It’s that time of year when players and managers are sick of the sight of us media pack. We all love what we do in football but when you’re at this stage of the season it can seem like a relentless roll call of press conferences, sit down interviews, pre-match and post match flash interviews. It takes its toll and the same answers get trotted out while we’re all trying to wangle something different, or interesting, or controversial out of our interviewees.
It has become so difficult in recent years to get anything from the top flight clubs. Even down the leagues the media access has become very sanitized and very controlled. Gone are the days where you can get the teams away from the training ground and into different environments. During my time on Soccer Saturday I’ve been clay pigeon shooting with James Beattie, paint balling with Southend United, sailing with Craig Short, fishing with Lee Bowyer and golfing (not very well) with Robbie Fowler.
I even had a gym session once with David James when he was at Pompey. It was so much fun back then! Now you’re shoved in a broom cupboard with a camera and a light and given ten minutes – and that’s if you’re lucky.
Players aren’t as keen as they used to be about giving interviews. There is such a media saturation with various UK and worldwide broadcasters, newspapers, magazines, fanzines, online outlets, blogs, radio and in-house club TV. It probably doesn’t sound a hardship to you or I but it must get tedious saying the same old thing day in day out, week in week out. Many players will avoid it if they can and it’s the press officer’s job to get them up for it .
Some press departments are better than others. In the Premier League currently I’d say my favourites are Swansea, Burnley, West Brom and QPR. Laura and Paul at West Ham are great with us at Soccer Saturday too and over the years I’ve had terrific access as I mentioned last month.
Believe it or not some club communications officers do everything they can to shield the players from any press responsibilities at all. There is one notorious one (naming no names) who is commonly known as The Press Prevention Officer. This person makes life so difficult for reporters for no apparent reason whatsoever, whether it’s ignoring requests, regularly denying requests, telling you to be at a location at the last minute (which could be a hundred miles away) so you have no time to get there or get a crew there!
In interviews questions are pored over, filming is stopped if there is anything considered unacceptable and we’re often told to wind it up quickly when we’re half way through. But what the odd ‘press prevention officer’ doesn’t seem to grasp is that we, as a programme, have a set amount of time to fill.
We are going to highlight the team anyway whether they co-operate or not. Just like written press have column inches to fill, for us it’s three hours 12pm-3pm on a Saturday. So we use that time to fill it with analysis, goals wraps, music pieces, features, graphics and interviews. Now if a club (and some have done this) flat out refuse to provide any players week after week, what they don’t appear to comprehend is, we will talk about the team whether there’s an interview or not.
Isn’t it better to have some input and influence over the message? If you’re not talking to us we will have to talk about you. Speculation, suggestion and rumour can be far more damaging.