Mudhutter Interview All About Roberto Martinez

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Wow, Roberto Martinez, who saw that one coming? The longest courtship since Ross and Rachel is over and the sizzling Spaniard is the new Everton manager. Once Bill Kenwright stops buying him cardigans because ‘I don’t know, I just thought they would suit you’, he will get cracking and at the very least give Evertonians something different to bicker about. So, for the inside scoop on all things ‘Bob’, we spoke to the second most sophisticated man in Wigan, Martin ‘Jimmy’ Tarbuck, from the sensational Mudhutter and This Northern Soul.

Get on it.

The most telling question – were you sad to see the back of Roberto Martinez?

Yes. He’s taken us to a level beyond that of any previous manager and given us the sort of memories that we never dreamed possible. Beating all the top clubs, coming out on top in heart attack inducing end of season relegation six-pointers and of course landing us with our first major trophy. There’s the small matter of relegation and record drubbings but we’ll gloss over that.

He’s raised our profile as a club immensely and only ever spoke positively of us, something which can’t be said about his predecessors, Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce, and also transformed our passing game and our backroom mentality. Because of his affinity to the club he is the closest thing we have to being a local legend and quite rightly was voted as the club cult hero even before he came back and became manager. Winning the FA Cup just put the top hat on it.

I actually thought he may have stayed if he gone down but not if we had stayed up. There were talks of him demanding a sizeable transfer kitty off Dave Whelan to get us back up and a significant training ground investment before he went. Again, if true he only goes up in my estimation – wanting to screw the old chap for a few bob for a legacy that will benefit Wigan Athletic for a long time after he’s gone. But if may just be mythology and he was always on his way.

Either way, I’d prefer to remember him as the man who kept us up for three years and won the FA Cup than the bloke who took us down and jumped ship. Maybe he’ll return to retire in thirty years for a third spell at the club to help us get out of the Arriva Trains league?

Why is he so highly rated by seemingly everyone in football?

Give me a dreamy visionary over a turgid taskmaster any day.

I suppose he’s the antidote to the Tony Pulis’s of this world, the only time Roberto ever wears a cap is when he’s strolling down the harbour at St Jean Cap Ferrat and the sun starts burning through his hairline.

Being a nice man can seemingly get you very far so it seems. He is intensely knowledgeable about the game, has devout principles about the way it should be played and has an amazing sincerity and honesty about him. I saw him last Thursday at Wrightington in a corridor when he was off to meet Whelan the first time and for a while I didn’t let on as a little experiment and he called out to me. We’ve met a few times but he didn’t need to do that. I couldn’t resist one last photo, whopper that I am. But again, nothing is too much trouble for him.

But surely Johnny Englander can do all this? Isn’t it just the continental effect? Maybe so but you can’t hoodwink people within football and it seems to be the press not football people who question his credentials. He’s certainly got that enigma about him which means that no-one is quite sure. I’d like to think that this Everton job lark may resolve matters either way about his undoubted genius / emperors’ new clothes effect but you may find that your fans quickly draw up battle lines and within months are scrapping like cat and dog over him.

On the other hand, some Wigan fans never seemed convinced – why?

I’ve tried to plot this out in my head many times looking for correlations but which side of the fence you fall seems to have no pattern to it, it simply comes down to playing style.

I think it’s evident already which side of the fence I’m on but the view is that it’s a results business and his results have been terrible. His defence has been terrible. His win percentage has been terrible. And we are slow to go forward with very often no end product, just excessive passing.

Some fans would just prefer a more gung ho approach and the divide is so fierce that the internet is full of slanging matches and snidey indirect name calling between the two factions. Sad really that people I’ve known for years will start taking a pop at anything I or anyone writes in support of him and over on Facebook it’s “fuck off and good riddance” from some of my less than eloquent chums. It’s such a divisive matter and it seems the goodwill of the FA Cup hasn’t lasted long.

The anti-Bob view insist that we should have been further up the table with the resources we’ve got and he didn’t help himself by the way we finished the season before last. It had “top ten finish” written all over it this year in flashing neon lights and he more or less promised it.

Promised something unachievable you say? Hmmm.

Their view is Steve Bruce left him with a mid-table Premier League side and he’s turned us into relegation fodder. The Martinez defence mechanism in me quickly points out that team had Emile Heskey, Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia and Lee Cattermole sold from it and was also relegation fodder post January – a 4-0 humping at Goodison sticks out somewhat. Also, the wage bill has reduced by 20% from then in a period when wages have generally increased by 65%. If Martinez had the same wage bill last year as Bruce had then it would be £70m, not £35m.

All facts – the reason Martinez has struggled is because the tide of money has continued to swing against us.

But then the facts are also that he presided over record defeats, some embarrassing capitulations, and results are what matters in football. Maybe not to us fanzine-type bohemians but I suppose we accept we’re in a minority.

“If he’d have been anyone else he’d have been sacked after that 9-1 defeat at Spurs” is a pretty compelling argument as well. But hey, I found it surreally amusing sat in Wood Green Labour club, an “I was there” type moment, well till the sixth went in.

The consistency argument is also valid. He doesn’t do regular 7/10 performances. There’ll be a few 4s and then he’ll throw in a mind blowing 10/10 when you least expect it.

And the final criticism is that he’s taken us down and then buggered off without putting it right- said by many people who wanted to see the back of him anyway. Again, I do concur with this somewhat.

And indeed that is the whole Roberto Martinez effect summed up in a microcosm: wins the FA Cup on Saturday, gets relegated on the Tuesday.

Like David Moyes being linked with Baines and Fellaini, the press have lazily got Martinez linked with almost every present Wigan player – are there any you suspect he will be back for?

Again, we have a section of fans who seem to be getting outraged about this on a daily basis and turning against him even more because of it. However, as you say it seems to be those two bob gossip websites picking any number between one to five players out of a player and constructing a few bad paragraphs around it. I’ve less of a problem with it. Some of our players might want to leave because their cosseted careers are short and they want Premier League football.

I’d much rather they went to Everton than festering away at one of the usual mid-table wage packet fatteners who pick off our out of contract players (Sunderland, Villa, West Ham, etc). I’m still quite fond of the way Leighton Baines’s career has gone; there’s a right way and a wrong way to leave and he definitely moved for the better. And at least he won’t be able to twat in a penalty against us next year, the floppy haired gobshite.

Four or five might be starting to take the piss mind you but there’s no harm in one or two and Antolin Alcaraz is a free agent anyway, so you can have him right away.

Obviously, I’d prefer it if we retained all our players, or maybe if you took Gary Caldwell and Mauro Boselli off our hands, but I suspect the latter is not going to happen.

To answer your question seriously, James McCarthy is the pick of the bunch but I’d be disappointed if he went for less than £12m given the form and maturity he’s shown the last few months – or I could even say double that if we’re using the Henderson-Torres Scale and I’m not sure whether you can afford that. Whelan’s not getting any younger and I’m not sure he’s keen on this cash in instalment type repayment plans.

The others have all made noises about wanting to stay and Aroune Kone in particular would blow the Championship away – but he’s nearly 30 so may want a quick return and will be a target for many Prem clubs. The rumour about Michael Laudrup seems to be around his board not backing him with the money required to meet Kone’s exit clause but that might again be a spurious stitching together of two pieces of similar-smelling bullshit.

I really hope you don’t sign Callum McManaman as I’d just like to see more of him. He’ll move on at some point but I’d love to get another year or two out of him. We get shit for not having any English players but as soon as we do get a decent one, some fucker signs them and we’re back to having those England Youth bell ends on our case.

The Champions League comment that Bill Kenwright attributed to him seems ambitious – do you see him being a success at Everton?

I can see how it could go very well and I can see how it would go very badly. His problem at Wigan from day one is that he never had time to build the way he wanted to, nor sign the players he wanted to play the way he wanted and he was trying to implement it at the highest level, plus he was having to sell his best players every year. And people look surprised that it takes us a few months to get going. At Everton he is inheriting a team of top half performers and Martinez probably has the ability to get them to do things that Moyes wasn’t interested in. Plus he will probably sign a few players that will tweak your playing style into something more like the way he likes to play the game.

That may go brilliantly or it may go badly. His defensive record has been highlighted as a major flaw but it’s all about the personnel. A fit Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis all last year and we would not have gone down. A clearly unfit Caldwell and, well, you saw the rest.

He is a meticulous manager, a keen student of the game but talks frequently of players being the right character. He spends all week setting things up and once the whitewash is crossed he gives the players responsibility. You can see, what with some footballers not exactly being Eggheads contestants how that can go horribly wrong but he doesn’t turn good defenders into bad defenders, he just leaves the decision making to them, so again the right characters are less likely to get it wrong. This will either give you a warm glow or make you shudder depending on your view of Everton’s back four or soon to be back three.

The best case scenario is that he will simply carry on the good work of Moyes, you Evertonians will love him and demonstrate patience when it doesn’t quite come off and reap the rewards when it does. To know whether he will be a success I need to know what you expect. Would you settle for finishing 11th instead of 6th if you got to a cup final for example? In all honesty my opinion is that Everton have massively overachieved with the financial constraints you have and Martinez is presumably a good fit because he is perceived capable of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or a rayon bumbag at least.

So for that reason to maintain that top six level is a big ask. But as he says, what is football without dreams? And if it goes well, he has a pretty handy set of players, one or two key acquisitions and a decent home crowd behind him it could generate the right kind of momentum. My worst nightmare is that he turns into the patsy that takes you down the table and simply cannot maintain your positions of the last few years, it’s not inconceivable, but he’s backing himself I suppose and I’m certainly wishing him and yourselves all the best.

How good was the FA Cup?

Oh. It was OK.

Well actually I don’t mean that, I just don’t want to rub it in. It was fucking brilliant. Obviously the result at your place was a stunning performance which would have put paid to many teams and I think most of your fans graciously acknowledged that. But you know when there’s a little man in your head with a mallet bashing that dreamy part of your brain every time it pipes up and gets carried away? Well right up until Watson’s ginger bonce glanced one over Joe Hart, looking less than smug for once, that little man was bashing away with gay abandon.

I was dreaming but I just didn’t think it possible.

All day I was telling myself “there is no way we can win this game” citing City’s embarrassment of riches and comparative strength. Not meaning to be defeatist and after all, we are shamefully responsible for all this “BELIEVE” nonsense that now appears to have transcended from football to other sports and is now probably being spouted on corporate team building events. Basically it was such a huge thing for a club like ours, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. The comedown however will take some time.

People might say that the big clubs don’t take it too seriously but with the exception of Portsmouth, it’s been won by the top eight or so clubs every single year since the Crazy Gang also upset the odds. It’s some achievement. It’s given us a memory to cling on to forever and it’s shook up the town to the extent that even the staunchest rugby fans have had to doff their gravy-stained caps at us. For a few days at least and then they reverted to laughing at us getting relegated.

We didn’t get lucky either, we did it with absolute class on and off the pitch and it has quite possibly changed our football club forever.

Genuinely, how do you feel at the prospect of the Championship after so many seasons in the ‘best league in the world’?

Intrigued and excited. It’s like we’ve just split up with our wife who we’ve been terrified of leaving but we’re not sure really loved us anyway as she treated us like a doormat and are about to dip our toes into the singles market again. It’s going to be cheap, dirty, exciting, occasionally tinged with regret and the potential to go downhill rapidly but maybe the change of scenery is just what we need to become ourselves again (another Martinez favourite).

It isn’t much fun winning three home games all season and travelling away, paying through the nose to sit in some sterile bowl. Of course that might be the case next season as well but there’s lot of unknowns in there. The water cooler banter merchants have been giving it “Enjoy your trip to Yeovil – LOL”. And you know what, I’m going to bloody love it – LOL.

Along with a host of local derbies, seaside away jaunts at Brighton and Bournemouth, new grounds at Donny and Sheffield Wednesday (for me personally) and locking horns with big clubs such as Leeds, Forest, Derby, et al. Plus we get to go Millwall, which me and my chums embrace with masochistic tendencies. Admit it, you’re jealous aren’t you?

See, I’ve not even mentioned the football. Some of our “Premier League only” fans dummies might go and we may see a drop in crowds post-relegation but I think we’ve got a core that is as good as it gets and will embrace the future wherever it might lie. Those who pragmatically understand our place as a club, basically a council estate scruff who won the lottery and is now trying to raid those Icelandic banks for those misadvised investments to keep the party going for another year or two. It might not seem that way in our soulless ground but we’ve a lot of heart for the future and some great fans, fans who get the culture, do great community work and fund raising, look after one another and are the antidote to the norm in Wigan, which is to support the rugby and United and yes [adopts Apprentice candidate voice] I like to think Mudhutter plays it’s part in that.

A lot depends as ever on old broken leg.

We’ve half a chance with the right manager, parachute payments and not getting raided for players too heavily but given the upheaval and a European campaign (sorry. not rubbing it in again) it might be a bit too much to ask to go back up straightaway. Mid table mediocrity would do me fine but then I think we will lose more players. Hey, it’s football and evolution and we get on with it.

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Andy Hunter Interview

A better one was a chimp with a typewriter but that seemed last

We are absolutely delighted that the consistently outstanding football writer, and probably most trusted voice there is in the media when it comes to Everton, Andy Hunter of the Guardian, could take a break from hacking phones and bribing coppers to give us a bit of a genuine insight into his profession.

How did you get to be where you are now, the Guardian’s Merseyside football correspondent?

Not through any grand plan. I wanted to become an architect until I saw how much work it took and so I studied English and Politics at university in Belfast instead. When I was over there my uncle encouraged me to give journalism a go. Instead of leaving university and applying for one of those 21 grand a year jobs that they used to tell you graduates were almost guaranteed I started writing to the Daily Post, the Echo, all the weekly papers on Merseyside and some nationals asking could I get some work experience. I actually got knocked back from the lot of them at first and it was only once I’d been back home for a month that the Crosby Herald and Bootle Times rang me and asked me to come in for a week.

That week turned into two, and then three, until eventually they offered me a YTS where I would work for them for four days a week and do a journalism course at Liverpool Community College on the other day, and they paid for that. After that I started working for the weekly sports group that included Crosby Herald and the Southport Visiter and I covered Marine, following them home and away when Roly Howard was there, which was one of the best groundings in football journalism you could have. I remember coming back from a great lads’ holiday in Magaluf and getting straight on a bus at eight o’clock to head up to Bishop Auckland – I’ve never been more depressed in my whole life!

I did that for a couple of years and then moved to the Echo and then to the Daily Post, then the Independent and eventually the Guardian, which is where I am now.

Who were the biggest influences on your career?

To be honest, because I never realised journalism was something I wanted to pursue until pretty late on I can’t say I ever studied any particular football writers or wanted to emulate them.

However, just working for the Echo felt like I’d achieved my ambition and I’ve worked under some outstanding sports editors who have all been a massive help. I always admired Ian Ross when he was at the Guardian – he was the one I would always want to read, and of course Frank McConville in When Skies Are Grey, he was the first person I read who made football writing mean something.

What are biggest differences between working for the local and national papers?

When you work for a local paper you have to be more willing to give the clubs the benefit of the doubt. You rely on them to fill the paper – for instance, every Friday you will ideally want to feature a double-page interview with a player ahead of the weekend game and so you need access to what is a pretty limited pool. On a national there isn’t the same sort of pressure because you have 20 Premier League clubs to choose from every week.

On a local there has to be a bit more give and take, because both sides need each other that little bit more. On a national you can probably get away with being more critical with your opinions.

When I was on the Daily Post, for instance, I ran into trouble with Walter Smith because of something I didn’t even write. After the Tranmere game I obviously caned Everton in my match report but then I had the following Friday off before covering the league game at Manchester United, which Everton lost 1-0. I got on well with Walter, who was a great bloke despite what the public perception might be, and so I got a bit of a shock when he cornered me in the Old Trafford press room and said, ‘Are you trying to get me fucking sacked?’

At that time you may recall that you used to write a column called Blue Watch for the Daily Post that didn’t actually have a by-line on it. He assumed it was an editorial piece written by me and was livid. I got on to Ian Doyle who had sub-edited it and asked him what the score was. He told me that he had been really uncertain about using the piece, although that didn’t really explain why he gave it the headline: SMITH MUST GO!

I had to go into Bellefield on Monday and have a meeting with Walter where he said that, because he understood how difficult my job would be without any cooperation from him, I wasn’t going to be banned from the training ground or press conferences but I was to never ask him a question ever again. Great!

That’s how it was for the rest of that season and so in the summer I went to Everton’s pre-season training camp in Italy in the hope of trying to mend some bridges. Me and the Echo’s Dave Prentice took Walter and his staff out for a meal, we put the cones out for training, anything. Thankfully, Walter called me over near the end of the week and just said; ‘Do you want to do that interview with me now then?’ He gave me over an hour of his time and nothing was ever said about the previous season again. He is a top bloke. Put ‘THAT Walter Smith interview’ into YouTube for a better idea of what he is really like.

Supporters have certain preconceptions about football journalists, and one is that they just make things up. How accurate is that?

I know people will read this and say ‘the lying bastard, he would say that’, but I can honestly say I have never made a story up. I’ve got plenty wrong, and that can come from being fed a line from an agent who wants to get his client a move, or even a club that is trying to move someone on, for instance, but in terms of just inventing stuff, it doesn’t pay for journalists to do that.

I can’t see why any journalist would, because what you want is to be trusted and to have a good reputation, and for your publication to be trusted too. If you start making stuff up you put all that in jeopardy. After a while people would cotton on if you were just inventing stories.

I think a lot of the suspicion surrounds transfers, and you do report deals that don’t come off. However, there will always be some basis of truth there. It could be the club approaching an agent and making an enquiry but then backing off when they find out what sort of wages the player is after. That happens all the time.

Everton might ask about some teenager from PSG reserves or somewhere but not follow it up for whatever reason. For me that’s still a story that supporters will be interested in because it gives an indication of what sort of players they are after in terms of strengthening the squad and maybe where they are financially.

What does an average working week look like for a regional football correspondent?

The good thing about the job is that every week is different, although you have to be prepared to work unsociable hours. You will be making calls and trying to see people at any time but there is a loose structure to the job as well.

If we take this week as an example, on Monday you would be doing follow up stuff on any big issues from the weekend. So this week it was all about Marouane Fellaini – you would be on the phone to the FA to see what the referee’s match report said and what possible consequences there could be. They have a press department and the people there primed with information concerning the major talking points we are going to be onto them about. If it’s too early for them to tell us what we need we would then maybe explore the precedents, like could he be done for three separate incidents or can it only be one?

You would check with the club as well to see if he is going to be punished internally. He might get a fine off the club or one of David Moyes’s preferred punishments is to tell them to stay away from training. They are on a
fortune so the fines don’t really have that much effect – his take on it is that they all really want to play football and so the best sanction is to tell them that they can’t for a while.

In midweek you would usually have matches to cover, press conferences before those matches and sometimes travelling to European games. Then in the build-up to the weekend Liverpool usually have their press conference on Thursday and Everton’s is on Friday. They are my main focus although I also cover Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers. The only time I’ve reported on Blackburn this year though was when Steve Kean was sacked and they appointed Henning Berg. When you are in the Championship it takes something like that to get national coverage.

How does covering the actual games work?

For a midweek or Sunday game you are writing what’s called a live report that’s going straight into the first edition of the next morning’s paper. You have to file your runner, which is literally a run through of the action in the match, five minutes before the final whistle. Then you have about an hour to do the press conferences, get the manager’s quotes and then rewrite for the main edition of the paper.

The problem you have now though is that your runner goes online straight away and you start getting slaughtered instantly in the comments for even the slightest mistake you’ve made. It’s only an hour later that what I would regard as the proper report replaces it.

If you are covering a Saturday game for a Monday paper the club will provide the whole of the press pack with one or two passes to go down to a mixed zone. At Anfield you stand on the corner of the Anfield Road and Main Stand, where the ambulance is, because all the players have to walk past there. It’s a question of shouting out to them and asking them to stop and give their reflections on the game or thoughts on any controversial incidents.

At Everton it’s slightly different. Two journalists go down near the players’ tunnel, but they give the Everton press officers a list of the three preferred players they want to speak to. They in turn will go into the dressing room and ask them for a yes or a no – normally a no – but hopefully they will come and give you a few minutes. On Saturday for instance Fellaini would be the one you want, because he was the story. If the journalists get any quotes they then come back and share them with the rest.

If the story is that someone has fucked up, how do you approach that, do you just come right out with it and ask them about it?

Absolutely, that’s your job, to ask the questions that everyone is asking. They can choose not to answer you, but you have to ask the question.

It can often depend on who it is and even what sort of mood they are in on the day. Sometimes they will just blank you but there are times when they want to try and explain why they’ve made a mistake, or defend themselves, and I always think fair play to them when they do that. Human nature being what it is, perhaps those players who do that might get a fairer hearing from the press at times than others. It’s a similar thing with managers. A manager who speaks to the press after a defeat, say, is able to have a greater influence on the match report than a manager who says nothing, even if it is just a case of getting his argument across in a critical article.

How has the industry changed since you have been involved?

I started 18 years ago and the industry, and in turn the job, have been transformed beyond all recognition by the internet. You hear the accusation of ‘lazy journalism’ all the time, but the demands on the journalists who are still lucky enough to be in a job are far greater than ever. As well as your match reports and daily news stories there are live blogs, and interacting with people who are criticising your blog in the comments section underneath, Twitter, and there are no hard and fast deadlines now. You don’t get to spend all day perfecting a story for the next morning’s paper. You need to keep the website up-to-date.

Another recent development is the staff reporter at a Saturday game having to write match reports for both the Sunday and Monday papers, in my case the Observer and the Guardian. This is a result of the cut-backs that are taking place throughout the industry and the freelance budget being slashed. Not only is it that awkward just in terms of not wanting to repeat yourself, but while you are writing the report for the Observer the Monday journalists are going to the mixed zone to get the quotes and you are cut out of that because you are not in a position to speak to a player yourself.

That seems a bit harsh, seeing as only two go and do the interviewing anyway, why can’t they share them with you as well?

Just say Fellaini had made his apology to one of the reporters on Saturday right after the game. That would have been a hard, fresh news line for Monday’s paper and everyone would have led on that. If those Monday lads shared those quotes with someone who was writing for both days’ papers though, they would risk them being used on the Sunday and undermining their own stories.

We get on, and I spend more time working alongside my ‘rivals’ than I do anyone from the Guardian, but there’s still always an element of competitiveness and a need to protect your story.

What’s it like being so more accessible to readers now?

Some journalists absolutely love it and are obsessed with Twitter – you can’t have a normal conversation with them because they are glued to their phone. Others can do without it because, let’s be honest, it’s football we’re covering and not many people go out of their way to contact you to say they value your opinion. I was called a prick on there the other week because there was a mistake in a Guardian match report. I wasn’t even at the game. If you’ve made a cock-up then people have every right to have a go, that’s fair enough, but I think the importance of Twitter itself has been massively overblown. I think inter-acting with the comments section on your paper’s website is more interesting. The problem I have there is that, by the time my match report or blog goes on-line, I’m probably in the car on the way home from a game, on my way to a press conference or on the phone trying to chase a story up, and in my opinion those things are still more important.

David Moyes doesn’t have a reputation as being particularly accommodating to the good men and women of the fourth estate; how do you find him?

Moyes is absolutely great to deal with. He is not old-fashioned in his methods or as a man, but in terms of how he is with us he has become sort of what you think of as old school, and that’s in a good way. He answers every question no matter how difficult it is, he has time for you and if he trusts you it’s no problem to have his number and put a call in to him if you need to.

You can see him socially too and he will speak to you off the record and be very straight with you. All that comes from being in the job 10 years I think; he feels really comfortable at Everton and with us now. He has always spoken to us, from day one, but he has definitely mellowed and opened up a lot, and I think he would admit that himself. If you speak to older journalists about dealing with managers in previous generations the relationships they had were quite similar to how Moyes is with us now.

He’s not the only one, there are some other managers still like that, but a lot more of them seem a bit wary of saying too much or being too close to journalists. I think that’s because of the demands of the job to a large extent – up until the mid to late 90’s there would only be a handful of radio and newspaper journalists at the press conferences, but now it’s massive with people there from the television, radio, websites, daily papers and the
Sunday papers.

So now you see someone like Brendan Rodgers, who is a new manager, looking around the room trying to find a familiar face and if he sees one he will probably latch on to them and be more friendly towards them. It will take him time to work out who he can trust, who he can speak to openly off the record at times and be confident that they won’t splash his comments all over the internet.

What’s your opinion on the celebrity football writers you see on The Sunday Supplement?

I’m of the opinion there is no such thing as a celebrity football writer, but a few who imagine they are. In terms of the Sunday Supplement, most of the journalists on there are at the top of the profession and worth listening to because they do have excellent contacts and opinions on the game. That doesn’t make them a celebrity, however, just someone who, like me, is fortunate enough to cover football for living. You can never lose sight of that.

Daniel Sandison Interview

This Is Not Football has an unashamed admiration for any ‘normal’ people who have the talent and determination to get out there and create stuff. It’s for that reason we got in touch with Daniel Sandison, co-founder and editor of Halcyon Magazine and Stand Against Modern Football, who kindly took time away from his nascent media empire to talk to us about magazines, football and all the usual good stuff.

Check out both excellent publications if you are not familiar with them already.

You are only 23 but you have already established two magazines, how did you start?

I studied film at university but I found it too expensive to start making my own. I enjoy writing and I wanted to do something that appealed to people like me and my mates, basically, so initially two of us set up a website, which was Halcyon. It started off with just light-hearted fanzine-type stuff, top tens and things like that, but after a while we started to run low on stuff because we were doing it on our own. We got a few more lads involved to write style pieces until eventually there were five of us, all unemployed, because there’s really not that much work around in the field we want to be involved in.

We made a decision to put it into print, just for something to do at first, really, but also because we believed that there is a gap in the market for magazines for lads like us. We don’t buy Esquire and spend thousands of pounds on suits, but neither are we interested in reading Nuts to look at pictures of people falling off their motorbikes in ‘hilarious’ ways.

The production values of that first issue, with the iconic cover featuring Carl Froch, were really impressive. How did you manage that?

It was always important to make it look and feel good, because if you don’t then people won’t take it seriously. You can’t talk with any authority about a great sportsman, a great coat or pair of trainers if the magazine itself looks shit.

We were really happy with the final product, but the process behind it was really haphazard. A lot of it was very last-minute and we had to ask people for favours where normally they would have been paid, things like that.

It was a free mag, presumably funded by advertising, just going and getting the ads themselves must have taken some doing.

It is difficult, because it is a competitive market, especially if you are a new magazine. The five of us worked hard at it, because we basically didn’t have any money of our own to put into it, and it was a case of finding brands who were perhaps willing to take a risk because they really liked our brand. They are few and far between though, which makes the selling of the ads probably the toughest part of the process – and the reason why the issues are published so irregularly.

It’s a balancing act, because by the time you get the money in, the content you have been working on can end up out of date. We’ve got some great content already for a third issue but we just face that funding stumbling block at the moment.

How did you arrive at the idea of Stand Against Modern Football?

Through Twitter likeminded people often come together and that was the case here – I ended up in contact with the two other lads I now edit Stand with, Mark Smith who also edits Proper Magazine, and Seb White. It was Seb’s idea initially – Against Modern Football has been a movement on the Continent for years, in places like Italy and Sweden, and it’s just started to rear its head a little bit over here.

People have obviously been banging the drum in football fanzines over here long before we ever did, but it seems to be appearing more in mainstream media, so we thought that perhaps it was a good time to bring everyone’s opinions together in a neutral setting. Obviously football’s fundamentally tribal, so people aren’t seeing the great points other fans are making because they are in club-specific fanzines that they would never buy.

The idea was just to raise the issues – the same old ones, like ticket prices – but to make the point that whatever you are thinking, there are people in the same situation at other clubs, whether they are just down the road or on the other side of the world. You would never hear those stories without some sort of platform though. There’s no manifesto of ‘your club should be doing this’ because people who pay their money know what’s best for their club – the idea is to just let them tell their own story.

How’s it been received so far?

Really well to be honest. We did a thousand copies of the first issue and we don’t sell them at the match so one lad had to sort out an awful lot of postage. Maybe we should have expected the demand, because there did seem to be a sort of hunger for it on Twitter, where the idea snowballed, but we were still overwhelmed.

Given the way that football fans, and indeed people in general, can be excited about the idea of campaigns and movements initially and then sort of drift off, do you think you can maintain that momentum?

There definitely is always that danger, and that’s why it’s so important not to tell people what to do. I think the momentum will come from the fact that there are 166 clubs in the Football League and there are so many more around the world who are also involved. As I said, in Sweden and Italy they have had established movements for years so hopefully we can learn from them and the progress they have made. We can also learn from FC United and AFC Wimbledon – let’s look at the things that they are doing right.

What do you think are the main things that need changing and, perhaps more importantly, can be changed about modern football?

Obviously there are a lot of things that have improved. The safety is the biggest thing, and while some people miss the feeling of being threatened when they go at an away game, the vast majority don’t.

However, I think the biggest, most fundamental problem is that 99% of clubs simply don’t value their fans any more. They need to have a voice and to be listened to, whether it’s regarding ticket prices, players wages or television rights – whatever affects different clubs.

I don’t know whether that’s through establishing Trusts or exactly how they can have that input, but clubs are going to have to realise that they are alienating their supporters even though they keep marketing the game on the heritage of those original core supporters. The people who have created all that proud heritage, at Liverpool, Manchester United or wherever, are now being priced out.

So I think there are a lot of things wrong, but altogether they add up to that overall sense of alienation, and that’s what needs confronting.

To actually get things done together as supporters of different clubs I think we could do with a sort of temporary ceasefire in terms of, say, laughing at Wigan for only selling so many tickets and things like that. Banging on about things like that all the time eventually makes you part of the problem.

I don’t think everyone should all put their arms around each other and say ‘let’s take on the boards’ but we need to think about the positions that other clubs are in. In an ideal world we could all work together, sort things out and then all go back to hating each other again.

For the time being though, we know that we are still in the minority. There are a lot of people who don’t have any real problem paying £60 to watch the match – younger ones might not actually know any different. Unfortunately, at the moment at some clubs if you take the stance that you are going to stop attending the club are happy for someone else to come in your place who will probably spend more than you in the shop.

Showing people that there is another way is the thing at the moment though. Hopefully when enough people realise that there might be a consensus whereby supporters will come together and demand changes.

As I say, there have been improvements but there are still problems, and we’d like to see some sort of happy medium where the original fans along with the new supporters who have been attracted to the game can all benefit. It’s not a case of wanting things back the way they were; it’s about them evolving again for the better.

Finally, what would be your advice to anyone else setting out to start their own magazine?

Don’t do it on your own – there will be plenty of other likeminded people out there wanting to do the same thing. There’s a stigma about the internet, that it’s just full of weirdos – which is true to an extent – but there are also people from around the world with the exact same interests and tastes as you.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice either, no matter how out of your league they might seem. Again the internet has shortened those distances – send them an email and you might be surprised. And if they won’t help you then just don’t help them in the future!

 

Neville Southall Interview

Many thanks to James Corbett for setting up this interview with Everton legend and genuinely decent fella Neville Southall. The book they wrote together, The Binman Chronicles, is in the shops now.

How did you find writing the book?

In some ways it was really easy, and in some times it was really hard. Sometimes it was really funny and other times it was actually quite sad. Over all it was good, but I have to admit that I wasn’t great at remembering when things happened, because it all goes by so quick. I’d say something happened at a certain time and it would turn out that it was actually three years before, so James had to check a lot of things out. In fact we’ve still got a bit of an argument going on, because I’m sure Jeff Hopkins came on against Brazil, but he keeps telling me it was Iceland.

You say early on that you did the book to show there’s more to your personality than perhaps the caricature – do you think you succeeded in that?

I think so, because a lot of people who know me who have read it say ‘That is you, that’s how you speak’ and they can picture me saying the stuff in the book, and that’s what I wanted. As a fan you only see the fella standing there in goal, sometimes doing a lot, other times not so much, but I like to think there’s more to me than just a footballer. I wanted people to know that I worked for a living before football and I work for a living now.

I also wanted to show how it wasn’t easy to progress through the ranks to the first team – it rarely is for anyone.

A lot of people perceive a sort of gravy train for ex-players now, in coaching and media, but you took another route, working in education.

I couldn’t live on the money that I had when I finished playing for the rest of my life and I also need to be doing something all the time. I thought about it recently when I had a week off – I couldn’t just do nothing, even if I won the lottery, I’ve got to have something to do that I believe in.

Reading the book, it’s clear that as a brilliant player you get a certain amount of latitude in terms of doing your own thing – you have something that the club wants – but to make the transition into coaching and management that relationship changes and perhaps you struggled a bit with that.

You have to get involved with the politics, and I really don’t do politics. Even working in schools I see a lot of it, and although I’m getting better at dealing with it I just think people should use their common sense instead of spending too long playing games.

The way I look at it, if you employ me then you want to hear my opinion – I think that’s healthy – otherwise why bother having me there? In footballing though that’s often not really the case. I remember arguing with Steve Bruce in front of all the players because he said the keeper should stand in the middle of the goal for free-kicks, and I said ‘No, I don’t think so’. He disagreed, said the lad was at fault for the goal on the Saturday, and I insisted he wasn’t. I didn’t think it was a problem but he didn’t like it.

If you are that afraid of hearing someone else’s opinion then firstly why have him there, and secondly, you’re probably not that good at your job.

Football’s got worse and worse for this. You look at certain people and you wonder: what does he give you exactly? And often I think they are just there to protect the manager. Again, if you need protecting then you are probably not that good at your job.

When I did a bit of managing with the Wales team I would tell all the coaches what I wanted and ask them for their opinions and whether they agreed. I’d listen, and based on what they said I might change my mind or I might not, but we would have an open discussion, because if they were just ‘yes men’ they were no good to me.

I try to do the same with the kids I work with now – you listen to everyone because they might help you look at things in a different way.

There are definitely fellas in the game now though who have got jobs because they are good at watching the manager’s back, not because they are decent coaches, and that’s not for me.

I always remember a book you did when you were playing, a diary of a season, and in it you said that the older players who a manager is loyal to can often be the ones who end up getting him sacked. Do you still believe that?

Yes, I think you definitely have to be ruthless. I learned that much from Howard. I think there is a right way of doing things though. You should go in from day one, be blatantly honest and say ‘You are not my cup of tea and I’m not going to play you much, so if you want to move on, that’s fine.’

Whenever I’ve managed at club level I go in the changing room, leave the door open and say to everyone, ‘If you don’t want to play for me then no problem, there’s the door, see you later.’

No one ever walks out, but you quickly find out the ones who should have, as they start to try and play politics.

Sometimes the older players can be great, if you can get them to share your frame of mind and especially if they are prepared to help the younger lads. If they are not willing to do that then I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want them at my club. You can’t have someone who is sulking if he has to play a couple of games in the reserves – they have to get in there and be role models. I learnt that from seeing how Howard would play for the reserves, he took it really seriously, and then I’ve seen other fellas more or less just mess about.

It seems increasingly fashionable nowadays for players to say that they don’t even like football, that it’s just a job. Was that the case when you were playing?

No, not really, not until the Premier League started and Sky got involved anyway, you started to notice some attitudes changing a bit then. Some players maybe do have a bit of plan of where they want to be, and football is a means to an end, but fellas like me and Rushy never really thought beyond football.

Players are different now, and I think that’s one of the reasons why fans get a bit fed up with it. Even when I played, we weren’t much different from the sorts of lads who were supporters, but they seem so far removed now, a lot of them.

Things have been watered down to an extent in English football, because of the number of foreign players chiefly. I have no problem with them, especially the good ones, but I hate it, for instance, when they come over and then complain about the weather. What did they expect? Or when they start rubbishing different parts of the country – they only want to live in London being a favourite one.

Loads of them are good lads but the ones who come over and start moaning I find disrespectful. We were always lucky at Everton, they were all decent lads we signed from abroad. Stefan Rehn was a great lad, so was Preki – it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t play eleven-a-side. I actually didn’t realise how big a star he was in the States until I read Pete Cormack’s book – he said that Preki was the big outstanding talent over there. He really struggled to adapt here though, although I think maybe if he had gone to West Ham or Norwich, somewhere where he could get away with the occasional bit of magic, he might have done alright. Not at Everton though, the fans are ruthless, and rightly so.

Obviously you loved it when Everton were great, going out expecting to batter teams every week, and you were flattered by the interest of, say, Manchester United, so weren’t you ever tempted to leave instead of playing for some terrible Everton teams?

When I went to Bury I liked it straight away, it way my sort of environment, I liked it at Winsford as well, and then Everton. Torquay was alright as well.

When I left Everton for Stoke though I walked in and I didn’t like it at all. It just felt wrong. Southend was no good either.

So it was important to me that I felt happy and comfortable in the environment at Everton, so I never really thought about leaving. I was in a good position where I could do whatever I wanted to do and they would just live with me. I also thought that if you sign a contract then you have a duty to honour that, even though it might be easier in some ways to just jump ship.

When it comes to the quality of the team as well, I really didn’t mind as long as the lads were giving everything, and they did. I always had a good comparison with Wales as well. They were nowhere near as good as Everton in the 80s, and the facilities and the kit weren’t as good, but the lads were all grafters, there was a good atmosphere.

So for me, there was never any real reason to leave Everton.

Do you feel that you played in teams who didn’t really try?

No, not really. It’s very rare that players don’t. Sometimes when they are lacking in confidence they might try and hide a bit, and not make runs to help each other like they should. Another one you see is keepers who stay rooted to their lines, or nowadays at corners you see some of them actually behind the line instead of being out there commanding the area.

You see players slowing down going into tackles as well, making sure that they come second, and that shows that maybe they lack confidence – it might be because they know that the manager doesn’t really believe in them and doesn’t really want to pick them. So there are all sorts of little things that go on that add up to their performance. It’s rare that they are not really physically trying though.

Take Peter Beardsley when he came to us, he was playing balls that he expected people to run onto because they were on his wavelength. But often they weren’t and it was making him look bad and he ended up getting a bit of stick when he was easily our best player.

In the book you say that the League Cup Final against Liverpool when you matched them at Wembley was the point where you started to believe in what the team was capable of. Was there a similar point when you thought ‘it’s over for this side’?

To be honest, when you are playing it just sort of creeps up on you. Colin came in and started changing personnel and we did alright at first, but it’s difficult when you have been in a team as good as we had not to just judge all new players against the great ones they are replacing. You have to adjust how you are playing ever-so-slightly for every new player, and that has a knock-on effect, but you see that they are trying and running their bollocks off and so you get on with it, but over two or three years there were so many new faces that things had changed an awful lot without you really realising.

I don’t know whether Colin would have done anything different with hindsight, I’ve never asked him, but I think he wanted it to be his team from the start and I can understand that.

Similarly I spoke to Sparky a while ago, about QPR buying so many new players, and he just said that they had to because the ones they had just weren’t good enough. It’s a matter of them gelling now, but I think we saw against Everton last week that when they do they should be a decent side. I think they need another forward though, because you have to score a lot of goals in the Premier League now, the way the game is. That’s why I think Jelavic has been so important for Everton – you can see the team has a belief that he will score if they make the chances. He’s not quite as good as Rushy in some ways, but he still reminds me of him in terms of the ratio of goals he gets compared to the chances. They are very similar in that.

Did you really enjoy playing against Rush?

He scored a lot of goals against me, and gave me the most injuries, but I always wanted to play against the best players, and he was certainly one of them. That’s what you get into the game for, to compete against the best and test how good you are.

I always enjoyed playing against the biggest teams too, the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. In Europe though we never really played the very top sides, so that’s why the Bayern Munich game meant so much. I can certainly see why the Champions League is so big and so special now, playing those big games all the time. It takes some doing to go and win it.

With hindsight we all know the damaging effect that the European ban had on Everton – as a player, did it feel like that at the time though?

I’m just one of them fellas who thinks ‘Well, we can’t play in Europe so there’s no point in worrying about it.’ I did feel we were cheated, but we had to keep going, there were other things to be getting on with.

I think these days we would put up a challenge, but we didn’t at the time because the British government were happy for the clubs to be banned. Could you imagine them trying to do it now though, with all the money at stake and all the lawyers involved? They would struggle.

What do you think of the recent racial incidents and the refusal by some black players to wear the Kick It Out t-shirts?

I can understand the players’ frustrations to be honest. Racism was terrible in football when you go back to the 1970s, so there has been at least 40 years for rules to have been put in place to deal with this sort of thing, but these recent events have shown that the FA are totally unprepared.

It shouldn’t take the black players to highlight it now to get some proper rules in place, it’s ridiculous. The best thing that could happen would be for the FA to put a rule in place that just says that anyone found using racist language, be it a player or supporter, is banned for life, simple as that. As it stands, it looks as if the punishment depends on who you play for and how you are perceived, when it should just be the same for everyone. You hear people defend themselves by saying it’s said in the heat of the moment, but you don’t use that sort of language in any circumstance unless it’s the way you think. It’s no excuse.

All the books by players from your era at Everton always say, ‘Howard, great man manager’ and that’s it. Your relationship with him seems to have been a bit more complicated than that though.

I don’t know about complicated so much. I didn’t actually have that much to do with him, to be fair. He was an authority figure and I don’t deal with them that well, so Colin was always my link; he was the one I dealt with most because he was more like one of us where there was always that distance with Howard. When I did deal with him though it was always pretty straightforward.

Where you disappointed with how it all ended though? It’s one of the saddest and yet funniest parts of the book when you go into his hotel before the Leeds game and his bollocks are hanging out of his dressing gown.

One of the reasons why it took me so long to do the book is because if I had written it immediately after leaving Everton I probably would have called him all the names under the sun, and that wouldn’t have been right. I was upset, and looking back I think it was a really hard one for him, but one he believed to be right, so that’s fine. Without time to reflect though I would have probably slaughtered him and spoiled everything, and there would be no point in that, because I had far more good times than bad times under him, and overall he treated me with respect. I would have handled the situation at the end a bit differently, but we are two different people, and I think he is a bit more ruthless than me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though.

I actually think it affected him more than it did me. I had no control over it where he had to take the decision and live with it.

I get on alright with him now when I meet him, but I still find it really difficult to separate the man from the position as boss. He’s still an authority figure and I don’t think I’ll ever get past that.

Your respect for Colin Harvey comes over really clearly in the book.

He’s a great fella. A proper Scouser. Whenever I think of Scousers and the city of Liverpool I just think of him because he has all the things that you associate with the place: the determination, he won’t back down and he’s got a great sense of humour.

Your obsession with training is also a major part of the book. Do you think you had to train with that level of dedication to be as good as you where, or could you not have got by on natural talent to an extent?

It’s simple – if you don’t put the effort in you won’t get anything out of the game. I’ve seen so many players waste their careers because they weren’t prepared to go the extra mile.

It’s a bit like a boxer who gets up and trains hard because he knows that the other fella will be. If you want to get in the first team at a top club and stay there, not just be around for one or two seasons and then go and play for Walsall or someone, you have to train as hard or harder than all those lads who are dying to take your place.

You have to keep pushing and get as much out of yourself as you can. There’s plenty of time to rest once you stop playing.

You talk about Duncan Ferguson as someone who perhaps never achieved all he could because of his attitude to training.

He just never became as good as he could have been and I think he will realise that even more now he’s training the kids at Everton. He will see how it’s important to produce, week in, week out, not just when you feel like it.

He wasn’t a good self-motivator and that’s why he only seemed to do it in the big games.

I think he suffered from quite a few knocks off other people in some ways too, because he is actually a really shy fella. Going to prison could have affected him and having his own FA turn their back on him. If it was me I would have had their picture on my wall and thought ‘Fuck you, I’m going to show you by being the best player in the world and you will have to come and beg me to come and play for you’.

I actually used to tell him he should have carried on playing for Scotland because it was him who was suffering. I think he will regret not being able to have a real international career to reflect on with his kids. I do understand his decision though.

I also think he will end up being a top class coach, because he’s been through so many things that most other player’s haven’t, and he will be able to draw on all that. He’s a clever fella, not this sort of fearsome lad who doesn’t care about anything that a lot people think. He’s another where the perception is all wrong. The only problem I see for him is that he’s like me and won’t put up with the politics, so he will need to be somewhere where he is comfortable, which is why he’s so happy with the rest of the Jock clan at Everton at the moment.

Being a down to earth fella yourself, have you ever got used to being recognised by people?

It’s good sometimes and it’s crap sometimes.

I did a five-a-side thing at the London School of Economics and I came out at midnight and I didn’t have a clue where I was going. An Indian taxi driver pulled up out of nowhere, recognised me and asked me where I was going. I told him the M4 and he said no problem, follow me, and led me the right way – things like that are great.

On the other hand, I was on the train at Chelsea and someone just walks past the window and gives me the wanker sign. I’ve also been at Euston and had all sorts of pissed Jocks telling me that they remember me playing for Scotland. I get all sorts, but mostly people are great with me.