Tag Archives: Fleet Street

Bigger than Manchester United: Two-faced Ferguson’s ego trip

11 May

I’ve met Sir Alex Ferguson on a couple of occasions (well, been in his company ) and I have to say it was a pleasant experience. Even if the Manchester United boss’s red-nosed jollity had been inspired by a glass or six of vintage vino.

So why do I find it so pleasant to see his 27-year reign at Old Trafford finally come to an end?
It’s not that I’m anti United — how can I be when half my family are dyed-in-the-wool Reds? It’s just that I have no time for two-faced people. And I’m afraid Fergie is a classic example of a split personality .
You can’t argue with the Scottish super-boss’s record as a football club manager. He has no peers in terms of success over more than two decades. What I find disgusting is that Mr McMighty has become bigger than Manchester United—and that his employers  allowed him to do so.
Fergie’s press conference bans on newspapermen who dare to criticise  him or his team  have become folklore in Fleet Street. One agency reporter felt the full weight of Fergie’s wrath  a while back just for asking a question about Ryan Giggs. But it was nothing new. Over the years, Fergie has slapped ridiculous sanctions dozens of journalists who dared to write or say something he didn’t like.
Sir Alex is vindictive with it, too. Not for him the “let bygones be bygones” approach. His ludicrous vendetta against the BBC went on for almost a decade—fuelled by a Panorama programme which investigated the business activities of his son Jason, who was then a football agent.
Another example of his petulance was the recall of two players on loan from United immediately after Preston North End sacked another of his sons, Darren.
The fact is that Sir Alex became the victim of his own success. He seems convinced that he is even closer to the Almighty than Jose Mourinho and the late Brian Clough.
And the United board are entirely to blame for the situation. Quite simply , they lacked the bottle to tell Ferguson ‘‘Either talk to the BBC along with the other broadcasting companies, or find yourself a new job.’’
OK, we all know what would have happened. United would have been looking for a new boss many years ago. That has been the problem at Old Trafford for a long time. Quite simply , the board were just as scared of Fergie as the frightened media rabbits who bowed and scraped to his every whim.
They humbled themselves in the eyes of the Mighty Dictator,  which makes me suspect that few of those who cover United matches on a regular basis always write exactly what they think.
And I find that very discomforting.
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Goodbye Daily Sport – you never were any good at figures!

9 Apr

Weren’t you gutted to hear that the seedy Sport Media Group founded by David Sullivan had gone into administration? Neither was I – apart from great sympathy for the 80 people who lost their jobs.

I detest the tackiness of the Daily and Sunday Sport so I’m glad to see the back of their smut. But I also have some unforgettable memories of the days I worked for the Daily Sport myself – and became the only journalist to be involuntarily pushed out of the door TWICE.

My career in journalism has embraced well over 30 years in what is still fondly called Fleet Street – mainly as a sub-editor but also as a writer and columnist.

I worked under charismatic editors ranging from the awesome Sir John Junor at the Sunday Express to the booming bullying of Kelvin Mackenzie at The Sun and the bloated arrogance of Piers Morgan at the Daily Mirror.

I also had both the pleasure and pain of twice working for Peter Grimsditch, the launch editor of the Manchester-based Daily Star in 1978 who some years later became inaugural editor of the Daily Sport.

Grimbles, as we called him, was simply brilliant with the Star’s launch team of journalists. By the time the paper first hit the news-stands, he had called every one of us into his office individually for a drink and a ‘meet the boss’ chat.

My chinwag lasted fully half an hour and sealed an instant bond which, long after we had both moved on to other newspapers, led to Grimsditch invitingme to join the Daily Sport team in its early days in 1991.

With virtually every national newspaper production team at this point operating exclusively in London, as someone whose heart was in Manchester, I actually jumped at the chance to sink into the gutter. After all, I was joining the paper’s one decent department – the sports desk, whose staff included some highly talented journalists.

And to avoid any embarrassment, I proceeded to hide my shame from my friends by telling them I was now freelancing rather than working for any individual title.

Most of the journalists on the Daily Sport were experienced national newspaper subs who simply wanted to stay in the North. It was much, much more than Sullivan deserved – but the fact is he had a captive market.

Anyway things went well until the pressure of trying to keep the title afloat started to get to Grimsditch. We all laughed when he suddenly issued a warning over staff using the office computer system to store private files, something we all did and which caused no harm whatsoever.

It all came to a head when he called me into his office one day and accused me of committing a criminal offence by using the office system to store minor details from a sports book I was writing. It was all trumped-up nonsense and I exploded.

It was like something out of a movie as I stormed out of Grimbles’ retreat and in a dramatic scene watched by the entire staff, yelled theatrically ‘‘I quit’’ before slamming his office door as hard as I could .

I swear the entire building shook and by the time I got home, a dispatch rider had already delivered a quickly dictated letter from Grimsditch accepting my resignation.

Two months later, sports editor Steve Millar phoned to tell me the Grim news that the Editor had himself been dismissed. ‘’Will you please come back – we need you,’’ he pleaded.

So back to Great Ancoats Street I went with a quiet snigger that the person responsible for my departure had himself been booted into oblivion.

A year or so later, Sullivan – dissatisfied with the economic state of his print empire, ordered a redundancy exercise which involved the sports desk being trimmed by three.

Unfortunately Sport Newspapers’ naïve management team failed to realise that certain procedures must be followed regarding redundancies and when Millar refused to single out three people, they took it upon themselves to do the job for him.

It was a mistake that ended with their representatives being ripped to shreds at an industrial tribunal. I and the two sports-desk colleagues who got the old heave-ho were awarded almost £30,000 between us, with the chairman intimating the figure would have been higher had he not be tied by a legal maximum.

I look back on it all today with some amusement – particularly at the memos the less-than-articulate Sullivan would circulate about his beloved Birmingham City. Indeed, I’m sure I still have copies of a couple of them somewhere.

At the time, the Blues were playing in the second tier (now the Championship) and the chairman was keen to put his players in the shop window at every opportunity in the hope one of the big clubs would come calling.

‘‘Whenever you mention our star striker Paul Peschisolido, please make sure you say ‘’£2million-rated Paul Peschisolido’’, he instructed the sports department. ‘‘And for all other Birmingham players, please put ‘‘£1million-rated’’ before their name.’’

I could throw in an anecdote or two about Sullivan’s protégé Karren Brady, who also put her oar in once or twice. But I’ll leave that for another day because I’ve kind of warmed to English football’s first female managing director over recent years.

So I’ll leave it to the men to moan about women ruining the game. Andy Gray, where are you?

Six areas where sports writers go wrong – the inside story

19 Feb

Having edited the work of leading British sports writers for more years than I care to remember, I can tell you that their articles are not always as well-written as you might think.

That is because, certainly in the tabloid world, the readability of a newspaper article is often down to a sub-editor’s fine-tuning rather than the author’s literary gifts.

In my early days as a Daily Express sub, we had a football reporter on the staff who regularly came up with great exclusives. But although he’d type up the news as an ‘article’, it was usually little more than a clumsily-written fact sheet.

Nobody cared, though, because the only thing that mattered was the story itself – and turning it into a back-page lead was usually a routine job for an experienced sub-editor.

In more recent times, one or two of Fleet Street’s top sports hacks had a reputation in the business for churning out pure gibberish rather than acceptable copy. And whilst I am not going to name the paper or writer concerned, I had the misfortune to be saddled on several occasions with subbing the investigative reports of one of the best known drivellers.

All I can say is that reading the final flowing version of his ramblings in the following morning’s edition was for me just about the ultimate in job satisfaction. Even if I still wasn’t sure what it was all about!

Sub-editors are what I call ‘desk reporters’ – journalists who work in an office environment editing and honing the work of those out in the field (or in the press boxes, to be more accurate).

Almost without exception, the subs have spent lots of time out there reporting before moving on into the sub-editing arena. It is rare indeed for someone to START his or her journalistic life as a sub-editor.

More often than not, the changeover is a conscious decision by writers with particularly high grammatical skills and a desire to work office hours rather than be farmed out on stories at all hours, day and night.

So what advice can I give to embryo sports journalists? What is the perception of someone who has been there and done it all towards the errors made by young writers developing their skills out in the big wide sporting world? Where do the reporters go wrong?

1/ Not checking the facts: Many writers just churn out copy off top of their heads and THINK they remember accurately. In the old days, reporters used reference books – it is so easy these days to carry out a quick internet search to establish the facts, but how many people actually bother to do it.

2/ Over-estimating the reader: Another common error is for the writer to assume readers know more than they actually do. I have edited match reports where the reporter hasn’t even included the score! So always think when you are writing whether you are providing everything the average reader would want to know.

3/ Spelling: This is usually the big difference between a reporter and a sub. With the sort of back-up subs provide, it doesn’t usually matter too much if a reporter can’t spell too well, as long as he or she is not completely dyslexic, of course! However, a sub who can’t spell would be as useful as a lifeguard who can’t swim. So if God hasn’t given you the gift of being able to spell (and word recognition IS a gift, not something that can really be learnt), then forget about ever becoming a sub-editor.

4/ Grammatical errors: Most people are aware that the infinitive and the verb should never be split, but how many people use expressions like ‘to brilliantly save from…’ or ‘to angrily remonstrate with the referee’? Those variances with correct grammar don’t really matter because few people realise it should be ‘to save brilliantly from’ or ‘to remonstrate angrily’. However, some expressions do grate – for instance, I find the phrase ‘‘in the back of the net’’ ludicrous. I mean, if the ball is in the back of the net, where is the FRONT of the net? The ball is in the net, end of story.

5/ Getting too technical: You’ll often find people writing about a football match as if it’s a game of chess – presumably to convey the impression they understand its complexities as well as those who coach and play at the highest level. Basically, football is a very simple exercise, though from reading what some of the so-called expert journalists churn out, you’d think it was rocket science.

6/ Amateur experts: Following on from the previous point, some writers think they know more than the REAL experts – namely the managers and the players. A writer is in a privileged position but if he has never played the game, is he REALLY qualified to slag off players for making mistakes? You can make an argument for saying ‘yes, anyone is qualified to criticise’, but it’s a debatable one. This is presumably why the TV channels use former professionals almost exclusively as their critics and summarisers – be it for football, rugby, cricket, tennis or whatever.

The above article, part of which I wrote during my time as managing editor of the Sportingo.com website, embraces my thoughts after 35 years of reporting, editing and headlining hundreds of sports stories for newspapers like the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Star, Sunday People and News of the World. I just hope it helps the next generation of sports writers in some small way…

From Liverpool to Leeds: Ten hilarious football tales

3 Jan

During my 30-plus  years working for national newspapers in the UK, I heard more 0ffbeat tales about sports celebrities than I care to remember – many of them first-hand from colleagues who were there at the time. You’ll find links to a whole series of anecdotes on the Home Page of  this website – but here are a few tasters to get your laughter buds baying for more. And yes, I do suspect one or two of the stories may be apocryphal. But who cares as long as they make people smile…

LATE NIGHT EXTRA: Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was fuming on the night several of his superstars arrived back at their Belgian hotel 45 minutes later than the boss. ”Where do you lot think you’ve been?’’ blazed Shanks as international quartet Ron Yeats, Ian St John, Roger Hunt and Ian Callaghan returned from a drinking session well after the boss’s midnight curfew. ”That’s it!’’ he ranted at Yeats, St John and Hunt. ”You’ll never play for Liverpool again – and you can forget about international football as well. You’re finished!.’’ Then, turning to his blue-eyed boy Callaghan, he added: ”And I’m going to tell your missus about you.”

DON’T CRY FOR LEE: Manager Gordon Lee wanted a word with his Newcastle chairman Stan Seymour. He marched into the club chief’s office, only to be told by a secretary: ‘’Mr Seymour is not available. He’s gone to see Evita.’’ Lee retorted: ‘’I don’t think so. He wouldn’t go and watch a foreign player without telling me first.’’ When Lee moved on to manage Everton, the Merseyside media soon discovered his geographical knowledge matched his familiarity with Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. After a dismal showing in a home Cup Winners’ Cup leg against Standard Liege, defiant Gordon looked ahead to the return in Belgium and rapped: ‘’Just wait until we get them in Standard!’’

EMMY AWARD: Hard-man Tommy Smith had two pet hates in football – Leeds United’s Allan Clarke and his own skipper at Liverpool, Emlyn Hughes. And not necessarily in that order. When Hughes clashed with Clarke in a goalmouth melee and old squeaky voice Emlyn found himself on the deck with blood pouring from his nose, Smithy showed himself in his true colours. ”Maybe that Clarke’s not such a bad bloke after all,” muttered Tom the compassionate.

CROTCH OF THE DAY:
With manager Jock Stein in hospital, Celtic No.2 Sean Fallon was dealing with press enquiries at Parkhead. When one reporter phoned to enquire about an injury to Scotland full-back Danny McGrain, Irishman Fallon admitted: ‘’I don’t think he’ll make Saturday’s game. He’s suffering from a Grain stroin.’’

GENTLE-MAN JIM: It threatened to be a bloody battle. Spurs and Burnley had fought out a particularly vicious FA Cup stalemate – and the replay promised to be even more physical. The teams were kicking in before the game when Jimmy Greaves, who was never noted for his ball-winning ability, approached his equally timid-tackling opposite number Jimmy McIlroy. ‘’Hey Jim, why don’t we mark each other?,’’ said goal-king Greavsie. ‘’Then neither of us will get hurt.’’

TOM AND JURY: Tommy Docherty was always the first person to poke fun at himself – as with his version of the

Tommy Docherty: Success as a failure

infamous court case in which he was accused of perjury – and acquitted. ‘’I admitted to the judge I’d lied on oath, but he didn’t believe me,’’  is one of the one-time Manchester United boss’s classic quips. Tongue-in-cheek Tom is also particularly proud of his dubious achievement as manager of Rotherham United. ‘‘I promised the chairman I’d get them out of the Second Division (now the Championship) and I did,’’ he recalls. ‘’I took them into the Third.’’

EIRE RAID WARNING: League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers were convinced they had the answer to mighty Honved of Hungary in the European Cup, The lads from Dublin trailed 2-0 from the away leg, but on the eve of the return manager Jim McLaughlin unveiled a unique plan for beating the magnificent Magyars. ‘’We’ll be concentrating on all-out attack…mixed with caution,’’ he insisted. No prizes for guessing who won the tie 5-1 on aggregate.

BETTER BY CALF: England legend Nat Lofthouse reckons he was frightened of his own Bolton teammates in his playing days. Well, two of them anyway. Full-backs Roy Hartle and Tommy Banks had such a fearsome reputation that striker Lofthouse maintained: ‘’When they were playing behind me I used to put shin guards on the back of my calves.’’

THE BALD TRUTH: Rival Midlands bosses Ron Atkinson and Jim Smith decided to travel together to a dinner they were both attending. Their teams had been having mixed fortunes, with Atkinson’s West Brom near the top of the old First Division (the Premier League’s predecessor) and Smith’s Birmingham seemingly heading for relegation. They pulled their vehicle into a multi-storey car park near the function venue, left it on the top deck, and got into the lift. Big Ron turned to the Bald Eagle and quipped: ‘’You’d better press the button because it’s you who’s going down.’’

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY: Peter Withe’s whip-round was apparently for the driver taking the Aston Villa players to their pre-season friendly in Dusseldorf. But the man behind the steering wheel didn’t get a pfennig. Withe invested the money in an inflatable rubber sex doll, which was duly named Doris and went on to become part of Villa folklore. The obliging lady was adorned with the number 12 on her back – and the name of newlywed Colin Gibson’s wife across her torso. She was then left in a suitably compromising position in Gibson’s room at the team hotel. Gibbo was not amused – and poor Doris proved no match for him or the pair of scissors with which he cut her to shreds.

FOR MORE OF DONNA’S SPORTING ANECDOTES, CLICK ON THE SPORTS FUNNIES LINKS ON THE RIGHT OF THIS PAGE.