Ingle all the way
Sit up straight, arms folded, behave yourself and no talking at the back. We've only got the Guardian.co.uk's Sports Editor (Editor!) on the line. Sean Ingle, for it is he, has been doing that job for six years, been working there for ten and, furthermore, he's bloody good at it.
You'll know by now that I keep going back to the well marked 'Guardian' for these interviews. That's because to my mind, nobody comes close to matching their output. Factor in the Football Weekly podcast and The Fiver and it not only enriches our knowledge and enjoyment of football - it makes us chortle along the way. What's not to like in that?
If you're aware of a better career progression than Sean's - starting with working for Motor Cycle News, Fore! and Total Sport before becoming Guardian Sports Editor and sitting in on Maradona press conferences at World Cup finals - then drop us a line. Anyway, enough of me for now, aside from some mandatory poor questioning, it'll be Ingle all the way:
Hi Sean, thanks for talking to EFW. Are you looking forward to the new season or do you need a long break after the World Cup? No worries – I am a big fan of the site. When I was younger I travelled as a punter to Milan, Prague, Rome and Madrid to watch games with mates so I know where you’re coming from. We’d always book the most ridiculously cheap and early flight, usually from Stansted, sleep three to a room, walk around a city till our feet were red-raw and blistered and take in a match, on the terraces if possible. Sound familiar? Being pelted with coins and bottles by away fans while watching the likes of Zidane, Nedved and many greats as Lazio took on Juventus in 2001 was one of many, many highlights - and it’s not every day you’re flashed while walking back from the San Siro with Sid Lowe after watching Milan v Juve … but that’s another story for another day.
Regarding the break, I personally think that the one good idea Sepp Blatter has ever had is a global calendar with one month off every year – and I certainly wouldn’t mind a bit more of a break before the new season. This piece written in 2006, sums up how I feel: “Football has become a year-round fandango, the baton passed from one season to the next with the blurring speed of a sprint relay … Football in the summer months used to be anonymous. Players would run hills and shed pounds, amble through a few low-key friendlies and then the season would start. TV companies were rarely interested in pre-season matches. When ITV started showing the Makita International in the late 1980s it was an exotic curiosity, like Andy Cole in an Arsenal shirt … [But] there are better things to do in July. Enjoy the summer sports, go to the seaside, become reacquainted with your family - anything. Because it is only when you are deprived of something you love - and, yes, that includes football - that you truly miss it.”
What was your World Cup highlight both on and off the park? The best game I saw in the flesh was Uruguay v Ghana, although I was also fortunate enough to be at Slovenia v USA, Spain v Chile and Cameroon v Denmark. Of the 13 games I went to, there were only two absolute stinkers – Slovenia v Algeria and Paraguay v Japan – so I was pretty lucky. An off-the-park highlight is trickier, because I only had one day off in four weeks and my routine was basically get up, live blog for a few hours, drive to a press conference/write a preview piece for the paper, report on a match, bed, and repeat. So, from a small list, it’d either be the giddy exuberance in South Africa when Bafana Bafana drew their opening game or visiting the Apartheid museum.
You had a few problems finding your seat at a couple of matches which caused a bit of amusement back here. Was the tournament well organised or organised chaos for the media? Apart from two incidents in Pretoria – being assigned a seat No13 that didn’t exist (there was a 12 and a 14 but no 13!) and being given a ticket in row of seats that just weren’t there – everything went fairly smoothly. The media are spoilt at World Cups: there are TVs on every desk that show highlights and live stats, wi-fi to research and file, and you even get free bottles of water when its hot, so we can’t complain. But reporting from games is generally much easier than it was when I started out. For evening games back in the day reporters had to phone copytakers - always lovely Northern ladies - before the match with teams and formations, at half-time with half the copy, on 70 minutes with another chunk of text and on 85 minutes with the top and tail. It wasn't easy doing it from places like Millwall when you could hardly make yourself heard over the din - and it was a nightmare when nothing happened before half-time and then there were lots of late goals.
So how long after a match are you expected to have your report online? We have to file on, or sometimes just before, the final whistle, which is fine for match reports but sometimes trickier for blogs/sidebar pieces when an obvious subject doesn’t suggest itself in the first half. There were a couple of times when I had 400 words still to write with 20 minutes to go and experienced mild panic - until several shots of adrenaline kicked in and everything was suddenly all right. I should also mention that we get an hour after the final whistle for a rewrite, which allows us to bring in managers’ quotes and – hopefully – add a little finesse to the prose.
Move over Paul the octopus, you were the real star of the World Cup predictions weren't you? I did pretty well tipping Spain to beat Holland in the final, England to be knocked out in the second round, Uruguay to do better than everyone expected, David Villa to be top scorer, and the lack of technology ruining a couple of big games. But while watching a lot of world football certainly helped realistically assess most teams' chances, I’m not kidding myself: there was a lot of luck involved too.
A lot of the television pundits took a critical kick to the jubulanis. Would you like to exchange your laptop for a place on the Match of the Day sofa? No. Anyone who has seen my infrequent appearances on TV would agree that it’s best that I stick to editing, writing, and occasionally podcasting on Football Weekly.
A recent report in the New York Times suggested online journalists are facing an early burnout becoming frantic and fatigued at the fast moving nature of new media. How is your health old chap? I was a bit frazzled after the World Cup, but that was only to be expected after so many 12-16 hour days. And it's the World Cup so you've got to give it everything. But journalism is changing: there are very few 'paper' and 'online' journalists at the Guardian any more - most people work for whatever platform needs them. That clearly brings certain challenges, but the Guardian is very conscientious about paying back lieu days and making sure its staff get adequate time off. And it is certainly sounds a nicer place to work than some other publications I know of, where 9am-9pm shifts can be the norm.
Do you have time to read any football blogs? I read several regularly - including yours, Zonal Marking, Arseblog etc - as well as popular club message boards.
The Football Weekly Podcast is an absolute gem. Do you get time to listen to your competition; Football Ramble, Game Podcast, Two Footed Tackle, The Real FA Cup etc and indeed etc? Not as much as I probably should. I usually listen to Football Ramble and the Game podcast most weeks but that’s about it.
Nailing our colours to the mast, we belong to Jimbo here at EFW. Do you? James Richardson is brilliant. He’s knowledgeable, funny, stiletto-heel sharp - and, just as importantly, he’s just like that off screen too. I’m amazed that a mainstream broadcaster isn’t paying him gazillions to front their football coverage. I've heard it said he's too highbrow for the mainstream but that's surely ridiculous. Do we really want to live in a world where presenters and pundits trade cliches and monosyllables?
I couldn't agree more. Anyway, hang on a minute - what's all this about a 'Pirate Shop' in Kings Cross that you visit? Is that Glendenning on the wind up or is there something you should be telling us? Barry is definitely winding you up there. What else did he tell you?!
Erm....*thinking quickly* I hear you're actually quite a handy player yourself? I was decentish when I was a kid. I played in goal for my county from U13 to U19 level and had trials with a couple of league clubs, but ultimately I just wasn’t good enough.
With respect to, ahem, Motor Cycle News, you must be happier covering football nowadays. Do you follow any other sports? I hated living in Kettering and knew nothing about motorbikes, but I learned a hell of a lot at Motor Cycle News. Several of the staff were 30-something blokes who had worked on national newspapers, and so standards were high. I could have done without being ridden around the outskirts of Kettering on a Honda Super Blackbird at 155mph as part of my initiation, mind. As for other sports, I follow pretty much all of them – particularly boxing, tennis and darts – although F1 does nothing for me.
As we speak you're approaching 10,000 Twitter followers - incidentally, you have 100 more than Barry Glendenning - is the Guardian office a competitive place or do you pretend you're not too bothered by it all? Is it that many? I use TweetDeck so it’s not immediately apparent. Let me check on Twitter.com now. Ah, you're spoofing me - it's not even 9,000! I can honestly say that Barry and I have never discussed our number of Twitter followers. Our betting success, or lack of, come Monday morning on the other hand ...
Should we pay to read your online work on The Guardian website? 'Should we pay' is less important than 'Will people pay'. Because the evidence so far suggests they won't, unless it's specialised content. I'm not ideologically opposed to the Times' paywall. It's just a practical thing: people have got used to getting content for free and I can't see that changing any time soon. So, we're left with the billion dollar question: can newspaper websites sites make enough in online advertising and sponsorship to cover the decline in paper sales and classified ads? That's the road the Guardian has gone down and, for the sake of all of us in the industry, I hope it works. If not, my fear is that there may not be a right way; and that all roads - paywall, free, whatever - will lead to the same ending. Death.
Philosophically I agree with David Mitchell's recent piece in The Observer that "we have to find a way of continuing to pay journalists and editors for professionally produced content". Because without adequate recompense, how does David Leigh have the time to expose Jonathan Aitken's lies? How can David Conn afford to spend days digging through a football club's accounts to expose wrongdoing? And Jonathan Wilson, good though he is, would not know nearly as much about football tactics if he hadn't spent years interviewing the likes of Arrigo Saachi and other top coaches across Europe. Good journalism usually costs.
That's it Sean, thanks again for your time and keep up the splendid work old chap. No worries. But I'm surely not that old - I have a couple of years on Barry Glendenning, Rafa Honigstein and James Richardson!
You'd be a lemon not to download the Football Weekly podcast for free and get The Fiver delivered to your inbox every weekday at around 5pm.
You can also read Sean's rather splendid work HERE.
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