Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Paul Hayward - The Observer

Journalistic license to thrill

In an age where most people choose to digest their news intake online for free, one journalist - for me anyway - has ensured that every Sunday, I make the journey from EFW Towers to the newsagents to procure a Sunday newspaper.

As he lives locally, the EFW team often see Observer journalist Paul Hayward on Saturday mornings at Brighton station; he on his way to Villa Park or Old Trafford, us en route to Weston-super-Mare FC or similar outpost.

It was Hayward who gave European Football Weekends our first big break whilst it was still very much in its infancy. He gave us a mention during his stint with the Daily Mail which sent our 'hits counter' into orbit. Since then we've both moved on to, ahem, award winning success. Whilst we're busy polishing our When Saturday Comes Web Award, Hayward can point to his 2 (two!) x Sports Journalist of the Year gongs.

They say don't interview your heroes - so I didn't. I did however help compile a few questions for our good friend James Boyes, who got together with Paul for the following article which appeared in the Lewes FC programme on Boxing Day:

Hi Paul, thanks for talking the time out to do this interview. Can I first ask you about your personal links with Lewes? My family has been in Lewes for generations. My Grandfather was Mayor in the 1950s and my Dad played football and rugby in the town. My Uncle John was a fast-bowling stalwart of Lewes cricket club. I think of it as my home-town.

You’re a keen follower of Brighton & Hove Albion, but how much do you follow Sussex sport in general? I believe everything starts with grass-roots sport - with coaching, clubs and facilities, so I keep a close eye on events in Sussex. Withdean, the Dripping Pan, Hove (for the cricket) and Brighton racecourse are my main haunts. I just wish Lewes racecourse hadn't closed, because that's where I fell in love with racing, watching the horses on the gallops.
Do you think that the Albion's new stadium at Falmer can have positive knock-on effects for football in the rest of the county? Definitely. New stadiums revive sport for miles around. They perk everything up and inspire people. I like to think of Brighton as Sussex FC in a way and I'd like to see the closest possible links between the Seagulls and other Sussex clubs so we produce more players of Gareth Barry's quality [nb Barry was born in Hastings].

Have you been aware of the plight of Lewes FC in recent months? Yes, I've followed it closely. Some of my old school friends are able to go more often than me, and one - Nick Metcalfe - organised a fund to buy a share. I've a nasty feeling he bought a mountain bike with the money. Only joking! When clubs are in danger you see how much people care. The supporters saved the Albion for instance.

I guess you’re busy most Saturdays but do you ever get the chance to see much non-league football? Only at Lewes, and occasionally Eastbourne Borough. I tell my colleagues how good the football is at the Dripping Pan. Carpet football, as Bobby Robson liked to say. I couldn't enjoy it as much if it was kick and rush.

What do you think of the divide between the top echelons of the game and the lower levels like Blue Square? I've always felt the whole game needs to stay connected from top to bottom, so youngsters especially can see the path from non-league to Premier League. Football is embedded in our national culture and I hate it when people at the top think they can cut just the lower leagues adrift. Every player England will take to the World Cup in South Africa started at a small club and worked his way up. Football's not a business, it's a passion.

Talking about the business side of things, how long do you think it'll be before we see a Premiership club go out of business? As I write this, Portsmouth are in desperate trouble. Any organisation that pays out 80 per cent or more of its income in wages is dicing with death. I think we may have exhausted the wave of foreign 'investors' (I prefer to call them speculators, because most of them use other people's money). Would Abramovich have bought Chelsea now?

Are you happy with the direction that football seems to be going? I think we're reaching the point where cheating is becoming endemic: diving, feigning injury, hand-balls etc. There's always been an intolerance of cheating among English crowds, and I hope that continues, or it could end up as an accepted part of the game.

A lot of people I speak to are turned off by the greed of the Premier League - £70m to agents in a single year, and so on. But there's something hypnotic about the best games between the top four sides. Arsenal v Manchester United is the best match-up of attacking styles. English football is slightly crazed, but you can't take your eyes off it.

Do you think that the stereotype of a professional footballer is a fair one? Most of them are solid citizens, despite the amazing wealth, but Premier League managers all say it's no fun trying to control a lad who's a multi-millionaire by the age of 21. The modern player is incredibly powerful. He doesn't obey the old rules. And many agents are a menace.

Have you found a change in attitude of the modern day footballer in recent years given that they seem to have everything they want and more these days? Roy Hodgson [Fulham Manager] told me the other day that the average modern player is more remote, more detached. He thinks the old camaraderie is harder to generate because players are often just passing through.

That's why I like strong homegrown players. Carragher and Gerrard at Liverpool; Scholes, Giggs and Gary Neville at Manchester United. They protect a team's identity, they give the club a core.

In the year of Bloodgate, cheating allegations in F1 and Henry’s handball, do you think that there is any place now for Corinthian values in sport? Without the laws of the game, it's just a meaningless free for all. Bobby Robson's chairman at Ipswich, John Cobbold, used to say to him: "Bobby, you have to love the game more than the prize." I know it's romantic, but that's the truth of it, to me. Can Thierry Henry be proud of the way France qualified for the World Cup?

Whilst we’re on the subject of Henry’s Handball, are you in favour of TV replays for major football matches? How do you think it could work? Goal-line technology has to come. It's insane that a multi-million pound event can be determined by a mistaken assessment of whether a ball has crossed a line. We live in the CCTV capital of the world, but we won't put a camera in a stanchion. The other areas are more debatable.

I'd like to see reviews of disputed handballs in the penalty area and dives. The really big moments that affect the game's outcome should be reviewed, where necessary, as they are, say, in international rugby, when a player scores a disputed try.

You went to the World Cup draw in Cape Town earlier in the month. What was it like hanging out with Becks and Charlize? Odd! You'd drive past a vast township of tin shacks and no running water and then see a new stadium the size of Wembley, or Charlize Theron talking in her Beverly Hills accent as a representative of the new South Africa. Lots of contradictions, but a real sense that Africa deserves this World Cup, and will make a success of it.

Are you going to cover the World Cup for the Guardian /Observer next year? Yes, I'll probably be based mainly with England. The camp can get a bit fevered, but Fabio Capello will stop it turning into another Baden Baden. There'll be no Wags dancing on tables.

How do you rate England’s chances? England are football's eternal quarter-finalists. In the 12 World Cups they've contested, they've gone out at that stage six times. But Capello is special. He could make the difference in those tight knock-out games. But I still don't think England play possession football as well as the superpowers - that's our undoing against the really big teams. I'd say semi-finals, this time.

Who do you think is going to win? Spain, if they maintain their European Championship winning form. A wonderful team. But Brazil have developed a lethal counter-attacking style and are well-drilled by their manager Dunga.

Are there any matches that you’re particularly looking forward to? In the group stage, Brazil v Portugal is the highlight. Ronaldo v Kaka, Anything involving Argentina and Maradona will be interesting; he's a reporter's dream! Thierry Henry's first appearance for France could be lively. They'll be cheering him on in Dublin.

Who will be the dark horses? One of the African teams will be inspired to launch a serious challenge. Ivory Coast should go well.

Who are you backing for the Golden Boot? Fernando Torres, if he's fit. A sublime striker. Brazil's Luis Fabiano has emerged from left-field to become a superb finisher.

Do you think England have a good chance of hosting the 2018 World Cup? The Board [behind England’s bid] were fighting like ferrets in a sack but they seemed to have calmed down now and they performed well, with David Beckham's help, at the World Cup draw. England's case is strong, but politics could still get in the way.

Jetting around the world reporting on football - I’m sure I’m not speaking just for myself when I say that your job must be the envy of many people. What’s a typical match day like for you? Well I'd get to the ground two hours before kick-off, make my notes, moan about the decline of newspapers with colleagues and then set my lap-top up in the press box to file soon after the whistle. For the first edition you might have to write 900 words in 15 minutes, which is a bit of a nerve-shredder. World Cup quarter-finals that go to penalties are hell.

Is there a sport you prefer to write about other than football? Football and boxing are my two favourite sports to write about. A lot of the best sports writing comes from the ring because boxing is so extreme, so rich in characters.

How did you get to the Guardian? Advice for any youngsters hoping to follow in your footsteps? I started as a trainee journalist with the Racing Post and worked my way on to Fleet Street from there. My advice is to think beyond newspapers to multi-media careers. Get published wherever possible and always look for fresh ideas. The media is ideas-driven. You'll hit lots of walls but don't give up.
What's your view on people paying for reading online content on newspaper websites? Until now we've given our newspapers away free online. I've never seen the sense in that, because they cost fortunes to produce, but if we suddenly start charging, people might just go the BBC site. The Guardian website has 33 million users but it's not profitable. It's a real conundrum.

A couple of weeks ago Ryan Giggs was crowned BBC Sports Personality, but who are/have been your favourite sporting personalities? As well as Ryan Giggs, I admire Roger Federer, A P McCoy, Zinedine Zidane, Jonny Wilkinson, to name a few.

We recently asked supporters to name their Lewes team of the decade, but who would be in your Premiership team of the decade? There are lots of permutations, but how about this one, which is a good mixture of steel and skill:

Pepe Reina; Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Patrice Evra; Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs; Thierry Henry

What do you think has been the most significant sporting event of the past decade? Probably Usain Bolt demolishing the world 100m and 200m records. Or Federer beating Pete Sampras' Grand Slam record.

And finally, the $64 000 000 question: Do you know anyone with loads of money who wants to buy Lewes? I'll ask around! I interviewed Gareth Barry recently and asked him to ride to the rescue. It's painful but Lewes will emerge stronger and wiser.

Thanks for your time Paul, it’s been a very interesting interview. Have a good New Year and don’t forget that you’re always welcome at the Dripping Pan whenever you get the opportunity. Thank you, I’ll try and get to a game over the next few weeks. Best wishes to Lewes and all the club’s supporters for the New Year.

- Feel free to comment below -


Danny Last said...

A couple of things to add here. Firstly, Mr Hayward emeithered into EFW Towers today with this:

Hi Danny

Good to hear from you. Your site looks better than ever and I can see you're really on the march.
Very kind of you to reproduce my Lewes interview. Relieved that the Rooks have been saved from insolvency.

See you soon, I hope


Top man - as we already knew!

Secondly, with regards to the interesting debate about paying for online media; here is the view of Satirist and author Will Self:

The problem is that sooner or later the public's going to wake up and realise that they don't want to know the opinions of Gary Down The Pub - there is something that professional journalists bring to the equation that isn't supplied promiscuously by the internet. The model for money to be made through the internet by journalism hasn't arrived yet and we're in a very difficult position because we're going to lose newsgathering operations. I find it very worrying, actually. Once they're gone it'll be very difficult to get them back again.

There you go folks - Paul Hayward and Will Self in one comment. All for free.

Lanterne Rouge said...

Fascinating stuff - a real coup to get this interview - there should be more interviews in the blogosphere. This inspires me to track down some ex Championship stars for our own blog