Thursday, 11 August 2011

Interview: Steve Brenner - The Sun

Sunshine Of The North

We live in an age where everyone is a de-facto journalist; social media allows for that, especially Twitter, writes Andy Hudson. While many full-time journalists take stick via mediums such as Twitter and forums, with many people quick to believe that they could do better than those employed by newspapers, there are a number of reporters that excel at what they do. Now call me biased, but I believe that we in the North East we have some of the very best lads out on the beat. Some of our regional papers have top journalists working for them and the nationals are blessed with high calibre professionals amongst their ranks.

EFW has already met one of those when we talked to George Caulkin; now we have another. A southerner welcomed in Newcastle? It happens all of the time. And it's made easier when that southerner is Steve Brenner.

Hello Steve, thanks for taking the time out to speak to European Football Weekends. How did a Staines lad find himself so far north of his patch? Thanks for having me. Well I was working for the Sun in Wapping, covering the London beat for a couple of years when the North East guy at the time moved on to pastures new. The chance came up for me to replace him, I took it and almost five years later, here I still am. Looking back it was a cracking decision.

Jermaine Jenas compared living in Newcastle as like living "in a goldfish bowl"; how do you find Geordie city life compared to southern gentleman refined living? The one thing I love about Newcastle is living in the city itself. It's not too big, there is always something going on and it has a really nice vibe about it. Staines is a small town so it's no comparison really. And no, there are no Ali-G type gangsters in Staines. Well, not anymore.

Is there a difference between dealing with Newcastle and Sunderland as clubs? Well, in terms of national coverage then yes. Although Sunderland are and remain a huge club here in the North East, their profile nationally is dwarfed by Newcastle. Certainly my office are always interested in what is going on at St James' Park and because there always seems to be one story or another keeping us busy, a lot of my time is concentrated on the Toon. But that's not to say, Sunderland aren't newsworthy either. In Steve Bruce they have a very quotable, media savvy manager who is a good name and makes decent copy.
There are a few differences between dealing with the clubs themselves but I think I'll keep those private for now...(anyone who is interested you can buy me a vat of beer and I will explain)

What's your take on the Mike Ashley situation - is it really such a fiasco or do you see a coherent plan forming? It's a tough one. When you speak to the Ashley camp , well when they are not fuming with you, you get an idea of what they have tried to achieve behind the scenes. The way they made the club financially viable after relegation, how they are on a sound financial footing etc. Anyone who thinks he is all bad, total evil, scum of the earth etc are wrong. But I do concede mistakes have been made - and I know they realise that too. They have a plan and are sticking to it. It's just the way they go about things does leave some wondering what the hell is going on.

The arrival of Dennis Wise will, for me, go down as one of the strangest calls of all time. And personally I think the whole sorry Joey Barton saga recently could have been handled better - by all parties. We have seen and had to cope with so many knee-jerk reactions over the last few years it's beginning to get a bit wearisome.

How do you sum up last season for both Sunderland and Newcastle? For Newcastle, they did well. Ask any fan following promotion what they would want and staying up would be the answer. They did it, and with something to spare too. Sunderland wise it was disappointing. They started brilliantly but their slump after Xmas was horrific. Bruce had bad injuries but the squad was laid bare and were lucky to avoid getting into serious trouble.

'North East Top Dogs' - is that really just a load of bollocks? I mean can there really be pride in holding success up as merely just finishing above your rivals and little else? (both sets of fans only started going on about this recently having spent years without really mentioning it). Top Dogs bollocks? It's a fans thing I think. I know lots of Geordies and Mackems who would love nothing more than finishing higher than one another in the Premier League. And , after all, it all adds to the spice up here doesn't it? Because we as journalists work closely with both clubs, they are always great fun and top occasions.

Is it a worry that the drain of talent away from the North East has started again with the Carroll and Henderson moves? Yes but it's fair to say that neither Sunderland or Newcastle are in the top eight/10 clubs in the Premier League right now. They are getting close to getting back up there but when you look at the likes of Manchester City and even Liverpool's squads , the difference is quite staggering. And depressing if you're from up here.

What do you think of both players - England regulars of the future? I think Carroll will cause carnage - on the pitch ,I might add - for years. He has it all and we were just starting to see it at Newcastle before he trotted off. Jordan is a good footballer but he had a tendency to go missing. I think though, playing with the likes of Gerrard et al, will help him. Technically he's excellent but I don't think Sunderland could turn down that money. He will be in and around the England squad for sure.

If both clubs said that their ambition was to qualify for the Europa League next season, what do you think they would have to do to achieve that? To be consistent which I am not sure either have the ability to do. I'm slightly worried for Newcastle this season, it's going to be tough. Sunderland have the players but one or two injuries may disrupt them.

You tend to take some stick on Twitter because of the newspaper you work for. If someone isn't a Sun reader then they tend to hate that establishment. How do you react to the haters? Well, following all the phone hacking cases recently, I have come in for plenty. Everyone has their own opinion and , as I am sure most are aware, Scousers on Twitter don't hesitate to give me grief and with their particular bone of contention, it's hard for me to defend myself. But other than that, I am happy to banter with any haters and try to get them to realise I am not a dirty, horrible, tabloid hack with a pocket full of nasty agendas. It's hard but...! I would though like to think that if people aren't particularly Sun readers or have a preconceived idea of what I am like that I can change their views.

How frustrating is it as a journalist when you're banned from a football ground because of a story published in the newspaper you work for? We've seen this recently with The Sun at Sunderland and also The Mail at St James' Park. Well, as national journalists , although I'd like to think I have good relationships with Newcastle and Sunderland, there will be times when we have to stick the boot in or do stuff that won't go down well. But that is the challenge of working for the Sun. We aren't a local paper or a club website. We can go at something even if it will ruffle a few feathers. Bans are par for the course I suppose. I don't agree with that plan of action - I'd much rather have it out face to face with anyone who isn't happy. I suppose it's the club getting their own back but, so I don't get banned for this, I think all the clubs I work with are wonderful and are full of wonderful, lovely people.

You were present for that Joe Kinnear press conference when he first took over as Newcastle manager and acted very much as a voice of reason towards him when he was going off on one. When it first started and Simon Bird was called a **** were you trying to hold in a laugh or were you picking up your jaw from the ground? Picking my jaw up from the ground and then ensuring it wasn't about to be broken. The thing about all that was Kinnear, bless him, got the total wrong end of the stick. He thought we had all written a story on how on his first day the whole squad were on a day off and he wasn't aware of it. That wasn't the case. The story was it was his first day and everyone was off. Anyway, all hell broke loose and it remains the most incredible press conference, if you can call it that, I have ever been in. My attempts to quell the fuming Joe with the line 'you know how it is Joe', spoken in my London tones, has caused much merriment among my brilliant , hilarious colleagues in the North East. Funny lot , they are.

You've started to make strides in the world of tennis reporting after being known for football journalism for many years. How did you end up branching out? Well our former tennis man, Charlie Wyett, got the gig of covering England so I stepped into his shoes. I've been doing it a year now and have really enjoyed it. That meant me giving up doing England Under-21's but after four years of that, I need a break from Psycho.

Besides being a different sport, what's the difference between covering tennis and football? Considering Great Britain's awful standing in tennis - no male Slam winner since 1936 - I am effectively covering one man in Andy Murray. Yes we have other players but Murray is by far our best player so I spend almost all the time previewing and covering his attempts to win a big one. I think I speak for all the tennis writers when I say how nice it would be to have a few younger guys and girls coming through so not all the focus is on Andy. The environments are quite different but the striking difference is the lack of any aggro or controversy in tennis. There is just no comparison to football. I have done the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, Queens, Davis Cup this year and will be going to the US Open soon. Yet I got more stories and scandal in 10 days covering Newcastle in the States last month.

The fan stereotype of young footballers is that they are flash and a touch on the thick side. The tennis stereotype is more of a middle-class thing. How inaccurate is this? Pretty inaccurate. I have spoken to a lot of intelligent footballers in my time and although, yes, some are a little on the ,er, unclever side, I believe they do get a bad rep sometimes because of the actions of others. There are footballers out there who do a lot of great stuff in the communities and behind the scenes.Tennis wise, I have found most to be pretty down to earth and good to deal with. Murray has been great with us this year and loves a wacky quote here and there, which is music to my ears.The middle class thing comes from the fact tennis isn't a cheap sport to try and progress in as a kid. But it's a sleeping giant of a sport if the beloved tennis authorities can get their act together and make it more accessible. Anyone, and I mean literally anyone, can watch a game of tennis on TV and understand what is going on.

Who do you prefer dealing with: footballers or tennis player? Tough one. Considering who I work for, footballers , not all of them but some, are naturally wary of what we are going to do with the interview, etc. Tennis is more chilled out but both sets are decent to work with.

The 2008 Nadal v Federer Wimbledon Final was one of the finest tennis matches ever. How would you compare this to a great football match? Sitting on Centre Court really is special. You can just sense the history of the place which is quite something. Like going to Lord's. And seeing great players like the two mentioned really is something.  But nothing compares to the atmosphere at a rocking football stadium. I have been at St James' Park and the Stadium of Light when the place is bouncing and you just can't beat it.

We love our European football trips here at EFW Towers. Where's the best place you've been to watch football outside of this country? I covered a Blackburn UEFA Cup match in Salzburg a few years back. Lovely place and very tidy stadium. Nice hills too.

EFW has branched out on occasions to cover cricket and rugby league. Where should we go for a European Tennis Weekend? Well, Melbourne is a bit far for a weekend so I would have to say Paris. Just a brilliant city which looks like what everyone thinks it does.

Who would your ideal companions be on your perfect EFW? My pals from back home. Yes, yes, the Staines Massive.

Some of your peers love to try and take the piss on Twitter by telling you to get back to the tennis etc. Do you reckon this borne out of jealously at you jetting off to the likes of Melbourne and Paris while they are stuck in the likes of Monkseaton and Palmersville? No it has nothing to do with the fact that while they will be freezing at Sunderland v Wigan in January I will be in Melbourne wondering which shorts and glasses combo to wear for another tough day at the tennis. Nothing to do with that at all.

As a sports lover who has said they are excited for something happening next summer....did you apply for any London 2012 tickets? I didn't. My parents have tickets for the rowing though, which should be cool.

How's your Football/Championship Manager career coming along? Any plans to take over a non-league team and lead them to glory in real life? It never got started. Back in the day when I played with my brother , it was all so straightforward. Now I have the option to send Bolo Zenden on diagonal runs while he holds his position in a 4-1-2-3 formation on orders not to press too far up the opposing midfielder's behind. I'd sit there for 3 hours and barely play a game. I'd just tinker. I have to try and ensure I have a life! Enjoyed the retro Champ manager 1980's though on the iphone recently. Signed Maradona for £500,000.

You've got a knack for coming out with some decent one-liners on Twitter. When you're travelling do you write a load down in the hope that one day the situation arises when can use them or, without a hint of sycophancy, do you just have the knack for being funny? I am just hilarious. Ask any of my equally hilarious North East 'friends' and they won't tell you the same.

Anyone who isn't following you on Twitter is missing out on links to your work being tweeted at 2am in the morning. Do you get home from the pub and suddenly decide that you're going to fire out your stories? Ha, no! My stories automatically get sent out by the office on a Twitter feed. Sometimes I do them myself but, most of the time, it's the office. Honest. Drunk tweeting is a crime and should be frowned upon.

Finally......who would you want to see EFW interview next? Mike Ashley.


Why not go mad and follow Steve Brenner, Andy Hudson and European Football Weekends on Twitter.

And if you have any idea what Steve was about to attempt in the photo (above) ..... then feel free to comment below.


Danny Last said...

Ah, you didn't think we'd let him get away with this did you? (Actually, we forget so we had to ring him back - Ed.) So, one final question:

What do you predict for the Tyne & Wear Derby?

It will tight, furious and scrappy. 1-1 at a push.

Shaun said...

Great stuff.Good set of Q&A.

Top Dog Bollox! Which wise man came up with that clever phrase then?