Sports writers ought never to work without a seffety nett, reckons NORMAN GILLER, as he recalls football scoops that weren’t and ringside copy that might have been typed wearing a pair of boxing gloves
As an old football hack, my sympathy went out this week to those reporters scrambling to keep up with the managerial roundabout. The usual suspects (Sven, Curbs, Avram Grant, The Special One) were trotted out as the Portsmouth and Chelsea seats became vacant on the same day. Few were right at the first time of asking.
It’s rare for a newspaper to get away with an exclusive on the naming of a new manager, but the old broadsheet Sun once had a scoop that was, well, half right.
Come with me back to the mid-1960s. Wolverhampton Wanderers, then a slowly deflating giant of the game, decided to part company with manager Andy Beattie following the little matter of a 9-3 defeat at Southampton.
On the The Sun – then an IPC paper developed from what was once the Daily Herald – a young, enthusiastic reporter fresh up from the Valleys, Peter Corrigan, was like a bloodhound quickly on the story.
He was burrowing away on possible leads as to who would succeed Beattie when he took a call from a breathlessly excited contact: “Allen has got the Wolves job.”
Peter: “Alan who?”
Contact: “Allen â€¦ Les Allen. He’s going to be unveiled at Molineux tomorrow.”
Les Allen, pictured above, a member of Tottenham’s Double-winning side of 1960-61, had recently joined Queen’s Park Rangers and made no secret of the fact that he eventually wanted to coach and manage.
There were 15 minutes to go to the first edition. Corrigan rang the Allen home and was told he was in the Midlands.
He then rang a Wolves mole: “Would I be on the right track if I write that Allen is favourite for the Wolves job?”
Mole: “I can tell you off the record that he was interviewed for the job today.”
Ten minutes to the deadline. Peter dashed out his story that was handed to copy taster Alan Hughes for a quick subbing job.
The headline in 48pt Bodoni bold capitals across five broadsheet columns: ALLEN TAKES OVER AT WOLVES
One o’clock the following day, a news flash comes over the PA tapes: “Allen new manager at Molineux â€¦ full story follows.”
In the office, they were jumping around in triumph.
Next the story, tapping out before their eyes: “Wolves today appointed Ronnie Allen as their new manager â€¦”
Corrigan, hiding his embarrassment behind humour, said: “Well… I was half right.”
I had a much more expensive experience with getting same-name people muddled up. On this occasion, I was half wrong.
A couple of years ago I wrote a script for a boxing DVD I was jointly producing with On the Box Productions’ Brian Klein, now a Top Gear director.
We showed extraordinary footage of Romany fighter Bobby Frankham hitting the referee after his 1987 light-heavyweight fight had been stopped in the first round. Frankham was banned for life.
Relatively speaking, I was unlucky that there was another Frankham â€“ “Gypsy John”, a former British light-heavyweight champion. My brain briefly switched off, and I typed “Johnny” into the voice-over script.
The DVD had been on the shelves five minutes when Johnny Frankham alerted the legal eagles. He, of course, had never been banned from boxing for whacking a referee.
Result: an out-of-court settlement that swallowed my meagre savings, the DVD taken out of circulation and me swearing in future to carry legal insurance.
It prompts the thought of how many similar cases there will be now that many reporters are losing the safety-net of a sub-editor.
I reckon that will be like banking without regulators, or managing a Premiership football club without a bullet-proof vest.
A lot of my old reporting colleagues could not spell for tofee, and there grammer was very susspect.
But by the time they got into the paper they had been tidied and tickled to the point where they read like masters of the written word.
And who is going to save them from the typo gremlins? I remember reporting Henry Cooper’s British title victory over Brian London when I was on the tradepaper Boxing News back in 1959.
I am sure that I typed, “At the end of the round London looked in distress as he sat on his stool â€¦”
It appeared in the paper as, “At the end of the round London looked in distress as he shat on his stool â€¦”
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how, whatever the economic difficulties, eneterprising sports journalists can always find a way to turn a few bob, often by writing books with strong, big-name connections. I am now putting this to the test by self-publishing a book called The Lane of Dreams, a complete and affectionate history of White Hart Lane.
I have my old mate Jimmy Greaves on board to lend a touch of authority and drawing power. My aim is to get the book out before the bulldozers and wrecking balls knock the lovely old ground into the past tense.
If I can get it to work at a profitable level, I will willingly pass on my experiences in the hope it might help you. And if I wreck my balls, I will also tell you about it (probably from Carey Street).
Traditional publishers are retreating more and more into their shell as the Credit Crunch takes a bite out of their business. They seem interested only in projects that have a “celebrity” attached, and have lost their confidence. If we all take that attitude, we might as well shut up shop now.
The first thing a self publisher needs to do is set up a website. Mine can be found by clicking here.
If a dyslexic dol frat like me can do it, so can you.
I leave you with this thought â€¦ self publishing has been around since the years BC (Before Clough). Mark Twain, Alexander Dumas, Alfred Lord Tennyson and DH Lawrence were among the pioneers, and more recently John Grisham not only printed but also went out and sold his first novel from the back of his car.
I wonder if they all used sub-editors?