The fan - Hunter Davies
A day with the hacks. Top breakfast, plush seats, but not a player in sight
Must be about ten years since I was in a press box. But the other week was Spurs-Arsenal, bound to be a punch-up, so I wanted to be close to the action. If any. Every reporter I talked to beforehand was predicting a boring 0-0 or 1-1 draw. They are experts.
When I used to do match reporting the press facilities were primitive but, if you stood in the car park long enough, you could grab the odd player. Now, with all the agents, attention, not much chance, but at least the hacks get treated as fairly civilised animals. So we got a hearty English breakfast, yum yum, in the press lounge beforehand. It was a midday kick-off.
In the old days, you had to fight for a team sheet, which was often chalked on a board. Now you get all the details, properly printed, plus pages of totally fascinating facts, such as if Robert Pires plays and if he scores he will be three short of 50 Premiership goals: wow, hold the back page. If Spurs keep a clean shirt, their laundry bill will be well down next week.
Normally, at Spurs and Arsenal, I'm in a season ticket seat, high up, just over the halfway line, excellent position, can see every move. The press seats at White Hart Lane are, in fact, rubbish, as far as academic analytical study is concerned, which, of course, is my speciality. Too low down. You can't see what's happening on the other side.
But you can see everything happening on the bench, right in front of you. I could read what Chris Hughton was writing - just squiggles really. Pat Rice, on the Arsenal bench, whom I studied closely, has lost about three inches since he used to play for them. Weird. Arsene Wenger sat down throughout, except when he got up and kicked a crate of Lucozade, ooh, the bad-tempered beast, after Jose Reyes missed a sitter. Martin Jol, in his first game as Spurs head coach, never sat down. In breaks of play, he looked up at the West Stand, as if trying to catch a friend's eye. Or God's.
Jamie Redknapp, Spurs captain, one of my pet hates, why is he still there, sat on the bench throughout, thank goodness, so I had lots of time to peer into his left ear and examine his tan. All over, even his hands. He went out of his way to shake hands with Thierry Henry, chatted to Dermot Gallagher, the fourth official. Even had his arm round him. At one stage, he turned round and gave me such a lovely smile. Now I understand why he's still there. His role is to charm for Spurs.
Afterwards, all the press traipsed into the interview room, which was like a Soho viewing cinema, 60 very plush, luxury seats. With Bill Nicholson, you tried to pin him against a wall and force two sentences out of him. Wenger appeared, sat on a dais before us, answered all questions, fluently and intelligently. He made only one grammatical mistake, one all Brits make, when he said Arsenal has "less tall men". His pronunciation of "com-fort-able" was quaintly French and he said "cuh-shun" not "coo-shun" for cushion.
Martin Jol kept us waiting, but he was equally expansive, another foreigner with excellent English, though I got a bit lost when he said his players had been "like birds flapping".
I was impressed by what he said, even though he must have been pretty choked to lose 4-5. Yes, turned out far from boring.
There were 70 hacks in the press box - I nicked a copy of their names, the sort of trivia I treasure - including star reporters from the nationals, such as Patrick Collins from the Mail on Sunday. He said all managers do turn up, except Fergie. Chelsea's press box is worse, being low and in a corner. It was Ken Bates's final revenge on the press.
There were reporters from France, Holland, Sweden and Norway. I sat beside Sindre Olsen from Aftenposten, in London to report Norway-Australia later in the week. He had bombarded the Spurs press officer John Fennelly and managed to get a seat. He loved the food, the comfy chairs, was impressed by all the press facilities - except access to the players. In Norway, he gets into the dressing room after every game, even while some are still in the showers.
Ah, those were the days. In England's case, that was last allowed in about 1863, the first year the FA was formed.
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