It might be something of a handicap when it comes to writing about football, but I hate football news. I hate rolling updates, 24-7 feeds direct from UEFA HQ via the “Sky News Centre” – a grimy warehouse of a building on the outskirts of an industrial park west of London, if you’re wondering – and in-depth analysis. I hate the fact that players are snapped leaving some fashionable bar at 4 o’clock in the morning with a lolling page 3 girl tucked under their arm… not because I give a damn what Joe Cole gets up to on a night out, mind you, but because I fail to understand why anyone bar his manager and employers should give two hoots. I don’t pay his wages, after all. Oh, I contribute to the coffers of the organisation that employs him, but I don’t feel that that entitles me to some sort of say in how much he gets or how he lives his life. I just want to watch the game, shout a bit, sing a few songs, have a beer and go home.
One of the biggest problems with the 24-hour coverage that modern media seems to think we supporters need (please, Christ, get me a Chelsea fix… it’s been 20 minutes and I’m getting the shakes… if you don’t tell me which restaurant Ricardo Carvalho ate in last night, and whether he ordered the langoustine or the ham hock, I’ll be forced to go out and score crack) is the onus it places on the reporters themselves. Before anyone is tempted to add an acerbic comment to the end of this article, please bear in mind that I don’t count myself as one of the shrieking harridans or bellowing Garys that live on the fourth council estate. This article is written for free. And yes, you do get what you pay for.
Where were we? Oh yes, poor reporters. See, everything has to be puffed. Everything needs its angle. I’m not suggesting that this in itself is anything new – finding the angle is, of course, one of the cornerstones of investigative journalism – but when it comes to the great game, we now appear to need to make personalities of our footballing stars and their managers. Each press conference is littered with controversy. Each goal celebration is taken apart, analysed, and put back together in an attempt to garner every last vestige of insight. Why didn’t Ronaldo smile as he returned to scoring ways? Was he mourning for Madrid? Was he suffering from a touch of the gripes? Or was he, in fact, just not smiling? Who gives a damn?
Then we have headlines that run thusly: Chelsea So Cocky They’re Booking Euro Final Hotel.
Now, I’ve seen footage of the press conference in which this little gem came up. And the headline that reported this nugget, factoid, call it what you will, reminded me irresistibly of the days of Mourinho. Because José gave such good press, everything and anything he said was worth at least a few column inches on all but the busiest of news days. And usually, the way it worked was like this:
Reporter: José, people are saying that Liverpool don’t have the strength in depth to win the title this season. What do you think?
Mourinho: You could be right.
Next day’s headline: Liverpool Can’t Win Title, Taunts Mourinho.
By the same token, Felipe Scolari – accompanied by the monosyllabic and deeply uncomfortable Salomon Kalou – was giving his usual jovial hap’orth to the assembled press corps at the rather swish Cavalieri Hotel in Rome. What do you think, Felipe, asked a nearby press wag… would you book this place for the final?
“it’s a beautiful hotel with great views,” enthused our Brazilian manager. “If the hotel accepts, we’ll book it.”
Collective chuckles. A little verbal sparring. And the press conference ended.
The thing is, these people know they’re making it up. They’re laughing at you. When you – the Liverpool fan, the Arsenal fan, whoever – jump on the message boards and forums to spit “arrogant tw*t” and “typical Chelsea”, the journalists that wrote this crap are sitting around a keyboard in some grey little building laughing themselves silly. Look, Desmond. I just wave the little red rag and off they go. Who shall we do tomorrow?