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.