Two things this week reminded me how sport – and sports reporting – has changed since I started in the business almost 25 years ago.
The first was a meeting with the architects of Tottenham’s proposed new stadium, to discuss the press box and media facilities. I was there on behalf of the Football Writers’ Association, and we always try to have some input at the early stages of planning to ensure that a media facility will suit the purpose of those who will be using it.
Seeing the impressive plans for the new stadium, which will be almost on the same site as White Hart Lane is now, reminded me how football has grown over the past 20 or so years. When I started covering top-flight football, shortly before Italia ’90, hardly a single club had a dedicated press officer. Usually there was a part-time programme editor, and by the early 90s the bigger clubs started to develop their own magazines and club call-style telephone services. But most of these were done by journalism agencies such as Hayters, and the clubs did not see the need to employ anyone other than a steward or two to help out in the press box.
Now all clubs have dedicated press officers, and some have a media ‘team’ of 12 or more – more than their first team. The requirements are many – dealing with media requests from all over the world, overseeing interviews, putting together the club programme, magazine, website, Facebook page, Twitter account and even TV channel.
And with the proliferation of platforms, so the numbers and needs of the media have mushroomed. When Tottenham’s press box was redesigned in the 1980s, it was comfortably big enough for the media covering matches. Now it is packed to bursting point, with the club struggling to accommodate all the requests. Although Premier League guidelines are very basic and out of date, UEFA’s regulations for Champions and Europa League matches are more demanding and in step with the modern media – up to 200 seats in a press box for group games, rising to over 300 for the knockout stages. A state of the art stadium like the Emirates will also have state of the art facilities, with high speed wireless broadband, a huge working area inside, and a lecture theatre-style room for press conferences. This is what Tottenham will be emulating, and it should make life more comfortable for the demands of the modern media.
And how they have grown! The second event this week that illustrated this was the Daily Telegraph sports desks’ Christmas party. Only a handful of staff remain from the first one I attended, 21 years ago, and the way we all work has changed beyond recognition. Back then reporters would file a match report by phone to copytakers after a game, and that was pretty much it. Now the job involves filing live copy, text updates, two or three versions for web, blogs, webchats, and rolling coverage of the major sporting events. The subeditors and production staff no longer have to get out just a newspaper – there is the website, the iPad app, the mobile version, Telegraph TV. It is a world away from how it was when I started but the essence of reporting on football is still the same. There is nothing to beat the excitement of turning up to a match not knowing what will happen, what the story will be, who are going to be the heroes and villains. And reporting on the unfolding events and seeing your work the next day – or in case of web coverage an hour or two later – is the reason we do it.
Gerry Cox is one of England’s leading football writers and former Chairman of the Football Writers’ Association. He has covered well over 1000 matches including four World Cups and four European Championships. He currently runs the Hayters Sports reporting agency and writes for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.
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