Sports Freelancer Collective FAQs

Sports Freelancer Collective: FAQs, info, guide


We are a coalition of major sports journalism associations – the Football Writers’ Association, the Sports Journalists’ Association, BCOMS, Sports Media LGBT+, Lawn Tennis Writers, Rugby Writers, British Athletic Writers, Cricket Writers’ Club, British Basketball Writers. This page is shared by the SJA and the FWA.


Self-employed and freelance writers, broadcasters and photographers who have suddenly found themselves with no income as a result of the coronavirus crisis.


To put pressure on the government to assist self-employed and freelance writers, photographers and broadcasters and to set up an emergency fund for those who need it most.


Philippe Auclair of the Football Writers’ Association is co-ordinating a mailing list so please email him on


We have set up an open group and invite freelances to join us  either via the Sports Journalists’ Association page or at


This is changing all the time. Please just keep looking at the SJA site (, the FWA site (, the Facebook group and our Twitter (@sportsja) (@theofficialFWA) for the very latest. We


Sports psychotherapist Gary Bloom is happy to speak to anyone via @bloomers57 or emailing His tips can be found HERE too.


Employment lawyer Safwan Afridi of Radcliffes LeBrasseur has very kindly, and very generously, volunteered to help those of you who may have questions about employment law free of charge. To do so, get in touch with him at


There may be some small grants available at the Journalists’ Charity and the Authors’ Guild

The British Association of Journalists offer hardship grants to members.

A mortgage broker has very kindly proposed his services to elucidate any questions those of us who have a mortgage would like to ask. Queries to


The National Union of Journalists has joined calls for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to put in place a specific support package for the self-employed. About a third (8,000) of National Union of Journalists members are freelance.

Please send an email to and let them know what’s happening to you.

The union also has a help page HERE


The government should implement an immediate Universal Basic Income trial for all UK residents to ensure home and food security through the coronavirus Covid-19 crisis, to support the needs of those that need to self-isolate as well as the public health at large, and the wider economy.


Independent Association for Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed:


Philippe Auclair

SJA contact address:

Our specific demands to Government are:

  1. Follow the lead of Germany and Canada and provide compensation or a base salary for freelance workers.
  2. Request that HMRC defer its date to collect payments on account, currently due on the 31st of July 2020, until December 2020 as a minimum, and to review this at a later stage.
  3. Call for IR35 to be abolished
  4. Include our members who fall ill during this pandemic in receiving statutory sick pay for the time of their illness.
  5. Address the shortfall of support for the majority in the private rental sector, by organising the deferment of rental payments until all supporters and workers are allowed back into fully open sporting stadia.

Philippe Auclair from the FWA’s national executive committee is overseeing the group, along with Janine Self of the SJA. Carrie Brown, Chair of the FWA, has been in touch with MPs to lobby for emergency legislation to support freelancers at this time.

We would like to gain the views and input of as many journalist as possible, both members and non-members, and Philippe can be contacted at

We are inviting freelancers who are not members of the FWA to join for free now, with renewals at our regular annual rate of £30 per annum to begin in September.

It is impossible to predict what will happen next in football and our industry but we pledge to offer support and advice wherever possible so please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Follow us here, and follow the FWA (@theofficialFWA) and SJA (@SportsSJA) on Twitter and Facebook for updates.


Philippe Auclair

FWA membership applications: John Ley

FWA matters: Executive Secretary Paul McCarthy:

SJA contact address:

Sports Journalists Association

The Cricket Writers’ Club

The Rugby Union Writers’ Association

The Lawn Tennis Writers’ Association

British Athletics Writers’ Association

The Black Collective of Media in Sport

Sports Media LGBT

The Basketball Journalists’ Association

Vanarama column March 21 – “Make the most of it!”

Throughout my career, I have heard senior players share different words of wisdom with younger team mates. Yet, there is one reoccurring quote of advice that every older player is in agreement upon; ‘Make the most of it, it’s over before you know it’.

At the beginning of the month, I stared at the smoke as it slowly dissipated from the candles atop my birthday cake, while pondering on those frequent words of guidance. It seems only yesterday that I was signing my first professional contract at the tender age of 18 and now I am beginning to see the truth in those words.

It is not always an easy thing to do – to enjoy the moment and savour it while you can. However, with nine games to go and the end of the season around the corner, I am determined to make the most of the games that remain.

After our fixture against Wrexham was postponed, due to poor weather conditions, we travelled an hour up the road to face Leyton Orient. Despite an unexpected season for the former League Two side, their home attendance has been one of the best in the Vanarama National League and once again more than 4,000 fans came to watch.

Unfortunately for those supporters, I have to admit that the game was far from the most exciting spectacle of the season. Corey Whitely opened the scoring after latching on to a Danny Kedwell header and his low shot gave us the lead after 15 minutes. Yet, the home side equalised soon after, when a low driven cross was unluckily turned into our own goal by our captain, Dave Winfield.

The second half was a dull affair with limited chances and the game finished 1-1. However, despite the lack of excitement, we were happy to take the point after our four previous wins and extended our unbeaten run to five games.

Disappointingly, we weren’t able to build on that momentum last weekend due to another cancelled fixture as Gateshead featured in the semi-final of the Buildbase FA Trophy. Therefore, we played a friendly against Eastbourne Borough to help us prepare for Maidenhead United, who visit Stonebridge Road on Saturday.

Now that I am 24, I am still aware that I have many years left in my career and I am far from wishing those years away. Having said that, I am now realising that the advice from the senior players is invaluable because just like my birthday cake; my career will be gone before I know it.

For more about the Vanarama National League visit:

For great deals on car and van leasing visit:


Pat and DennisPat Signy’s funeral will be held at the South Chapel, Hendon Crematorium at11am this Thursday (18th) with the wake later at Hendon Hall Hotel, which held so many happy memories for both Pat and Dennis Signy. All friends and FWA members welcome. The Signys’ daughter Claire has asked if you can let her know if you will be attending so they have an idea of numbers. She is on 07713 388453 or
The family have requested no flowers but donations to charity (to be decided)

Patrick Vieira receives FWA Tribute


Patrick Vieira is the recipient of the FWA’s annual Tribute award.

The former Arsenal and Manchester City midfielder, who won the World Cup with France in 1998, was honoured at a glittering dinner on Sunday Jan 24th at the Savoy Hotel in London.
Vieira admitted he was “deeply honoured” by the award and spoke of his relationship with the media throughout his career, initially as a player and now a manager, as he begins a new role with New York City FC

See interview here


Footballer of the Year Eden Hazard has had emergency dental surgery and will be unable to collect his award in person tonight.

Hazard tried to delay the surgery but had to have three wisdom teeth removed on Wednesday and is still in considerable pain.

He is deeply sorry to miss the awards dinner and hopes to be at Stamford Bridge on Sunday when the FWA will hand over the trophy.

Previous winner Gianfranco Zola will pay tribute to Hazard at tonight’s function and Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck will deliver a message from the player.

The surgery means Hazard will almost certainly miss Chelsea’s final game against Sunderland – the first Premier League game he will have missed this season.


Brazil 2014 – a reporter’s guide to safety and security

Essential Do’s and Don’t’s For Reporters Going to Brazil

brazil2014(by Mike Collett, Reuters global football editor who has visited Brazil six times in three years)

There is no doubt Brazil is a beautiful country, but it is a country with a dark side. We all know it has wonderful beaches, samba music and a fantastic football tradition, but they will count for little if you are held up in broad daylight by some knife-wielding, wild-eyed scumbag lowlife demanding your wallet, mobile phone and laptop.

So to try and help you avoid becoming a victim while you are out there, I’ve put together a guide based on my own experiences with some tips that Reuters journalists have been asked to observe while in Brazil:

1) Most importantly do not resist a robbery attempt. Turn over your valuables quickly and without comment. To try to minimize becoming a target, do not  carry or wear valuable items that will attract the attention of thieves. Try to dress down in public and avoid using your phone while walking around in the streets. To minimize your chances of being attacked, please try and follow these tips too:

2) Keep your wits about you. Do not wander around listening to music through your headphones. Do not relax in the street. As Shaw Taylor used to say: “Keep ‘em peeled”

3) Be very careful when withdrawing money from ATM machines as debit card fraud is very common in Brazil at the moment. Avoid ATMs in the airports. Many airport ATMS have been tampered with because so many foreigners use them and often don’t realize until much later their cards have been copied etc.

4) Apart from when you are collecting your accreditation, you should not have to keep your passport on you all the time. Carry a copy instead and leave your passport in a hotel safe or other safe location.

5) Don’t carry around credit cards you don’t need or an excess of cash. Have enough to pay your way for a day and to satisfy a robber if you are held up, and keep the rest somewhere safe. In fact keep a “second wallet” with just cash in it. Leave your main wallet in your hotel safe.

6) Be alert if you go out at night. Maintain control of personal effects like phones and bags in bars and restaurants. Try not to get too drunk !

7) Keep to the main roads: Wealth and poverty are intermingled in Brazil where some of the most dangerous slums are next to the most expensive apartment blocks, and taking a wrong turn can get you into trouble.

8) Try to take taxis from your hotel or from a taxi stand if you need one. Take official taxis at airports.

9) Be wary of pickpockets working a crowd or on public transport.

10) Try not to drive at night, especially long distances. Avoid driving on your own.

11) Don’t open your hotel room door until you positively confirm who is on the other side. Regarding hotels: you can ask whom you like back to your room, and without being silly or sexist about it watch out for this scam. You may meet a very attractive person and invite her back to your room. What you don’t know is that she is working in league with a gang, texts your room number to her accomplices downstairs and she lets them in  to your room, so you end up with rather more than you bargained for.

12) Do not walk on beaches or in parks after dark.

13) Be careful about using public wifi. Brazil has the world’s second highest incidence of online banking fraud.

14) Do not use a laptop, iPad or iPhone in the back of a taxi as thieves on motorbikes habitually weave through traffic jams looking for robbery opportunities.

15) Take care in stadiums and in press tribunes in stadiums and keep watch over your gear – especially in media work rooms.   Professional gangs may have managed to get accreditation or stadium passes, as they have succeeded at doing in many international sporting competitions in Latin America in the past few years. BE VERY ALERT TO THE POSSIBILITY OF THEFT IN STADIUM – IT IS A MAJOR PROBLEM in LATIN AMERICA.

Bear in mind that although we will be in Brazil in June and July, it is the Southern Hemisphere winter and with Brazil being so close to the equator, it gets dark very early in the evening, around 6pm in Rio …. and that makes for a very long , dark evening and night. It takes a bit of getting used to. It can be very sunny and warm with the sun high in the sky around 5.15pm or so, but gets dark and can get  very   chilly very quickly, so if you are going to be out late afternoon and into the evening, make sure you take some warm clothing with you. 

Suarez named FWA Footballer of the Year 2014

Liverpool v Manchester City - Barclays Premier LeaguePictures: Action Images

Luis Suarez has been voted the 2014 Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.

The Liverpool striker was a hugely popular winner and topped the poll of journalists with a comprehensive victory over Anfield team-mate Steven Gerrard.

Suarez’s 30 goals helped drive Brendan Rodgers’ men to the top of the Barclays Premier League as Liverpool battle it out with Manchester City for their first title since 1990.

The Uruguay international will be honoured with the prestigious FWA accolade, which has been running since 1948, at a gala dinner at the Lancaster London Hotel on May 15.

FWA chairman Andy Dunn, of the Sunday Mirror, said: “Those members who have been fortunate enough to be working at a match involving Luis Suarez have witnessed an astonishing talent first-hand.

“Tireless endeavour allied to extraordinary imagination makes an irresistible combination. Add ingenious, impudent finishing and you have a footballer who truly quickens the pulse.”

“Luis is a remarkable gifted addition to the long and distinguished list of winners of our award.”
In a poll that saw 10 different players get votes, Suarez collected 52 per cent of the overall vote, ahead of his club captain, Gerrard, with Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure in third place.

Suarez was last week also named Player of the Year by the Professional Footballers’ Association.



Luis Suarez is presented with his award by FWA chairman Andy Dunn.


FWA Live: London

Barclays PR Shoot 10/04/2014The latest FWA Live, sponsored by Barclays, was another rousing success. A packed audience at the Soho Hotel in London heard some strong views from the panel which comprised Andy Dunn, chief sports writer of the Sunday Mirror and chairman of the Football Writers’ Association; Martin Lipton, chief football writer of the Daily Mirror; Alan Curbishley, the former Charlton and West Ham manager who had an eventful six weeks as technical director of Fulham; and Ray Wilkins, the former Chelsea and Manchester United (plus nine other clubs) midfielder who more recently was assistant first team coach at Chelsea and Fulham).

MC for the evening was Paul McCarthy, executive secretary of the FWA.Barclays PR Shoot 10/04/2014

All proceeds from the event went to Beating Bowel Cancer, the charity represented by Ben Woolnough whose late father, Brian, was chief sports writer of the Daily Star and a long-standing member of the FWA.

Christopher Davies was there to cover the event for

The panel kicked-off with Brendan Rodgers, who is doing such a fine job at Liverpool.

AC: I think we all wondered if Brendan had been elevated too soon.Barclays PR Shoot 10/04/2014

AD: The jury was out for a long time but Rodgers deserves all credit he’s getting.

RW: At Chelsea [where Rodgers worked under Jose Mourinho] he watched, listened to and studied a guy at the top of his job.

AD: Brendan had some big decisions when he took over. He got rid of [Pepe] Reina and the club’s record signing [Andy Carroll] without giving him a chance and has been proved right.

RW: His bigger decisions will be next season because he can’t buy young players again, he’s got to buy established players. He will ask ‘can we progress by keep buying young players?’ No. For him to succeed he has to go on and bring in established players. By the way, can I say I think Steven Gerrard should win the [FWA’s] Footballer of the Year award by a mile. He has never played in a great Liverpool team, but has continually dragged the team up by its bootlaces. In Turkey, they were 3-0 down [to AC Milan] and it was Stevie who got Liverpool back in the game. Before the final he scored a wonder goal against Olympiacos to keep them in the tournament. For me he is a great footballer. The word ‘great’ is used too often but it is true with him

ML: Rafa Benitez didn’t trust him with the more defensive role he has now.

RW: He is the best midfield passer from deep position in the Barclays Premier League. I remember against Fulham this season he took four players out with one pass. His ability to adapt from being a more gung-ho midfielder has helped Liverpool and will help England in the World Cup.

PM: Manuel Pellegrini has made a positive impression at Manchester City…

AD: He has conducted himself well apart from one blip [when he criticised the referee after a Champions League tie]. He does not get carried away in victory or defeat. Perhaps Aguero came back too quickly from injury but in his first season in the Barclays Premier League you have to give a 60- year-old rookie a chance.

AC: There was always a crisis around the corner when Roberto Mancini was there. The way he handled Carlos Tevez was ridiculous, his comments about Tevez devalued the player to an extent some clubs might have considered it a sackable offence. He was always on edge, never seemed relaxed and they needed someone more affable. Pellegrini is far more relaxed.

PM: I remember talking to David Platt [Mancini’s assistant] and he told me Mancini had said: “Go out and buy trees so no one can see fights in training.” Platt said: “Why not just don’t fight?”

AC: The Barclays Premier League is not La Liga and when City were beaten at Cardiff he was was stunned by that but learned from it.

PM: Manchester United are a team close to your heart, Ray, do you have sympathy for David Moyes?

RW: I do not have sympathy with Manchester United but I do with David. The club should have been far more active in the transfer market last summer, they let David down there. Some criticism of him has been justified, some not, but it was an ageing squad he inherited and now it’s a year older. This isn’t a one-window scenario, it’s two or three and it will be hard to buy A-list players without the Champions League.

PM: What other blue chip company would appoint someone from a short-list of one?

ML: I can understand why you would want Sir Alex Ferguson to have an input. He wanted David Moyes to succeed and not succeeding is a blow to British coaching.

RW: Given the squad, would a foreign coach have done better?

ML: The issue is clubs won’t want to take that risk on a British manager. Watching United, they have lost their sense of fearlessness. When teams went to Old Trafford, United would come at you while at Everton it was more about resilience and hard work. Away from home that can work and United’s away results have been good but at home they have had shocking results.

AC: At Everton, David would dilly and dally over transfers but he was always shopping at Sainsburys. Now he is not shopping at Sainsburys and sometimes with less money it’s easier. You make small mistakes, if you spend £10 million and it doesn’t work out you can get away with it but some of the targets [at United] were pie in the sky.

RW: If Everton want £15 million for Leighton Baines, just buy him. United could afford it. If they want him, buy him. For me, the biggest failure in the January transfer market was Julian Draxler of Schalke 04 not going to Arsenal but they wouldn’t pay the asking price. Buy him, it’s not your money. A new face can be so important at that stage of the season.

PM: Would anyone at Arsenal sack Arsene Wenger?

ML: No, they are all scared witless of Wenger. No one has the courage to dismiss him. Personally I think he is too good a manager to let go.

PM: And you have to be careful what you wish for.

AC: No other top four club in Europe would let their manager go eight years without winning a trophy and still be there. It’s a unique situation at Arsenal.

RW: We cannot afford to lose great managers, we need his knowledge and we have to keep him in the Barclays Premier League.

PM: Do Arsenal look stale?

AD: They were humiliated at Anfield and pretty well so at Goodison, too. In big games do you think does he prepare for the opposition?

AC: He doesn’t. Ex-Arsenal players I know say he concentrates on his team, it’s all about them. They don’t discuss the opposition too much and this is not working.

RW: When he started winning with Arsenal he had an unbelievable back five. Seaman in goal, Dixon, Bould, Adams and Winterburn. In midfield there were Vieira and Petit and they were huge…beasts. More recently, at Chelsea our main function was to stop Arsenal coming through the centre of midfield, we made them go wide because JT and whoever could deal with balls into our box. I said to our players: ‘Make contact with them because they are weak…fragile.’ Drogba is the dog’s. The bee’s knees. He’d beat them up. Arsenal have never replaced that back-four.

PM: What about Roberto Martinez at Everton?

AC: I thought Roberto Martinez would have a more difficult job than David Moyes. I wasn’t really one of his biggest fans, but what he’s done this year is to improve Everton. Most teams go to the Emirates shaking in their boots and Everton took game to Arsenal.

AD: Everton fans won’t mind finishing sixth or seventh as long as Liverpool don’t win the Barclays Premier League.

PM: How do you think England will do at the World Cup and what would be success?

AD: Qualifying from the group and I think they will. Everyone is excited about a core of young players and what we want is for them to show there is hope for the future. No one expects them to win or even get beyond quarter-finals but I hope they make it enjoyable for us to watch England again.

AC: Roy Hodgson has a big decision – does he go with the young players? I hope he does. Over the years there has been a siege mentality around England, the players seem unhappy. I look at the England set-up and the players don’t look as if they are enjoying themselves. Roy must get them playing as they do for their clubs.

AD: In 2002 they were beaten in quarter-finals by Brazil, a really heart-breaking defeat as they would have played Turkey next but the England players couldn’t wait to get home. They did not enjoy it.

RW: I was in Kobe and the hotel was bloody enormous. Five-star luxury is perfectly right but to live in a room by themselves…? There was no banter and I think they have lost that along the way. If we get to the quarter-finals I’ll be absolutely delighted but win it? No chance. We are not good enough. I believe a European team can win the World Cup for the first time in South America but it will be Spain or Germany…maybe the Dutch.

AD: I wouldn’t look beyond Brazil though Spain will be major players again. The Spain team that won in 2010 had seven from Barcelona, three from Real Madrid and one who joined Barcelona afterwards. That will probably be the case in Brazil. Spain could pick a team from the Barclays Premier League*. England do not have that strength in depth.

ML: It’s Argentina for me. They are tactically talented and do not have the pressure of Brazil who still have the memory of the 1950 defeat which may wear them down. Germany are getting stronger but I’m not quite sure if Spain are where they were in 2010.

RW: We must be realistic. We don’t have enough world-class players. Brazil? Semi-finals max.

ML: In tournament history, how many major teams have England beaten away from Wembley in the knockout stages? None.

AD: I’d take Andy Carroll. You can afford a maverick pick. If you use him as an impact sub…I don’t think bringing on Rickie Lambert against Italy would unsettle them too much.

ML: I’m not sure if referees will allow Andy Carroll to get within five yards of an opponent.

*How about: De Gea (Man Utd) – Azpilcueta (Chelsea), Cuellar (A. Villa), Chico Flores (Swansea), Monreal (Arsenal) – David Silva (Man City), Mata (Man Utd), Cazorla (Arsenal) – Navas (Man City), Michu (Swansea), Negredo (Man City). Manager: Roberto Martinez (Everton).


FWA Live: Lumley Castle

Photography: Action Images

BIRD: Moyes didn’t inherit the greatest United team and needs another transfer window to get some deals done

BALL: Referees have a horrendous job that is getting harder and harder

DUNN: In the Merseyside derby both managers lost their tactical marbles

CASS: The doubts around AVB are driven by the media

HARPER: You need fire in your belly and ice in your head for a local derby

YOUNG: If Mike Riley apologises for every refereeing mistake he’ll be on the phone all the time

THE LATEST FWA Live, sponsored by Barclays, was held at Lumley Castle in Chester-Le-Street.

The panel comprised Simon Bird (north-east football correspondent of the Daily Mirror), Kevin Ball (Sunderland’s senior development coach), Andy Dunn (chief sports writer for the Sunday Mirror and FWA chairman), Bob Cass (Mail On Sunday), Steve Harper (who joined Hull City last summer after 20 years with Newcastle United) and Colin Young (Daily Mail). The MC was FWA executive secretary Paul McCarthy.

A variety of subjects was on the agenda, kicking-off with the good and bad of English football.

McCarthy: We’ve seen allegations of match fixing this week, we’ve had diving, apologies for referees’ decisions…surely there is something we can cherish from the Barclays Premier League and English football?

Cass:  The test is when you have an international week and there is no Barclays Premier League on the Saturday. There’s a hole in everybody’s life. What do we do? I have to go shopping. We want our football on Saturday because it is such a terrific competition and the standard is so much better than it was 20 years ago.

Dunn: I was at a game last weekend, Everton v Liverpool, and I don’t think any other league in the world could give us a match like that. If the Kevin Mirallas challenge [on Luis Suarez] dominated phone-ins, then there is something wrong. It was a game that had everything. Both managers lost their tactical marbles to a certain extent, it was like Sunday morning football on steroids…you attack, we attack. Sometimes it’s a sweeping generalisation to say the Barclays Premier League is the best in the world, but I struggle to think where else you would get that intensity and excitement. We create this sort of passion and the players, no matter where they are from…there were probably only four of five local players, but everyone took it on board, what the derby meant. Yes, the ref should have sent-off Mirallas, but why don’t we just say what a fabulous game of football it was?

McCarthy: Do players get caught up in that type of atmosphere, Steve? You’ve played in north-east derbies…

Harper: You need fire in your belly and ice in your head. For Newcastle v Sunderland games, I thought the away derbies were easier because there is less pressure. To say the home fans wanted you to win is an understatement. At the Stadium of Light there’d be 48,000 and if you’ve got anything about you, you say: “I’m going to spoil your day.” You cannot help but get caught up in it though the best players keep their cool.

McCarthy: Do we in the media look for negatives too much? Andy spoke about the Mirallas challenge dominating a great Merseyside derby…

Young: It is inevitable in our industry because the way the game is covered means that every incident is picked up. We would not be doing our jobs properly if we did not question whether decisions are right.

Bird: As journalists we get caught in the soap opera surrounding football – the controversies and feuds between managers. What we miss as football writers is sitting back and marvelling at the pace, the athleticism and skill of the players, how tactics are evolving. We are privileged to watch such quality in the game.

Ball: I think you are right to report on these things, but because everything is so over-analysed, before long we could have a whiter than white game, a non-contact sport.

Dunn: The Wes Brown tackle on Charlie Adam is interesting. His red card was rescinded and we all knew it was a bad decision. From a referee’s point of view, I think they can be overloaded with guidelines and what they must do. The idea that if you use excessive force to win the ball and follow through it’s a red card…Wes had a bad first touch, but did he use excessive force? Well yes, apart from the fact he didn’t touch Adam.

Ball: I feel sorry for referees, genuinely. I think they have a horrendous job. In a high intensity sport they must make a snap decision in a split second and if they get it wrong they are criticised. Their job is getting harder and harder.

Cass: We are covering a match and as well as reporting on who scored the goals and things like that, we are now looking at how many mistakes the ref makes. Has he made a bad one? If he does, then he gets pilloried. We shouldn’t be looking at them all the time.

McCarthy: Mike Riley apologised to West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke for Chelsea’s penalty the other week. Should he have done this? Has he made a rod for his own back?

Young: Gus Poyet spoke to Mike Riley about the Wes Brown sending-off. I don’t know whether he was opening some lines of communication to managers or whether he feels every time a bad decision is made he should apologise. If that’s the case he’s never going to be off the phone.

[Mike Riley, head of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, has had regular communication with Barclays Premier League managers over the past four years to discuss refereeing matters. West Bromwich decided to put details of his conversation with their manager on their web site].

Dunn:  Mike was quite within his right to think Steve Clarke was not going to make it public. He wouldn’t expect managers to tell people what was said in a phone call. Do managers ring referees and say “I’m sorry my player tried to con you?”

McCarthy: Andre Villas-Boas is apparently a man on the brink 12 games into the season. There always has to be a crisis somewhere…

Bird: Speaking as someone who’s had 27 managers in 11 years in the north-east, we know the perils of instability and impatience. Tottenham need to give him more than 12 games. He’s got seven new players who need to settle in and it takes time to become used to the Barclays Premier League.

Cass: Who’s driven the doubt with AVB? It’s us, it’s driven by the media. He’s 11/8 to be the next manager to be sacked which is absolutely ridiculous.

McCarthy: But no one writes stories like this off their own back…

Cass:  I don’t think he will get the sack. Martin Jol might because Fulham are near the bottom, but not AVB. Someone said they have three points more than at this stage last season.

Dunn: Statistically this is their third best start in a decade so there should be no major crisis. It’s not so much where they are [in the table], it was the last defeat [6-0 at Manchester City] that started it. You can buy all these players, but Spurs lost Gareth Bale, someone who won so many matches for them, who changed so many games individually. You sell him and replace him even with seven good players, you are still going to feel the effect.

McCarthy:  Manchester United stood firm over Wayne Rooney and Liverpool did over Luis Suarez, could Tottenham have stood firm over Gareth Bale?

Bird: Would Bale have wanted that? The chance to join  Real Madrid? Can you stand in the way of an £80m transfer? It’s a tough one to turn down for a chairman.

McCarthy:  Have they spent the Bale money wisely?

Young: They broke their transfer record three times and the concern is that apart from Christian Eriksen, none has really set world on fire, but it is very early to make a judgment and say the fellow who has been told to to bring these players in  should be sacked.

McCarthy: If AVB goes, shouldn’t the job of the one who did the deals, Franco Baldini [Spurs’ technical director], be on the line, too?

Dunn: A few weeks ago most of us were saying Baldini was a great appointment and was the person Arsene Wenger should’ve had to do the deals [at Arsenal]. We were lauding him for the deals he had done and saying how good his contacts were to make these deals happen.  AVB will always have a problem in that a lot of people like Harry Redknapp.

McCarthy: Talking about the intensity on managers, it was not that long ago David Moyes was under scrutiny, but the 5-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen eased that situation.

Bird: United were right back to form in Leverkusen. Succeeding the greatest manager in the history of the Premier League means any trophy would be a success this season. He didn’t inherit the greatest Manchester United team of all time and needs another transfer window to get some deals done. I don’t think they’ll win the title [this season], but either Cup would ease the pressure and get him started.

Cass: We are too quick to praise and too quick to criticise. Moyes knows what Fergie’s left him and [winning] anything this season will be a bonus, though no there is no question he’ll win title in the next few years.

Dunn: I think it will be two or three seasons before comparison [with Ferguson] stops and for it to be David Moyes’ team

McCarthy:  Is it the same in the north-east?

Bird: Bobby [Robson]did great job, but that was 10 years ago. There have been some good and bad managers at St James’ Park, some strange and egotistical.

Young: Some did not accept the ethos and history of the club. Ruud Gullit was extremely dismissive of the derby the day before the game. For two weekends of the season the north-east is the centre of national attention, the games live on Sky Sports. His attitude was reflected in his team selections

McCarthy: He has played in Milan derbies…

Young: That’s why he was dismissive of our derbies. He’d spend 10 minutes talking about the Milan derbies before ours.

Harper:  He was dismissive of everything. Sam Allardyce came to Newcastle and tried to change too much too quickly. He plays percentage football. I couldn’t take a free-kick until everyone was in a ring around where the ball would go and ready to win the knock-down. His way was alien to the playing staff and the fans. Bobby and [Kevin] Keegan bought in to what the public wanted.

McCarthy: Will Jose Mourinho, who the FWA are honouring at our Gala Tribute Evening at the Savoy in January, recapture the magic of his first spell at Chelsea?

Cass: No.

McCarthy: Thanks, Bob.

Cass: I don’t think he’s as hungry because he’s been so successful elsewhere. He came back because the fans wanted him and Roman Abramovich, who never listens to fans, did this time. I don’t think he’s the same type of manager he was first time round.  He has just as good a team, but not the same motivation.

Dunn: I disagree. I see nothing less in his appetite and he has a point to prove. He was a failure at Real Madrid and was forced out of arguably the greatest club job in world football. He would have been hurt by that and has a point to prove.

Ball:  I like him. He brings something special and if he thinks people don’t believe he’ll be a success that will drive him on.

NEXT TIME: What the panel think of Mike Ashley, Joe Kinnear, Ellis Short plus the inside track on match-fixing.


No one can accuse Sid Lowe of cutting any corners as he wrote Fear And Loathing In La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid. His first draft was 199,000 words, of which 70,000 – almost a book in itself – ended on the editing floor.

Barcelona claim to be “mes que un club” – more than a club. Lowe’s fascinating account of the good, the bad and the ugly of what he claims is the sport’s biggest rivalry is more than a football book. He is well placed to write about both the occasionally beautiful game plus the politics and cultural differences that are inseparable from the two clubs that dominate Spanish football. Lowe went to Spain 12 years ago as a 25-year-old to write a PHD on right wing politics and fascism in the 1930’s Spain. He was already covering Spanish football, though little did he know what was to come. The Barclays Premier League may dominate in England, but such is the popularity of La Liga that Saturday’s clásico is almost as eagerly awaited as anything the domestic game has to offer.

“In 2001 when I came to Spain it was the summer Real Madrid bought Zinedine Zidane,” said Lowe as the era of the galáctico moved into top gear. “The interest from David Beckham made a big difference while the importance of the Champions League obliges English fans to take an interest in other countries. The success of Real and Barcelona plus the Spain national team and the crossover of Spanish players into England…a lot of ingredients have come together which, from my point of view, have been ideal.”

Writing a book on any rivalry inevitably leads to accusations of bias, but Lowe’s allegiances are with Real Oviedo of the Spanish second division B. Oviedo was where he was based during the third year of his university degree in 1996/97. As Spanish football gained a growing cult following on Sky Sports, Lowe became a regular contributor to, among others, the Guardian, World Soccer and talkSPORT.

The idea of writing a book on one of the most intriguing and bitter rivalries in world football did not initially appeal to Lowe. He said: “I’ve always tried to champion the other teams in Spain and undermine the dominance of Real and Barcelona. The deciding factor was the run of four clásicos in 18 days [in the spring of 2011] when the impression was these teams had eclipsed everyone else in the world. There was a feeling there could never be anything as big as this again, though since then neither have won the Champions League.

“I grew into the idea of the book, but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. By that I meant trawling through the archives and interviewing as many people involved with the clubs as possible. I wanted it to have a value for Spaniards as well, not just an English market.”

No one who has read the book, which will be published in Spanish early next year, could doubt Lowe’s research has been anything than thorough, his knowledge of Spanish politics a helpful tool as he explains the restrictions – from a Barça perspective – of the days of the Franco regime to the era of Pep Guardiona and José Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

There are many rivalries in world football based on more than football, Celtic v Rangers the closest to home example, but el clásico is, according to Lowe “everything the other rivalries are and more.” He continued: “Boca Juniors v River Plate may, like el clásico, be the game that dominates Argentina, but they aren’t as big internationally as Real and Barça. Celtic v Rangers has the sectarian, political and social element which el clásico has, but personally I think the feeling between Real and Barça is even greater.

“On top of everything else, Real and Barça are two of the best teams in the world with the two best players, there is the social-political element with a sense of national identification where one is seen as a representative of Spain and the other sees itself and is seen as a representative of Catalonia. No other rivalry has the symbolic charge or the sheer weight of representativeness of Real and Barça.”

It is impossible to understate the importance of el clásico. In the book Lowe writes: “They are two footballing behemoths, eponymous representatives of the two biggest cities in Spain – different cities with different identities, seemingly locked in permanent confrontation, cities whose political and cultural contexts are different. More than just football clubs, these are powerful and democratic institutions. Four national newspapers a day are essentially dedicated to them – two in Madrid, two in Barcelona – and the pressure can be as brutal as the power is seductive.”

The late Sir Bobby Robson, who coached Barcelona, once claimed: “Catalonia is a country and Barcelona is its army.”

The games when Guardiola and Mourinho went head-to-head were classic clásicos. Mourinho’s debut clásico took place back in November 2010 and Madrid were demolished 5-0 at the Camp Nou. Under Guardiola, Barça triumphed in five of the 11 matches, Mourinho’s Real winning twice, one of those in extra-time.

It was a very special mini-era and Lowe said: “I don’t think you could get four games as big as the four clásicos in 18 days which were perfectly set up. There was a La Liga game, then a Copa del Rey final followed by two Champions League semi-finals, at that stage only the third time in history they had met at that stage.

“Guardiola against Mourinho, Messi against Ronaldo…two sets of men who appear to represent their clubs perfectly. As a narrative it was sensational.”

The coaches have gone to Bayern Munich and Chelsea respectively, but Ronaldo and Messi remain, the latter to the former’s frustration – putting it mildly – invariably pipping the Portugal captain in individual honours and awards.

Ronaldo has been joined by Gareth Bale who should make his clásico debut at Camp Nou on Saturday where the former Tottenham forward will experience a whole new world of rivalry.

Lowe said: “The scrutiny is immense, he will have to become used to every little thing he does being poured over. He will have to be clear in his mind who the media are. By that I mean he will be slaughtered, come what may, by Mundo Deportivo and Sport, the Catalan sports dailies. They will only criticise him in Madrid if he makes mistakes. MARCA and AS are Madrid-supporting papers and if he was to have a good clásico that would give him six months free from pressure.”

Bale has more than football to deal with as his career with Real, which has been interrupted by injury, reaches an early peak on Saturday. Lowe said: “There are things beyond the price tag, the significance of the clubs and the media pressure. He has to settle in Madrid, learn the language, become friends with team-mates and learn the style of football which will be different, not as up-and-down as he’s used to, though Real can be quite a direct side.

“When players leave Spain, how they look back on it can be less to do with how well they have played, but how they enjoyed their time here. Michael Owen was reasonably successful [with Real] but considers it a failure because he never settled. Jonathan Woodgate was very popular and despite all his injuries would tell you he enjoyed his time in Spain. Steve McManaman would say the same, so would Gary Lineker, but Mark Hughes probably wouldn’t.

“Success is important, of course, but there are things less tangible that make you look back with satisfaction.”

*Fear And Loathing In La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid by Sid Lowe (Yellow Jersey Press, £18.99).