When I gave up being a staff journalist, oh, many years ago now, I didn’t miss having to go to an office every day, listening to boring people boring on, but there was one thing I did miss: the lunches.
When I gave up doing match reports, I didn’t miss having to send off 750 words the moment the final whistle blew; that always hung over me, ruining the pleasure of watching the game. A free ticket, drinks and pies at half-time were nice – but the only thing I really missed was the press conferences.
These are not to be confused with the post-match interviews you see on the telly after the game. They take place in a titchy cupboard plastered with ads for the sponsors. The manager gets asked two banal questions: how do you think it went and what did you say at half-time?
Post-match press conferences are theatrical events, with rows of packed seats and hacks from all over the world, determined to get in their questions. The manager sits on a dais, the club press officer beside him, supposedly to keep order. These are press conferences not seen on TV, from which the manager storms out, or where he says something stupid that haunts him for the rest of the week.
They came in when the Prem began 20 years ago. Before that, it was all pretty much ad hoc. Hacks would wait in the car park after the game, hoping to accost any player or manager stupid enough to hang about. Higher-profile managers would invite the chosen few into their offices, the ones they thought they could trust.
I remember doing a match report at Upton Park when Ron Greenwood was manager, which means it must have been in the early 1970s. I followed the chosen few into Ron’s office and was given a glass of whisky. Before Ron could sit in his chair, Jimmy Hill of the BBC had grabbed his seat, put his feet up on Ron’s desk and proceeded to give us his views on the game. Another time, at Aston Villa, when Ron Atkinson was the manager (so that must have been in the early 1990s), we trooped into his office and all got champagne.
The other day, for the first time in a few years, I got a ticket for the press box at Spurs. Usually I don’t bother to apply for one – the bureaucracy is so time-consuming and you have to prove your publication has millions of pounds in personal liability insurance in case you knock over someone’s laptop and it kills the star striker. But it was the north London derby: Spurs v Arsenal. I wanted to see Tim Sherwood, the new Tottenham manager, in the flesh.
The press box is now double the size it was when I last went. On the left of the tunnel sit the print journalists. On the right are the internet people. Don’t ask me what they do. You sit right behind the two team benches, which gives wonderful immediacy – see the hairs on their arms, smell the embrocation – but there are now so many of them (coaches, medics, physios, video geeks) you can hardly see the pitch.
Wenger was the first into the press theatre, looking even more professorial than usual, his suit jacket off, revealing a woolly cardy, his hands clasped in front of him. He carefully deflected a question about his striker Bendtner, recently accused of being drunk and naughty in Denmark, saying he had yet to talk to him.
Tim Sherwood was wearing dinky brown suede boots, which I hadn’t noticed on the bench. He also had on what the Indie and Guardian described the next day as a “gilet” but to me was a waistcoat, which he had thrown off at one point in disgust.
He started off praising his team but was soon revealing his real feelings: he had been dealt a bad hand and could name only two players he thought were good (Adebayor and Lloris). “Others might play for their national teams but they might not be my cup of tea . . .”
All afternoon, after Arsenal’s early goal, their fans had been singing Sherwood’s name. “He comes from Borehamwood, he ain’t no fucking good.” They could be spot on.