Football DataCo takes Self regulation to new lows

JANINE SELF, right, has been reporting on football for 23 years. That, though, is not good enough for licensing authority Football DataCo

Two decades as a football writer with the nationals, three years on the now-defunct Morning Telegraph in Sheffield. Two or three (or four or five) games a week, nine months of the year, 23 years.

Apparently this counts for nothing when it comes to obtaining the essential journalist’s licence to cover football in England and Wales. Zip, zero, zilch.

Why? Because an organisation called Football DataCo, whose sole purpose in life is apparently to make it hell for bona fide working journalists trying to go about their lawful daily business and report the sport of football from the nation’s press boxes.

The DataCo licence is a laminated, deeply flawed piece of nonsense along with a centralised accreditation system which has, unfortunately, been embraced by the Premier League and the Football League.

In effect, everyone who wishes to apply for media accreditation has to be licensed. If he or she happens to represent a newspaper, then he or she is sheltered under that umbrella. But step away and, baby, it’s cold and unfriendly out there.

I realise that I have been somewhat cosseted, but that’s what happens when you work for The Sun, my employers until June. Fifteen years on the Currant and you kind of take things for granted. Last year I casually mentioned to the sports desk secretary that I wanted a licence and it arrived in the post a few days later.

This summer, I started as a freelance with a check list which had “sort licence” pretty much near the top.

Full of naive optimism, immediately I hit a brick wall. There were forms for regional journos and for photographers but nothing for me. Undeterred, I whacked off an email asking how to go about getting a licence for the new season. No reply. OK, holiday time of the year, maybe the bloke’s away. Give it a few days, and I sent another email. No reply.

At this point, I am given a phone number by a pal which I ring. Then I have a conversation with someone for whom the phrase “It’s more than my job’s worth” was invented. I asked him to send me the relevant form.

“You can’t just apply for a licence,” I was informed. “You have to send us 30 published cuttings first.”

“It’s all right,” I replied reassuringly. “I was on The Sun for 15 years, I belong to the Football Writers’ Association, I am a member of the Sports Journalists’ Association, I am a football reporter. Oh, and you licensed me last year.”

Stupidly, I presumed that this rigmarole was about proving that I wasn’t a fly-by-night amateur looking for a free view. What an innocent.

“None of that counts,” said the bloke with a sense-of-humour by-pass. “We need to see 30 cuttings from after you left The Sun.”

Football DataCo’s infernal Catch 22
So this is the deal. I have to supply 30 of my published match reports to DataCo, who will then give me a licence which allows me into a press box to write a match report. But if I can’t get accredited, how do I start chalking up the 30 match reports?

I might as well have been talking Serbo-Croat as far as Mr DataCo was concerned. He told me, in all seriousness, that this was about protecting me. From what?

Later the same day I found myself in conversation with a media officer from a club which has reluctantly started to operate the DataCo centralised accreditation system. They did not want to, but felt they had no choice.

As it happens, I will be lucky enough to work for The People on a Saturday this season, which means I can now huddle under their “umbrella” in terms of match accreditation.

But that’s not the point. There will be times when I need to go to football matches for employers other than The People; perhaps even just for myself. And for that I must have a licence.

Wonder if pre-season friendlies count? If so, one down, another 29 cuttings to go.

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