A day in the life of a hack

Illustration: Monica Burns
Illustration: Monica Burns
Illustration: Monica Burns

Football reporting appears to be a glamorous job. If you take the Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday or the BBC’s Match of the Day as the gold stand­ard then football coverage – wheth­er it be commentary, punditry or presenting – appears to be a pretty nifty gig.

You get to watch the crème de la crème on a regular basis, complimentary tickets for the finest seats in the finest stadiums are thrown at you, you have unprecedented access to managers and chairmen and, for the egotistical, you get an incredibly high profile for merely saying what people say in pubs by being able to say it on national television.

That’s fine if you cover one of the big clubs. If you cover a club which is out of the limelight, how­ever, then the aching gap between the mega-money of the Premier League and the pennies of the rest is only emphasised further.

Speaking to Hazel Irvine for a previous issue of The Saint, she spoke of having to scale a tem­porary press pen in the swirling wind and rain at Burntisland for a Scottish Cup tie. While she admit­ted that she enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t quite covering the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games. Therefore I decided to hit the local beat to see what it is like to cover football at the coalface.

For a dosage of gritty reality I went to Dundee. Having enjoyed my dalliance with city life – pound shops and high levels of carbon monoxide being spouted from the riparian buses on the city streets – I made my way to Dens Park, home of local Scottish Championship club Dundee, to cover their match against Queen of the South, the only team to be mentioned in the Bible apparently.

Conditions in the press box in the historic, mothball stocked Main Stand were positively bibli­cal. A chill ran through my veins as the increasingly swampy pitch turned a shade of quagmire. My notepad was also sodden, which threatened to put my journalistic endeavours at risk. As the flood­lights flickered on, however, the stands began to fill up and the waft of Bovril soothed my nostrils. I realised that this was quintessentially Scottish football weather.

The atmosphere in the press box was incredibly clubbable. Team sheets were shared out, stories ex­changed and jokes guffawed at. In the pre-game build up I managed to chat to The Sunday Post’s man in Dundee about the life of a local hack. Brooding, he said that it was a great job to have but now, semi-re­tired, he enjoyed picking and choos­ing his matches to cover. “Because a 12 hour stint in Glasgow then having to drive back on a Saturday when winter is approaching isn’t fun.” I can see why. To get your ‘in’, as it were, in this business you have to grease palms, travel far and wide and have an almost academic retention of information and statis­tics from not only this season but years gone by. As Gary Lineker sits on the Match of the Day sofa pontifi­cating, he belies the hard work that goes behind reporting and covering football.

The teams emerged onto the swampy Dens’ pitch to the strains of Scottish singer Hector Nichol’s ballad Up Wi The Bonnets, which features such stirring lyrics as, “There’s many a battle been fought on this field and there’s many a team learned that Dundee never yield”. They don’t write them like that anymore.

It is days like this, in a just-under half-full sta­dium with football being played in horrendous conditions with a fair amount of long ball going on, which gives Scottish football such a bad name. It was blood and thun­der; there were plenty of fruity tackles in the mud, goal line clear­ances and cross bars saving the day but these were balanced out by the poor first touch, woeful passing and generally inept finishing which were all prolific during an at times dull tie. There was one bright spot however; young Dundee starlet Craig Wighton deserves tremen­dous credit for being the only man on the park who could pass with precision.

Despite being only 16, the Scottish media are already touting him for a move to a bigger club. The match trundled on, with a 2-1 win coming for the home side in the dy­ing embers of the final minute which sent the home support into a rap­turous rendi­tion of Hey Jude.

While the Dark Blue massive headed off to jive in Fat Sam’s, the press centre was a hive of activity as the professionals in the room filed match reports and hunted players down for quotes.

It was here that many bad cli­chés about footballers were played out; phrases such as “solid per­formance” or “credit to the boys” were lashed out with gay abandon in what was a surprisingly infor­mal press gathering with players and management stopping to chat, something far removed from the highly choreographed press confer­ences that Manchester United hold. The man from The Sunday Post said that this was the most stressful time of the day, making sure that your copy was in on time and his feverish scribbling paid tribute to that.

It was a worthwhile experience to see that inner workings of a football club which are not of­ten in the lime­light in terms of learning how to com­pose a match report, live report on a game and develop your in­terview techniques it is probably a rather tranquil way to do it. After all, John Motson had to start from somewhere.

The Saint would like to thank Dundee Football Club for providing media ac­creditation for this match and their ex­cellent hospitality. The Saint will also be at their next match against Raith Rovers FC on 9 November which will be the start of our “Local Heroes” se­ries, which will feature clubs from in and around North East Fife.



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