Deadline-phobia? Pah! Not a problem for Sam Wallace, football correspondent for The Independent. Off screen set-tos on the Sunday Supplement? Not with a secret stash of Maltesers on the go. Twitter? Don't be daft lad.
In this - the latest of EFW's interviews with big name football journalists - we get down to the nitty, and indeed the gritty of the greatest game on earth.
As if that isn't enough - half way through this interview - standby as Wallace takes a run up at answering the longest question ever posted on these pages. A question so long, even Garth 'King of the long question' Crooks would have been proud. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for The Independent's very own Sam Wallace:
I've interviewed a few football journalists lately and it would appear to be all doom and gloom in your trade. Tell us something positive about the life of a football journalist. I don’t think it is all doom and gloom. I read all our national papers obsessively and I think the sport pages are full of good stories, interviews, analysis and comment. Yes, newspaper circulations are in decline but I think as an industry we sell ourselves short. For the ludicrously cheap cover price of a newspaper you get match reports from all the night’s previous games and stories that radio and TV spend the next day catching up with. And that’s just the sport pages. I’ll get off the soapbox now.
And is there much of a downside? Like every job there are good and bad days. It is a competitive business and if you miss a story that others have then, unfortunately, it is there for everyone to see. But the beauty of newspapers is that there is always the next day to try to put it right (unless you work for a Sunday, in which case you have to stew for a week).
I know it's hard work and long hours, but is reporting back from the World Cup as good as it gets? Yes. I realise the whole England/Three Lions thing leaves some people cold but I love international football and, for me, a World Cup finals has a magical quality. Once every four years? That makes it four times as special as Christmas! As for the long hours, everyone wants to make sure their paper looks as good as possible. And, yes, we reporters do love a moan about how hard we work. The chaps back on The Independent sports desk also work very hard putting the pages together and do a great job. At least that’s what they tell me.
Does your heart sink when you have to moralise about the private lives of footballers? I don’t do it. My position on the whole John Terry-Wayne Bridge saga is that Fabio Capello was making life difficult for himself by making a decision on the private life of a player. Things are never as straightforward as they look and it set a very dangerous precedent.
Ah, John Terry. You left him out of your ideal English line up in The Indy recently. Is he past it in terms of representing his country? Time for a change. I’m not going to rehearse all the old arguments about Terry and his infamous press conference after the Algeria game but I thought that said it all. And before people email, the key press conference was not the one you watched on Sky it was the one he gave to the newspapers away from the cameras
You've called for Wayne Rooney to break his silence on his, and the England teams shambolic World Cup performance. That won't happen until it comes to booky wook time though will it? I think you’re referring to something I said on the Sunday Supplement.
I am, but having said that, I'm usually fairly fragile at that time on a Sunday morning...What I actually said was that Rooney might take some of the pressure off himself by volunteering for a pre-match England press conference and dealing with the issues from South Africa. What I didn’t say was that we in the Press had a moral right to haul him before us. It is just that until we get some kind of insight into why our best player didn’t perform at the World Cup it feels like everyone – especially the fans – will find it hard to move on. Having listened to the World Cup-related stick Rooney got from the Newcastle fans at Old Trafford, I haven’t changed my mind on that one.
What was your career path to the Indy? I was fortunate enough to get a place on the Telegraph graduate scheme where I did my training as a reporter. I will always be very grateful to the paper for that. Apart from six months at the Evening Standard as a news reporter I stayed at the Daily Telegraph for more than five years. The last three were as the paper’s north-west football reporter, based in Manchester. I have been at The Independent since December 2004.
Do you have any thoughts on the disparity between "quality sports writing" and the finger-pointing hysteria/knee jerks of the red tops? I really don’t see the “disparity”. I think there are lots of good stories and writing in the “red tops”, as you call them. A good story or a really insightful column has currency whatever paper it appears in. People from outside the industry seem to divide us into two tribes. I suppose that is a natural assumption but it is not like that in reality. I can say with confidence that some of my best friends in newspapers work for “red tops”. I don’t discriminate on grounds of (newspaper) colour.
Is there any piss-taking between the journalists of broadsheet and, lets stick with the phrase "red top" newspapers in the press box? Yes, lots. But just as much between fellow broadsheet journalists and also “red top on red top” piss-taking. Some of it is very funny. But you have to be there really.
When was the last time you paid to see a match? Hmmm, good question. Probably my brother’s stag do last year. West Ham v Sunderland on April 4. 2-0 to West Ham. My brother is a West Ham fan. It suits his optimistic outlook on life.
Talking of money, should we pay to read your online work? Yes. I really hope The Times’ pay-wall experiment works out to their favour and others follow. It costs a lot of money to run a newspaper. Keeping a correspondent in Baghdad, Helmand, Washington, Moscow and wherever else is not cheap. Then you have football reporters travelling all over Europe. The list goes on. People have to understand that good journalism costs money and also that it is worth supporting it. Otherwise all you will be left with will be football club websites who report on their clubs with much the same objectivity as Pravda would report on Soviet cucumber harvests. Do I sound like a grumpy old man?
*longest ever question alert* You're just about to press send on a report on a routine midweek win for Man United, then - out of the blue - Birmingham City surprise everybody with a flurry of injury-time goals - causing Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have a punch up on the way back to the tunnel. Given your deadline, is that your favourite worst nightmare or would you think 'this is what I was born to do'? I don’t subscribe to your deadline-phobia. No match report or story is so good that it can’t be chucked away in an instant when the story changes at the last minute. The whole point of a newspaper is to make it as fresh and up-to-date as possible, right up until that last second when you absolutely have to send the copy. Besides, if I’ve driven up to Birmingham what’s another hour’s difference going to make? I’m going to get stuck on the M6 anyway.
Do you hoard any football memorabilia? No. And I happily give away my teamsheets/programmes. There seems to be a “sub-culture” of people – usually middle-aged men – who hang around outside press entrances asking for that sort of stuff. They’re welcome to it.
You're not signed up to Twitter. Even Jonathan Wilson bit the bullet this week -and racked up 4500 followers in just 24 hours in the process. I'd have thought it would have been a valuable aid to your work these days. Do you ever look at it and have you thought about setting up an account? I think Twitter has passed me by. I’ll happily sign up to the next internet phenomenon as long as someone alerts me to it. Would it be rude to say that I find Twitter a bit disappointing? I read some of my fellow reporters’ tweets during the World Cup and they seemed to veer from the mundane (“Just got to Port Elizabeth, hotel room not ready”) to the inane (“Nelson Mandela – what a legend!!!”). Also, isn’t it just another case of “journalism for free” (see earlier rant)?
I'm not sure if you're away but it's Non-League day on September 4. Seeing as there are no Premiership or Championship games on Saturday, fans of those clubs are being actively encouraged to support their local team. Will you be watching your local club that day or does it sound like a day off for you? My hometown team Stevenage FC (as they are now known) are now, for the first time in my lifetime, a Football League club so that rules them out. My local non-league team is Hendon. I will do my best to go at some point but I don’t feel I need to watch a non-league game to prove that I love football.
Do you enjoy appearing on the Sunday Supplement? Yes. I like the show and I get the impression that a lot of people in football watch it. Whether they agree with the opinions discussed is another matter. But I think viewers recognise that the reporters on it care about football. We (as in the reporters) may not have the “been-there, done-that” experience of former players but by the same token we are less likely to hold back if we feel strongly on an issue.
Has there ever been any meaty disagreements away from the cameras on that show? Not in my experience. Personally, I’m too busy tackling the croissants.
Well, the breakfast certainly looks good on there...Yes - and look out for the glass tumbler full of Maltesers. It’s a welcome addition to any breakfast table.
In your experience what's the best European ground for atmosphere? Tough one. I like the club anthem at the Nou Camp and the fans’ reaction to it. Incidentally, Bayer Leverkusen have a terrible soft rock-style club anthem that makes all of us in the press box laugh. The Leverkusen supporters, however, love it. When the mist comes down at San Siro it feels very atmospheric. The Mestalla was always a good place to go and I was pleasantly surprised by Real Betis’ ground when they played Chelsea and Liverpool in the Champions League in 2005. I have seen a World Cup game at the Westfalenstadion (Borussia Dortmund) which is another favourite.
Obviously, we're all about European Football Weekends on here, if you had to choose one destination in Europe for a weekend of football, where would you head to? Given that it is about the city as well as the team it would have to be Barcelona. [tries to think of more original alternative] In 2001, in the build-up to England’s World Cup qualifier against Greece I covered a feisty Greece v Albania game in the OFI stadium in Heraklion in Crete. Great little ground. Nice weather too.
What's better, sitting in the press box or [nod to Oliver Kay] being a ball boy at Wembley? That’s the problem with Kay. He never forgets a thing you tell him. I was a ball boy for the England v Brazil game in March 1990. I never touched the ball and I got gobbed at (by the fans, not the players) but despite all that I was thrilled to do it. These days I have to say that the Football Association have done a great job with the press facilities at Wembley. If only they could do the same for the England team.
It was actually Oli who recommended we interview you on EFW - so, who in turn would you like to see us question next, and do you have his/her number? Neil Ashton of the News of the World. He can lay to rest all your tabloid-broadsheet sectarian fears. Please don’t ask him about his childhood scrapbooks full of Crystal Palace match reports that he would compile obsessively from the newspapers. Or the letters of complaint he wrote in those days to any reporter with the temerity to criticise his heroes. His email is NeilAsh [snip - Ed.]
Follow Sam on Twitter at, oh - well you can always follow European Football Weekends.
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