Armed with some rubbish questions from EFW and some gems of her own, Lizzy Ammon clicked the heels of her favourite pair of red shoes together three times before marching off to meet Guardian sports journalist Barney Ronay...
Thanks for taking time away from Guardian Towers to talk to us. There are probably quite a few people reading this that would like to enter the world of football journalism. What advice would you give them? Erm. If you mean paid football journalism then good luck. It is, like everywhere else, a shrinking sector. I still think the traditional way is the best: find something you can do that editors will want, and which makes you stand out. Traditionally a good way of doing this was simply going abroad and knowing all there is to know about whatever’s going on in South America, or Narnia or Syldavia.
For others getting on a freelance match report list, doing entry-level production shifts in the office and getting a foot in the door that way. Alternatively perfecting a skill: being better than anyone else at tactical analysis, or funnier than anyone else, or more thorough. This is the real way to get into it now: by doing something of your own to that standard on the web and making it brilliant and unignorable.
I got into journalism by starting my own writing website called The Pitch. It was crap, mind, but no one else was doing it back in the day so that didn’t really matter. In fact I have a theory I was the first person ever to do it like that. You are all my children.
This is a bit of a hot topic in the twitter and blogospheres at the moment - Should aspiring journalists be prepared to have their work published without getting paid in order to get their old size nines in the door? Yes. It’s also the only way in many other professions. It’s the same in the law these days. You’ve got to be willing to be exploited for a bit. There is a grand tradition of getting a foot in the door by hawking yourself out. Believe me, paid newspaper journalists are just as alarmed by people writing for free. Many feel they’re going to be put out of a job by the endlessly fecund part-timerism of the blogosphere.
Do you read any football or cricket blogs? Some sometimes. People are very talented. There is a lot of good stuff out there. And also a lot of crap, but even that has its charms.
You've written a book or two - any plans for another? Yes. I’m putting together something at the moment. It’s a love letter to a grand vanishing sporting institution, and a stalkerish fan-boy meditation on one of the great wasted talents of our age. It may or may not be any good.
Moving seamlessly onto the England football team, just as expectations were scrapping on the barrel of the ocean they go and beat the world champions. They're now a shoe-in for Euro 2012 aren't they? England have a terrible record at Euros outside this country. I think they will be unable to string together successive performances like that one against Spain. Everything is against them at these summer tournaments: southern European style weather, the patient rhythms of international football, hard pitches, inexperience of our home-bound players of living abroad for weeks at a time. They aren’t ever quite good enough to overcome these inbuilt disadvantages. And that’s it really. No great mystery there.
But if they did go on and win it, are you the type that would paint your face and run naked into the fountain at Trafalgar Square whilst beating your chest? No. I would be pleased for all those terribly honest and well-intentioned - and maligned - coaches who work in our football at lower levels.
But what kind of message would it send out if England did win anything? Neglect your youth systems! Have a centralised money-driven super league! Countries who look after their players tend to win these things.
If I loved the system - if it could be made to resemble a little more the self-sustaining German one – and England then won something that would certainly be worth cheering.
Does the prospect of Team GB playing football at the Olympics quicken the Ronay pulse? No. Football should not be at the Olympics. No professional sport should be. In fact no team sport should be there. Eight gold medals for each of the eight guys in a boat? Come off it. They should all share one. No way one eighth of a boat should get the same as Usain Bolt. By my calculations, on the one gold per boat system, Steve Redgrave currently has about 2.5 goal medals. Fewer than Bradley Wiggins, which sounds about right. Having said that I did love the 1996 Olympic football competition, which I watched on TV in Brazil. Nigeria. What a team.
I'm guessing you'll be sent to cover some weird and wonderful events at the Olympics. Are you up for penning 1800 words on the equestrian qualifying heats? Are you looking forward to the Olympics? Are we (London) going to put on a decent show or will we embarrass ourselves as I cynically predicted when we were awarded the games? It will be all right. Don’t forget: it’s only two weeks. Go on holiday and you’ll miss it. Plus there are far worse things going on these days than, say, Boris Johnson setting fire to his hair with the Olympic torch. I think everyone has calmed down a bit about the Games. As Stringer Bell might say, it is what it is.
Danny, the owner of this site, says I’m allowed to ask you a couple of cricket related questions. So
a) What is the best match you’ve ever seen live? Er. England v West indies Test at Lords in I think 2000 was pretty amazing. Cork’s match. For knockabout fun there was a Sunday league match at the Oval between Surrey and Hampshire in about the same year where Surrey scored over 400, I dropped an Adam Hollioake six in the Bedser stand, the young KP went berserk for Hants for a bit, everyone was drunk and sunburned and it was just one of those days. Also, seeing the Waugh era Aussies really close up for three very hot days from the edge of the rope round the Parks in Oxford was pretty special. The next year the Windies came and I played football with Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Curtly was very good.
b) Do you enjoy covering county cricket? What’s your view on the domestic one day competition – should it be 50 overs – like the old days? I love county cricket. There often is nothing better. And of course it should be 50 overs. What on earth are we playing 40 for? It is insanely perverse.
So, EFW are offering you free tickets (but not really) for either the front row of the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Allianz Arena or the front row of the pavilion on the first day of the next Ashes test at Lords. Which would you like? Come on. Lord’s. No offence, the Champions League final, but you happen every year.
This is the European Football Weekends website so I probably out to ask you about Europe, football and weekends. But I know nothing about any of them so this will have to do as a question: Have you ever been on a European Football Weekend? I’ve been to quite a few matches in Europe, and yes often at weekends. I really enjoyed being in Vienna for three weeks at the last Euros. That was wonderful. Best memory of the tournament was watching Spain three times and seeing them get better and better. There was a beautiful moment in Innsbruck when a thunder storm passed over the Alps while David Villa was scoring a hat trick against Russia. Aye. It were proper champion.
Are you one for collecting sporting memorabilia and if so what's your most treasured item? No. Not my thing at all. I have loads of good bits and bobs including a signed David villa Barcelona shirt I was given but have ended up wearing to go running in. It’s been washed loads of times and the signature still won’t come out which is a bit embarrassing.
What's your favourite football ground? The Valley. Friendly. Urban. Childhood memories
And the worst? Birmingham. Sorry. I just always have a nightmare there. Press box is freezing and depressing
You pop up on the Guardian's Football Weekly now and again. Have you done any other broadcasting, TV or radio? I helped write a film called From the Ashes about Ian Botham. I’m on TV now and then – those talking head shows, or a news channel in search of a bit of blah. I used to be on the radio all the time but then the BBC stopped paying £35 a go so like a wretched mercenary hack I gave up doing it. I did Chelsea TV Paperview the other day. It was quite good but I was so late I doubt I’ll be asked back.
Is Alan Hansen worth his 40 grand a week on Match of the Day? Of course not. I quite like him. He’s a good pundit. But nobody should be paid that amount of money to do anything. It’s pointless and debauched. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. That’s what I say.
Richardson, Glendenning, Wilson and Ronay could do that job for a fraction of the price, no? I’m not sure the BBC could stretch to Barry’s remuneration. But James Richardson should be hosting football on the BBC without a doubt because he is the best.
And now for the hard hitting stuff:
EFW readers are a classy discerning lot. Can you recommend to them a book, a wine and a piece of music or album to download…..
Book: Aldous Huxley Antic Hay (brilliantly funny).
Wine: Any of those nice £15-ish New Zealand French grape rip-offs.
Music: whatever. I’ve spent all day today listening to the Pogues. So The Pogues.
And your favourite Ginsters Pasty to go with those? Iain Macintosh thought long and hard about this question. It’s an important matter. I do like the standard football-issue chicken balti pie, that slightly rubbery pastry melting into the hot sweet sauce. The only other fast foot I can recommend is the McDonalds basic cheeseburger. That is an absolute design classic. Tiny cubed onions, salty gherkin, mustard-ketchup mix, sugary bun to balance the salt sting. It is an unexpected treat.
Thanks for your time Barney - just some quickfire predictions before you start researching the equestrian:
Champions League winners? - Real Madrid
Euro 2012 winners? - Germany
Women's javelin gold medallist at the London Olympics? – Some big lass with tight pants on
Barney is the author of The Manager and Any Chance Of A Game. He also bears a canny resemblance to the Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, so he does.
Like this? Lizzy also interviewed Iain Macintosh for EFW