might not have been achieveable in the conventional way.
Eleanor confirmed that she would probably not have asked some questions (such as "what do you dislike about yourself?" which elicited an illuminating answer) if she had been face to face.
It was a fascinating interview at the time and the issues surounding it are equally so. Rebecca was apparently quite happy immediately after the interview but later complained in an article in the Sunday Times. And one of the many aspects which continue to intrigue me is the feeling that the cause of pure journalism was somehow assisted by the removal of the interviewer from the room: that the humanity that exists between two people together can mitigate against the exposure of fact, detail and emotion.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


It isn't always the big exclusives that set people talking. On my mind all day has been a poll in today's Observer of the top football songs, headed by "The Referee's Alphabet" by legendary Merseyside band Half Man Half Biscuit (Tranmere Rovers fans). My vote however would go to "Meat Pie Sausage Roll, Come on Oldham Give Us a Goal" by Grandad Roberts, one of the North West's major contributions to football culture! It was reversioned for an international audience in time for the 1998 World Cup by the simple substitution of "England" for "Oldham." This is the football song as nature intended - eternally optimistic but inevitably doomed (when the song ends they're still waiting for the goal that never seems to arrive).
Inexplicably, it fails to make the Observer's shortlist.
Judge for yourself:

Saturday, 21 February 2009


The walkway linking to the TV gantry is top left with the gantry itself in line of vision beneath the roof. The rectangular shape mid-left is one of the TV monitors which allows journalists to see replays of goals and other key incidents during the game.
Star rating out of five: 5


UCLan Sports Journalism graduate from 2008 Ross Davies is a sports reporter with the Waltham Forest Guardian. He was reporting the Bolton v West Ham game for the paper.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


A nine-hour day for 30 seconds' broadcasting. That was how my assignment at Sheffield Utd v Hull City panned out (final score: 1-1). Setanta Ireland weren't taking reports from the game which only left me with Setanta UK to look after. Their broadcasting schedule, plus the fact that not much of note happened after my 30-second update early in the second half, made it a very quiet afternoon.
A few years ago BBC Five Live sent me to Swansea for a match. The journey there took four hours, so did the journey back, I was at the Vetch Field for over three hours, and was required to provide precisely 55 seconds of input.
There are times when you find yourself covering the most significant event of the day, and feel like you are the centre of the universe. Then there are days when you just have to accept your role is to occupy the fringe of the greater drama. A bit like Robbie Keane at Liverpool.

Friday, 13 February 2009


The debacle at Antigua's new cricket ground means that Test cricket will return to the lovely old Recreation Ground in St John's. I was there a couple of years ago. There was no cricket going on and a member of the groundstaff called Emanuel showed me round. Out on the pitch other groundsmen were pouring what looked like paraffin on anthills. Inside one of the stands there was a meeting of all Antigua's national coaches from various sports. The old honours board listed all the centuries and five-wicket hauls recorded on the ground. St John's is, I believe, the only cricket ground in the world with a "Prison End," after the local penitentiary which is situated just beyond the long-on boundary. It seemed incongruous that the authorities built a completely new ground for the recent World Cup when they had this historic and much-loved venue at their disposal. Now that the pitch at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium has disintegrated after only ten deliveries, the prison inmates could find huge sixes arriving in the exercise yard once again, and the ants will have a bit more than paraffin to disturb them.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


One TV deal which didn't attract huge publicity is the one just concluded to bring TT motorcycle racing to ITV.
North One is a production company which last year bought the rights to film and distribute TV coverage of the famous road races on the Isle of Man. They took over from well-established Manx firm Greenlight TV, amid much smacking of gobs.
Now North One are showing they mean business by selling 11 one-hour highlight packages to ITV4, plus two one-hour shows to the main ITV channel.
TT racing is a phenomenon and the riders are unquestionably the bravest and daftest men and women in sport. Check it all out at the beginning of June.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


The media is like football. Money to burn at one end; barely enough to light a match at the other.
Chelsea can pay off Scolari's £6million a year contract while the likes of Morecambe and Chester can barely put 11 fit players on the park.
In the other crazy circus that is the media, Sky and Setanta can pay £1.78billion for rights to cover the Premier League while Barrow's local commercial radio station Abbey FM closes down.
Abbey's demise is more than the silencing of a community's voice. It is a sign that the big players who own most of our so-called "local" radio stations are not going to pussyfoot around when the going gets tough.
Abbey, which only gained a full licence in 2006, was owned by three large national companies: CN Group (owners of the Cumberland News newspaper group), TLRC (The Local Radio Company) and The Radio Business. One would have thought that set-up would have protected the station, but no. A town which started up its own radio station as a temporary project, then saw it blossom and be taken over by the big players, is left empty-handed. It would be nice to think that the chairmen of the three stakeholders would issue the same sort of grovelling apology as the bosses of our profligate banks. But don't hold your breath. Especially in Barrow, where they wouldn't be able to hear it anyway.

Monday, 9 February 2009


What a day! Adams out. Scolari out. And not just in sympathy with England's Test batsmen!
Bad news for big characters like these is good news for journalists. When things go wrong, public appetite for the media increases. People want to hear more, read more, and of course contribute more themselves via the numerous platforms which give everyone the chance to add their verdict.
Adams' exit was no surprise. Scolari's was. Chelsea's home form might not have been great but it's still a shock to see a man proven at the top level heading for the exit.
The day had already been significant for other, less spectacular reasons. Andrew Jennings, the sharpest thorn in the flesh of sports authorities worldwide, has resumed his attacks on FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. I won't flirt with the libel laws myself at the moment, but a visit to will reveal more.
Today has also seen the launch of a new organisation to reperesent the interests of sports newspapers. The International Association of Sports Newspapers is based in Paris and the founding members are two papers from Spain and one each from France, Italy, Brazil and Argentina. The website, currently under construction, is

Sunday, 8 February 2009


England's 51 all out against the West Indies in Jamaica was a spineless surrender and a national sporting disgrace.
The huge sums of money promised to Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff (£1.1m each) to play for three weeks in the Indian Premier League sit awkwardly with this debacle. How can sportsmen who are valued so highly deliver so miserably?
If sport is in a megastar era, paying megabucks, it deserves performances to match. Supporters will not go on settling for insults like the one at Sabina Park. A year or so ago, Anton Ferdinand's car was vandalised after a series of dismal displays by his West Ham team. Loyalty is not so blind as not to notice when the mickey is being taken.
Still, Geoffrey Boycott's verdict on England's innings should be worth waiting for. It'll probably last longer than that innings too.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


Jo looks like he will be a useful signing for Everton. He showed good touch and pace and was one of the key figures in Everton's 3-0 win over Bolton - scored two (one brilliant, the other a penalty) and created the other by inviting Andy O'Brien to trip him up which O'Brien obligingly did: another penalty, converted by Arteta.

Bolton were puzzlingly inert. A most un-Bolton-like performance, especially after their rousing finale against Spurs last week. Gary Megson made no excuses. Speaking to the press in the media room high up in the main stand, he described Bolton's performance as a non-event. "We will be relegated if we play like that." No-one could argue.

Can't help feeling that selling Kevin Nolan to Newcastle was a dumb move. Nolan's drive and commitment in midfield were missed today.

For Everton, Jo's debut reminded me of Duncan McKenzie's home debut for Everton some 30 years ago. The Brazilian wasn't as dominant as Duncan was on that day, but he produced the sort of skills which the Goodison crowd love, and scored one goal in open play and one penalty, just like McKenzie.


i-ontheball has been a blog-free zone recently. My excuse is that life has been very busy, but I guess it is when you are busy that blogging makes most sense. It's been a hectic time at the university with teaching back at full speed. Students in Year Three have been on placements and it's brilliant to discover how well they have done. The vast majority have had work published or aired and the feedback from host organisations has been uniformly positive.

Football assignments have taken me to the City of Manchester Stadium, the Reebok, and today I'm off to Everton v Bolton to see if either team can continue their encouraging form of last time out. I was there a week ago to see Bolton edge a lively game against Spurs with a late winner from Kevin Davies. Is it my imagination or have there been more crucial late goals this season than any other? It seems that every other week I and my fellow reporters have to do a late, hurried re-write when the game turns round in the final minutes and the Bolton game was yet another one.

At least by going to Everton in person I should be able to see the entire game, unlike the ITV audience for the replay against Liverpool.

But then, that is not entirely true. The view from the press box at dear old Goodison is so badly obstructed that the amount of action we can't see probably equates to the amount that ITV inadvertently blanked out on Wednesday.

Which brings me to one of the most significant developments of the week, and I'm not talking about Dan Gosling's goal, or even Setanta's retention of rights to Saturday football (which is good news for me personally). This week also saw the conclusion of the public inquiry into Everton's plans to build a new stadium in Kirkby. There are compelling arguments on both sides, and much for Hazel Blears to consider before she announces a decision. But beyond argument is the fact that Goodison Park is no longer abreast of modern stadia standards. The press facilities are just one example. In the 1970s, when I first turned up representing the Bootle Times, Everton and Aston Villa had the best media facilities. Since then, Villa have motored on, Arsenal, Manchester United and others have overtaken, and Everton have stayed rooted in a bygone age. Something has to change.

Liverpool fans gave their verdict on the Kirkby plan by throwing socks onto the pitch on Wednesday. It seems this was a symbolic insult, mocking Everton's plans by identifying them as "sock-robbers," a derogatory term for residents of Kirkby (and not one I'd heard till this week). It makes me wonder if those Liverpool fans are aware that two of the greatest players, Terry McDermott and Phil Thompson, came from Kirkby. And where is Liverpool FC's own academy? In Kirkby!