The Football Journalist as an Object of Intimate Desire
By Nielo Isics
Here’s a quick one for you: what do Alexander the Great, Josef Goebbels, William Blake, and Keith Southern have in common? Their personalities and abilities are all combined within Henry Winter. Or Paul Hayward. Or Patrick Barclay. Or whoever else you care to mention that lives that dream, the important role of god of war – controllers of information, directors of foot-soldiers in the great struggle, inquisitors, commissars, and giants among men – the football journalist.
We’ve seen the football journalist become a personality in recent years, emerging from the dark, ale-soaked abyss behind the headline to the tv screen, appearing on shows like Sunday Supplement to talk football like proper pundits. This isn’t too terrible an idea – the standard belief of TV companies that people who have played the game automatically make great pundits is an obviously flawed one that has had some irritating consequences. But not being a paranoid fan, I have no interest in journalists defending their stories, and I couldn’t care less of the opinions of most of them. If Patrick Barclay doesn’t want to give much credit to my club, that’s his choice. I don’t watch football to get credit for it, and I don’t see what berating him will achieve.
I should mention that this isn’t intended to be a hatchet job against such men – though for the most part, they are self-important egotists that exist in a nauseating culture of back-slapping – as their role is largely not of their own creation. The new role appears to be genuinely in demand – this change has been driven by a perverted streak in the public that might profess to demand accountability, but in reality, wants to see some overweight men in ill-fitting suits argue about Gareth Bale, possibly whilst eating overcooked bacon and eggs.
It’s hardly a trip through the looking glass, but the brief glimpses into the shadowy world of football hack reveal little to be proud of. The side we do see, on Twitter, is far worse, however. A journalist can barely report on a player wanting to leave a club without that club’s fans subjecting him to a pointless torrent of abuse and vitriol. And that’s just shooting the messenger – woe betide any of them should actually have a negative view about a club’s style of football, recent displays, business practices, fans, or quality of the coffee at the ground. Moronic fans appear to have reserved a special place in the lonely hell where they live for personal opinion.
Football fans like to think that they have played a part in their club’s success. It helps stave off the emptiness and futility of being a football fan in the first place. Along with this comes the belief that anybody who participates in football anywhere – bloggers, journalists, call-in participants – in some way has an effect on the football season, as they all partake in the vast media machine which is purported to have a great effect on the minds of players and managers. In truth, it has no real effect. People will point to Fergie’s mind games, but even he can’t rely on everybody being as unhinged as Keegan or Benitez. There have been many metaphors involving football and warfare down the years, but the modern incarnations of both are essentially the same – a few men sitting in offices, pushing the buttons and moving the pawns, while millions of others rush around and shout themselves hoarse pretending they’re making a difference.
The perverse part is, of course, that the same fans who send death threats to journalists for suggesting that their club is spending money that it doesn’t have, or that their star player might move to Arsenal in the summer, are the same ones that have fostered the demand for them to emerge into the media spotlight. If the relationship between the press and players is Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the one between journalists and certain fans is like Elizabeth Taylor and her deranged, lovestruck stalker. Twitter is awash with journalism students, failed journalists, people who wish they were journalists, people who regret not going into journalism instead of accounts. They hate their degrees or jobs, and are resentful of football journalists and bandy about stock cliches like ‘lazy journalism’ because they see any piece and think “I could’ve written that.” Perhaps they could. That’s not the writer’s fault. Even Chris Kamara probably views his job as a ballache 90% of the time.
They may talk of journalists not being able to simply write a story and hide from criticism about it, but this falls down on two counts – Number one, yes they can. Number two, they’re football journalists, for fuck’s sake. It doesn’t matter how much you think Daniel Taylor is biased or how little credit Henry Winter is giving to your club – a quick glance at your average player, chairman, or FA director should tell you that journalists ought to be the least of your worries. Hacks, like fans and bloggers, don’t matter, regardless of how much we pretend they do.