When football clubs clash with the local paper there can be no winner (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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Newcastle United and Port Vale shooting themselves in the foot by going to war with their biggest assets
They say that you’re not a proper football reporter until you’ve been banned.
It’s the badge of honour for the local paper; proof that you’ve “made it” in the profession.
I got mine in the late 1990s covering Portsmouth, from Terry Venables of all people. Now there’s a name being dropped with a large clang ...
He was their chief executive whatever at the time and threw his toys out when the paper ran a front-page poll questioning whether it was time for the manager to be sacked.
Admittedly, it was incendiary stuff which we all knew would not go down well in the corridors of power at the club. The official call came within ten minutes of the first edition hitting the news stand.
The result of the poll incidentally was more than 90 per cent in favour of getting rid.
We were grudgingly allowed into games – because we were the sports staff and not the news bods who had written it – but nowhere near the press conferences or any contact with the players and staff.
The ban extended into the following summer, which would have been a huge problem in terms of filling stories if Venables had not been Australia’s head coach – and spent the off-season stockpiling Pompey with recruits from Down Under.
We simply found out the transfer targets from contacts and spoke non-stop to them before they hit English shores and put pen to paper on a contract.
A kit launch, to which we weren’t invited, was circumnavigated by hiring a cherry picker to lift our photographer over the end of the ground that was being redeveloped. Venables did laugh at the ingenuity – but the ban continued for at least another couple of months.
I can’t remember exactly how it ended, other than the feeling that the club had finally seen the light.
With no “special” relationship to protect, we had been told to slant every article from a negative perspective – even slagging off a fruit drink Venables was advertising on TV – and a poor start to the season was getting some seriously bad press.
There is a delicate balance between football club and local paper. Nobody wants to admit it but you do need each other.
The paper sells copies on the back of the club’s exploits; the club benefit from the free advertising of stories every single day of the year.
The vast majority of those will be positively written but that does not mean you are the club’s cheerleader or mouthpiece. That’s what their official website is for.
So inevitably , there can be friction over the stories that are perceived to be anti-club or knocking in any way. It is an egg-shell existence at times.
Geoffrey Richmond once warned that I was “persona non grata” after an interview with a player voicing his frustrations about a contract offer. One previous manager went nearly a year without speaking to me other than when he had to in a post-match press conference.
There have been spiky phone calls along the way, which you expect in any walk of life, but no Valley Parade ban. Touch wood.
The same cannot be said for those writing about Newcastle and Port Vale. Currently four papers – three of them in the North East – are on the blacklist with their respective clubs.
There were farcical scenes after the Tyne-Wear derby last Sunday when Alan Pardew was stopped from taking questions from the local press by the Newcastle press officer. But it was fine for the nationals to ask away – apart from when they asked why the boys on the beat could not join in.
The papers in question had offended Newcastle owner Mike Ashley by giving publicity to a protest march against the club’s hierarchy. He conveniently forgot a recent double-page spread devoted to Newcastle’s ticketing policy in his accusations that they were all out to get him.
At Port Vale, the local reporter has had his press rights removed after running a story with fans questioning the delay in delivering a commemorative third kit! That’s how frivolous these issues can be that blow up out of all proportion.
I don’t know what the clubs hope to achieve from this stance, other than making themselves look petty and vindictive to an audience far greater than just their local community – I can’t imagine the Vale chairman has enjoyed the national exposure he has received courtesy of Twitter and social media.
Nobody is going to win here. But ending these petty stand-offs would be a victory for common sense.
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