Southampton shake-down is plain cuckoo

NOTICE TO ALL SPORTS EDITORS: In future I, NORMAN GILLER, and I alone will report Southampton’s matches at St Mary’s Stadium. You will have the choice of several versions: a running report, a considered verdict released within 10 minutes of the final whistle, plus a summary and quotes piece for the Sundays.

My fees – sorry, our fees – will be based on good old-fashioned lineage and linked to circulation. The Sun and News of the World, for example, must pay £10 a line, the local Echo just £3 a line. I can’t be fairer than that.

I will split the fees 50/50 with Southampton Football Club, who will also bill you separately for their exclusive photographs. If the Saints are beaten at any time, you can, of course, expect a warts-removed report. My reporting will be from the Goebbels school of propaganda.

The press box at St Mary’s will in future be a premium-price seating area for season ticket holders, and the touchline places that used to be filled by photographers will be sold for £50 per match to our fans. They will, naturally, be searched for any camera equipment before being allowed into the ground. Mobile phones will also be confiscated on entry to the ground, to deter any Twitterings, blogging or such like.

I will report the matches sitting on the knee of new owner Nicola Cortese (I was very disappointed, incidentally, to find out that she is a he). This will save another seat.

Before Nicola – a former Swiss banker – calls in Sue, Grabbitt and Run, let me stress that I am jesting, and if he sues I will laugh him out of court.

What is not so funny is the ridiculous ban he has slapped on photographers, demanding that newspapers take the pictures supplied by Southampton’s club snapper.

This is a dangerous move and Fleet Street must muscle together to make sure it does not work. Otherwise every club will jump on the banned wagon (geddit?), and release only club-approved photographs.

With the Olympic organisers charging the media a “reasonable” and “non-profit-making” £150 for internet access during the 2012 Games and planning to sell off press seats to the public during off-peak events, newspapers are beginning to hit their heads against paywalls on all sides.

Too many sporting establishments are looking not so much to shoot the messenger, but to fleece him. Has nobody told them that many newspapers are rocking on the brink of bankruptcy and just cannot afford to pay to publicise sport.

THE ATTEMPTED SOUTHAMPTON photographic shake-down comes as news filters through that among the journalists being chopped in the Mirror clear-out are six of 10 staff photographers at Trinity Mirror (Daily and Sunday Mirror, and The People).

What, me guv? Confronted by Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner denies taking pictures at Southampton

This from the photographic school that gave us the great Monte Fresco, who was a legendary lensman at the Mirror for more than 30 years.

If football clubs had been “censoring” the pictures in his day, we may never have seen his classic shot of Dave Mackay grabbing Billy Bremner by the scruff of the neck or Vinnie Jones squeezing Gazza’s family jewellery.

I travelled the world with Monte and his Uncle Monty Fresco – a sports photo master at the Daily Mail – and celebrated with each of them when they were awarded MBEs.

There have been few better sports photographers than the Mirror’s Monte, and certainly none funnier. He was the sharp-tongued comedian who gave the generic nicknames for Fleet Street photographers (smudgers) and writers (blunts, as in blunt pencils, although I think he was using some Cockney rhyming slang … and I will leave you to work that one out for yourself).

There was hardly a top British sportsman who did not know and respect Monte in the 1960s and 1970s and only the establishment disliked him. The FA once complained to the Mirror that his photographs were bringing the game into disrepute. That was after his shot of the Jones-Gascoigne ball control was wired around the world.

How did Monte get photos that so many other smudgers missed? Simple. He used his imagination.

Monte never followed the sheep sitting alongside the goal looking for goalmouth action. He always positioned himself close to the halfway line and, to quote him, “looked for events”. It was almost Macmillanesque: “Events, old boy, events …”

I remember once on a European Cup trip to Switzerland with the Arsenal in 1971-72, Monte and I decided we would spend some of our expense allowance on a cuckoo clock each.

We walked the streets of Zurich, searching high and low for a clock and were reduced to going into shops and stores and saying “Cuckoo-cuckoo?” to startled counter assistants.

In the end I finished up paying double price at the airport, but Monte said: “A good Jewish boy like me would not be seen dead paying airport mark-ups. You, you silly blunt, have gone cuckoo …”

Ever since then Monte and I have always started our conversations with saying ‘Cuckoo-cuckoo” to each other. People overhearing must think we are mad. The jury is still out.

What Monte and I will agree on is that if Fleet Street allow Southampton to get away with banning photographers, then they are the ones who are going cuckoo.

More on the Southampton photography ban here

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.