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.