Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be: roll on 2012

NORMAN GILLER goes all Max Bygraves on us, says good riddance to 2011 and welcomes 2012 with an internet gleam in his old mince pies

Am I alone in saying good riddance to 2011? We lost sports journalist giants of the stature of David Welch and Peter Batt, while the biggest-selling newspaper – the News of the World – went to the Wapping Wall, and hundreds more scribes and subs from national and regional papers joined the unemployment queue.

Things can only get better? Norman Giller reckons he's seen worse economic gloom in the past

The hacking scandal has left a scar on journalism that may never heal, while newspaper circulations continue to fall, and scores of regional newspapers and magazines folded. Happy New Year!

As 2012 creeps in to a background of economic gloom, this crumbling old ruin can tell you that things have been worse.

When I tunnelled my way out of the Daily Express on December 31, 1973, my first week as a freelance coincided with the start of what was literally one of the darkest periods in recent history: the three-day week.

With a coal miners’ strike and other industrial action going on, there were power cuts across the country to save electricity, businesses worked only part of the week (their employees having their wages cut accordingly), and even TV broadcasts shut down at 10.30pm every night. Only essential services, including hospitals and (believe it or not) newspaper printing presses were allowed to continue normally.

Floodlit football matches were banned, and many midweek matches were switched to afternoon kick-offs. It all lasted from January 1 until mid-March. What a nightmare start to my freelancing life. Yes, Delboy, I felt like a proper plonker.

As I typed my copy by candelight I wondered and worried as to whether – with a wife, two kids and a mortgage to support – I had been a tad reckless in walking out on the comfortable job of chief football reporter at the Black Lubianka.

With Middle East oil producers squeezing supplies, inflation was running at – wait for it – 19.1 per cent, the miners were ready for all-out war, and unemployment was galloping towards 2 million.

I am deliberately painting this pitiless picture to prove that things have been bad before. And you know what? There is always sunshine at the end of the tunnel. Bodies were left unburied during the Winter of Discontent in 1978-1979, and they said the end of the world was nigh when interest rates jumped to 15 per cent on Black Wednesday in 1992.

But we came through it all to see footballers jump into the £100,000-a-week bracket, and with – let’s be honest – a posse of sportswriters each getting more in their wage packet than the likes of old masters of the game like Peter Wilson, Des Hackett, George Whiting and Geoffrey Green earned between them.

Now we are back to gloom and doom, but this Old Hack (in the traditional sense) pleads with you to hold your nerve. Despite the shrinking newspaper world, there has never been a wider media canvas on which to work.

Thanks to my former neighbour in dozy, delightful Dorset – World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee – there is a new world to conquer for anybody who can string sentences together. We have only scratched the surface of the internet’s potential, and if I were a young sports journalist I would be excavating and exploring to see how to make the web pay.

If you have real knowledge of sport, then there is a market for you. Look hard at the fast-growing world of electronic publishing, and also see whether you can turn the new, low-risk print-on-demand technology into a profitable project.

I have formed a Spurs Writers’ Club, bringing together bloggers, authors and young journos to write books about all things Tottenham. A silly idea? Well at least I am trying to be creative, and I urge you to put your thinking cap on.

I am in the process of completing my 92nd book, a biography of Sir Henry Cooper, and you can attract the interest of publishers provided you present your idea with flair and style. Packaging and presentation is all important, and your best chance of getting a commission is to tie a star name to your book in what is now, sadly, a celebrity-driven world.

Never think you are too old to start. I was 38 before I wrote my first book and have since averaged three a year. I am not saying this to boast, but just to encourage you. If I can do it, so can you.

If you have a great idea for a sports book, think of a major star that it would fit and approach his agent and get him on board before trying to sell it to a publisher. Norman Giller on Footballers’ Diets? It would possibly be commissioned with a pittance of an advance. But Gordon Ramsay on Footballers’ Diets: there could be a huge advance that even with a 40 per cent share is much more than the money offered if the book was just in my name.

Why should we as journalists be so arrogant to think that our jobs would always be safe? When I first came into the wonderful world of words in the 1950s there were printers, dockers, miners and car workers. They have all gone to the wind, and it is only a matter of time before more newspapers fold.

But there will always be work for the journalists who are willing to mix industry and imagination. It’s the lazy journos who will struggle to make a living.

As we go into the Year of the London Olympics, be strong, be resourceful and be industrious. Yes, Happy New Year.

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