Sky Sports Premier League coverage. Photo: Ben Radford - Sky Sports/Getty Images
Show Hide image

I never thought it was possible to have too much football

Eleven hours of the beautiful game on one day: is it enough?

Can you be too thin, too rich, too popular, too old, too handsome, too prolific, too lovely? In my long-legged life, I have been all of those things, oh yes. Not always easy.

But can you have too much football? Until yesterday I’d have said no: impossible, it’s the icing on the cherry.

My week totally revolves around football, organising my family, my work, my everything to fit. For example, tonight – Monday – I am going to give a talk to the NUJ Freelance branch at Friends House. Dunno why. I never do such things, but months ago I got an email from someone I don’t know asking nicely if I would. Months ago, you think today will never happen. First I checked to see there were no Prem games on telly tonight. Which is why I said yes.

But at the time I didn’t think I would feel like I do this morning, never having checked what was happening yesterday. I spent a total of 11 – repeat, 11 – hours watching football. Is this the way madness is?

Early doors, I watched Match of the Day, which I’d recorded. I go to bed at ten, so never watch it live, desperately avoiding all scores in order to have virgin, unsullied eyes. I can whizz on and miss all the studio stuff, daft talking points, pointless analysis. I have my own daft, pointless opinions.

At midday there came three live Prem games, one after the other, all on Sky Sports. Often there are days when there is only one live game, alas – then once every few weeks they bludgeon us over the head.

I watched every minute of each, though the moment one was over, I couldn’t remember the score, or who was playing, the time or day, what is the capital of England, who is the Prime Minister, yet I had been concentrating – really hard. Football might not rot the brain but it does deaden the senses.

That took me to 6.30pm and kick-off for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, hurrah, between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. I didn’t watch the earlier rounds, as they were on Eurosport. By some oversight, it’s the only sports channel in the world I don’t subscribe to. But I’d discovered that the final was on ITV4. Not many people know there is such a channel, lurking away.

It went to extra time and penalties – which Côte d’Ivoire won – so it was precisely 30 seconds to ten o’clock when I collapsed into bed. Oh, you’re still alive, she said. Thought you’d popped it.

A whole day, glued to the football. Thank God for half-time. A chance to take sustenance and go to the lav.

Now, do I need therapy? Is there something lacking in my life? What am I escaping?

Growing up, I wouldn’t do this, as there was no live football on the telly except the Cup final. Instead, we crouched round the family radio, which was connected by a wire to the light socket above the kitchen table (how on earth did we not set fire to the house?), while my little heart pounded, willing on Scotland to beat England. Perhaps my deprived childhood is to blame for my overdosing today. That’ll be five guineas.

I couldn’t do it as a young dad either. Having three kids screaming round the house made it harder to crouch in my room with the door barricaded, though God, I did try. Anyway you didn’t get wall-to-wall TV until twenty years ago when the Prem began.

Now there’s only about five days or five minutes in the middle of August each year when it is impossible to find football on the telly somewhere. Should there be a health warning? To save the vulnerable from themselves. You get barren patches when there’s just one game a day – then suddenly, like yesterday, there’s four live games in a day. What can an addict do?

I could have stayed up even later and watched Barcelona, done 24 hours’ solid football and made the Guinness World Records.

The current sale of Prem games to TV is going to include Friday-night games as well. Brilliant. I’ll be dancing in the street, if I can find the strength, and the street.

Next week – can you have too much sex? A doctor writes ... 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

Show Hide image

What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.