Important update for freelancers

Freelancers have been hit hard by the reduction in numbers for accredited journalists at football matches, but there is an important announcement, via the Sports Freelancer Collective, which the FWA helped to co-found with the Sports Journalists’ Association.

This is from the SJA website. FWA National Committee member Philippe Auclair is the man to discuss these issues with if you think you may be eligible for assistance. Please see our previous posts about the SFC for more details: http://footballwriters.co.uk/news/sports-freelancer-collective/

MORE than half a million freelancers excluded from state support could be handed a last-minute lifeline, according to a story in The Telegraph on Wednesday.

An army of newly self-employed workers who missed out on previous payouts worth up to £21,500 could finally qualify for help next month if the Treasury agrees to expand its scheme following pressure from MPs.

The Government’s grant programme for freelancers is only available to those who can show proof of income on a completed tax return.

This left out workers who set up on their own in 2018-19, because they had not been required to fill in this paperwork at the time Covid hit.

However, most of these freelancers will have filed full-year accounts by this year’s January 31 tax return deadline – which could allow them to make a claim under the final grant payment in February if ministers change the rules.

Close to 591,000 people became self employed during the 2018-19 tax year, according to freelancer trade body Ipse.

Even with large numbers planning to delay submitting tax returns this year, MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Gaps in Support estimate that at least 150,000 freelancers still struggling would benefit.

The extra grants would cost just £600m but would give a massive boost to freelancers who have suffered significant drops in income. Many have been pushed to the brink and left struggling.

Marcus Rashford receives FWA Tribute Award

Marcus Rashford says he is honoured to become the latest Manchester United player to receive the FWA Tribute Award.

The United and England striker was honoured today for his outstanding work on and off the pitch, and says in an exclusive interview with FWA Chair Carrie Brown that he is honoured to follow in the footsteps of United legends Sir Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham in receiving our tribute award.

Sir Alex and Wayne Rooney also pay tribute to Marcus in the video clip, which you can see the interview on our YouTube channel here https://youtu.be/tVI24GAF88M 

Keep coming back here and on our social media channels for more…

Remembering Tommy Docherty

We at the FWA were saddened by the news that Tommy Docherty had passed away on New Year’s Eve.  A fine player for Celtic, Preston, Arsenal and Chelsea, he then moved into management with the west London club and went on to manage a number of clubs including Rotherham, QPR, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Derby and Wolves, as well as Scotland, for whom he won 25 caps.

He was a great friend of the FWA, and as Life Member and former Chairman Paul Hetherington explains here, once saved the day at the NE branch’s annual dinner.

TD by Paul Hetherington
FOOTBALL lost one of its most-colourful characters on New Year’s Eve with the death of Tommy Docherty at the age of 92 – and the FWA lost a great friend.
The Doc was a journalist’s dream, he’d help you with a story and his rapid-fire quotes and wit were great copy. And as a former Manchester United, Chelsea and Scotland manager – among many roles as a boss – he regularly had the stage to maximise his often-controversial views.
But I’ll remember TD, as his family often called him, for coming to the rescue of the North East branch of the Football Writers’ Association in 1986.
I was chairman of that branch of the FWA at that time and had lined up Lawrie McMenemy, then manager of Sunderland, to be guest speaker at our annual dinner.
Five days before the function, however, Lawrie phoned me to say he wouldn’t be available. I knew why, Sunderland were in relegation trouble and had a make-or-break match against Stoke on the Saturday – the day before the North East dinner in Durham.
Lawrie knew his position would be untenable if his team lost that match. It left me needing a substitute speaker at short notice and I thought of Tommy Doc. I contacted his son, Mick, a close friend and asked him to sound out his dad.
Doc junior, a former Sunderland captain, coach and caretaker manager, got back to me to say Tommy would do it, but there was a snag – he was managing a Scotland X1 at Hampden Park that afternoon in a testimonial match for Kenny Dalglish!
A driver was arranged and Tommy was in a car heading for Durham within 20 minutes of the final whistle in Glasgow, meaning he missed the after-match banquet.
He arrived in Durham, after a 168-mile dash, half way through the dinner as he said he would, but in time for his speaking slot – as promised. By then, McMenemy had turned up following Sunderland’s win the previous day!
Lawrie told me he was attending in his capacity as Sunderland manager – not as guest speaker. But I persuaded him to say a few words and Tommy brought the house down with a hilarious speech, laced with football anecdotes.
He told me on his arrival: “I’m here because of your friendship with our Michael.” So I was grateful to two Docs that night.
Just as I was grateful every time I was in Tommy’s entertaining company. He’ll be missed – but certainly not forgotten.
Tommy Docherty led Manchester United to FA Cup victory in 1977

Gerard Houllier – an appreciation by Patrick Barclay

Patrick Barclay, our former Chairman, knew Gerard Houllier better and for longer than most of us, and here is his heartfelt and eloquent appreciation of his friend;

The word ‘’bonhomie’’ might have been invented for Gerard Houllier. Friendly almost to a fault, he was rare among football men in sharing himself with equal generosity between his beloved coaching fraternity – no photograph of a FIFA or UEFA seminar was ever complete without his smiling face – and the game’s media followers.

Away from football, he even shared the rest of his life with a journalist: his elegant and lovely wife Isabelle, whose attempts to acquire an interest in the passion that consumed too many of his hours were never wholly convincing.

During the 1998 World Cup, the United Kingdom ambassador in Paris hosted a reception in the garden of his fine residence and Isabelle, while waiting for Gerard to arrive from a meeting at the French squad’s headquarters, found herself amid a mixture of great-and-good and press, none of the latter wishing to be indelicate enough to ask, on such an occasion, the question on everyone’s mind. ‘’Well,’’ someone else blurted, ‘’is your husband going to take the Liverpool job?’’

Isabelle broke the embarrassed silence with a sweet smile. ‘’Oh, Gerard,’’ she said, ‘’he never tells me anything about his work.’’

It was part diplomacy, and part truth. And yet Isabelle, her own work permitting, was usually there to help Gerard offer hospitality to his friends in the football media; an indication of how many we numbered is that, in the hour after his death became public, I made or took more than a dozen calls.

An example of the affection he inspired was a text message Gerard received from Phil McNulty, the BBC’s chief online football writer, shortly after Liverpool had so dramatically won the Champions League in Istanbul in 2005 under the management of Rafa Benitez, who had replaced Houllier after it seemed the Frenchman’s powers had been diminished by a brush with death (caused by a ruptured aorta). After celebrating Liverpool’s victory over Milan on penalties, Houllier glanced at his phone and grinned at what McNulty had sensitively taken time out to write: ‘’See all those crap players you bought have become European champions!’’

Like all managers, Houllier suffered criticism and, like most of them, he could brandish questionable statistics in his defence. As if completing a hat-trick of cups in his most memorable Liverpool season – 2000/01, when the UEFA Cup was added to the domestic double – were not enough, he would always throw in the Charity Shield and European Super Cup as well. You could have a laugh with him about most things, but possibly not that.

We met a couple of years after, having guided Lens from the second division in Europe and Paris-St Germain to their first league title, he had begun work on the restructuring of French football that was to culminate in World Cup triumph in the summer of the ambassador’s garden party. Houllier, who spoke perfect English – he had taught in Liverpool for a year in his early twenties – was guesting for the English press team on the morning of a full international somewhere or other. As I recall he lined up in central defence along a mate he’d brought along, a tall guy called Arsene Wenger.

When Wenger was appointed manager of Arsenal, I naturally rang Houllier to ask what to expect. ‘’He’s a great coach and a great lad,’’ came the reply, ‘’but why don’t you ring him to get a better idea?’’ Upon which he gave me a number in Japan, where Wenger was completing his contracted span with Grampus 8 of Nagoya, and a most fascinating exclusive interview ensued.

That was typical of Houllier’s anxiety to help anyone he trusted. Once my friend Colin Malam reached a career milestone with the Sunday Telegraph, whose sports editor, Jon Ryan, knowing Colin was a Liverpool fan and that I got on well with Houllier, asked if some sort of congratulatory message could be arranged; Houllier did better, inviting Colin to bring all of us to what proved a memorable lunch with him in the Anfield boardroom.

Lunch after Houllier’s near-death experience fell into a pattern: while the rest of us tucked in to cassoulet or some such calorific classic, he appeared to watch his waistline, ordering salad and asking that it be dressed without too much oil. And then, as we sat back replete and loosened our belts, he’d ask for pudding with cream.

One lunch was designed to show off his pride and joy, a Melwood – Liverpool’s training ground – that he had completely redesigned to see the club into the new age of English football.

Among the many features was a restaurant where he let me eat with the players. One was very young – lean, almost gawky – and seemed shy as he shook hands. As we sat down I asked Houllier to remind me of the boy’s name. ‘’Steven Gerrard,’’ he said. ‘’I’ve brought him into the first-team group because he’s going to be a great player.’’ Houllier puffed out his cheeks and exhaled, as he always did for emphasis.

It was a joy to share his relish for football and for life (though they usually overlapped) and, as is customary, the legacy is the survivor’s wish for more. Houllier always offered a spare room at his house near the Roland Garros tennis stadium in Paris and much though I enjoyed evenings there, watching football on one of several wide screens, it is always difficult to know whether one is taking advantage of a friend’s generosity. He was a true friend, to the FWA and to so many of its members.

Let the tributes elsewhere do justice to his work, which will be forever etched in the annals of clubs either side of the Channel and the French national team; we shall remember Gerard Houllier as a football man to whom we were part of football.

 

Gerard Houllier 1947-2020

We at the FWA are saddened to have lost another great supporter and friend with the passing of Gerard Houllier, who has died in Paris at the age of 73.

Gerard was a great football manager, bringing enormous success to the French football team, Liverpool and Lyon among others.  Many, many journalists remember him from their professional relationships as a fair and friendly man, who could also be firm when necessary.

Gerard also attended and spoke at many FWA events, a great supporter of our association and a good friend to many of our members.  Philippe Auclair was particularly close, and has found time in his personal grieving to put down his cherished memories of Gerard here:

 

“I could speak about the manager who reinvented Liverpool, about the National Technical Director of the French FA to whom the 1998 world title also belonged, about the coach who turned Lyon into the dominant force in French football, but my heart is not in it. Gérard was a friend. Like hundreds, probably thousands of others, and like his Merseyside family, like all these players who truly loved him, I am heartbroken.

“He had no greater gift than the gift for friendship, which he offered so generously, to me as well as to many others. I know that when someone of Gérard’s stature dies, there is always the unwelcome temptation to ‘own’ the person who has died, to bring it back to ‘he, or she, did this for me’, when, of course, we only played a fleeting, almost insignificant part in their lives, we do not really matter much in the greater scheme of things. In Gérard’s case, however, the ‘insignificant’ can mean so much that I hope you’ll forgive me for telling a story which, to me, encapsulates who he was, and why, today, so many grieve his death as they do.

“I’d written a less than complimentary piece about a game which his Liverpool had lost, a couple of paragraphs hastily put together shortly before the Sunday evening deadline. Today, I’m both ashamed and grateful that I’d done it.  Gérard had read my article in the plane that was taking him and his team to a European cup tie in central Europe. He’s been deeply hurt by it, and wanted me to know about it.

“Some other managers would have been happy to shrug it off or add my name to their list of ‘unfriendly’ or even ‘undesirable’ journalists; not Gérard. Sitting in the Airbus which was awaiting the all-clear for take-off on the tarmac, he called me and, with impeccable logic and courtesy (but with genuine irritation in his voice), dismantled my feeble argument. I could hear in the background a stewardess who, twice, asked him to switch off his mobile phone. But Gérard wasn’t quite done with me. What he wanted me to understand was that I was not aware of how words could hurt, that we never talked or wrote in a vacuum, that the people we attack in print are men and women made of flesh and blood, that it is possible to cause harm when none is intended. It is a lesson which I hope I did not forget afterwards. But the most remarkable thing is that it was that day that our friendship was born. Gérard was hyper-sensitive, and could be touchy at times; but vindictive or resentful – never.

“His religion was friendship, its greatest sacrament communion; in other words, he was made for Liverpool. I never saw him happier than when English football, which had soon recognized one of its own in the former language teacher, invited him to one of these functions of which there are no equivalent on the continent, as when, for example, he attended a FWA dinner – such as the tribute night we organised for Arsène Wenger, at which Gérard spoke with his customary eloquence – where players and managers old and new mingle with journalists and friends as families gather for Christmas. Gérard never turned down such invitations. He beamed with pleasure when he recognised a friendly face in the crowded room, never more so than when a players such as Jamie Carragher embraced him (calling him ‘boss’, of course). He was back home, as home, for him, was England, or, rather, English football. How he smiled then. That’s what hurts the most today, the thought of never seeing that wonderful smile again.

“Adieu, l’ami.”

Harry De Cosemo – Dealing with disability in sports journalism

Disability Awareness Month runs until December 20, and Harry De Cosemo, an FWA member who covers football in the North East for publications including The Morning Star and Eurosport, explains the challenges – and rewards – of  his life as football journalist with Cerebral Palsy.

 Writing this article is going to be difficult. I know my disability better than anybody; it has been my constant companion and part of me for my entire life. Yet, off the top of my head, I can think of a number of people who can articulate its impact much better than I ever could. For most of my time, I have ignored it, cursed it and rejected it. I just wanted to be ‘normal’, and having any sort of disability, mental or physical, often robs you of that in the smallest and strangest ways.

My name is Harry De Cosemo, I am a freelance football journalist and Football Writers’ Association member. Disability Awareness Month is running between November 18 and December 20, and I am going to do my best to talk about my experience of living with cerebral palsy and how it has affected my journey into our industry.

It would be best to first explain my disability simply and concisely; brain damage from birth resulted in three issues: the cerebral palsy itself, which means I cannot use the limbs down my right side properly, partial sight, which is fairly self explanatory, and nystagmus, an involuntary movement in my eyes.

I grew up obsessed with football; a Newcastle United fan in North Yorkshire. Physical and mental development was even more pressing from an early age, and my desperation to mimic Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand in my back garden inadvertently improved my ability to walk, run and stand. I interviewed Les last year, and felt too embarrassed to tell him that story.

Keeping up with my two brothers, both of whom were more gifted with a ball at their feet than me, and my school friends was tough; I was sufficiently self aware to realise that chasing the ultimate dream of playing for Newcastle wasn’t worth it. When my elder sibling had an extended trial with the club in 2008, it became harder to accept for a while, but I wanted him to do what I couldn’t. I tried my hand at CP football in my teenage years, but it never really grabbed me; by then I had developed my love for writing. The subject on my mind was almost always football, and journalism seemed like the perfect way to combine my two passions; the rest, as they say, is history.

Childhood heroes have been at the centre of a lot of my career decisions. I have written a book about Sir Bobby Robson’s five-year reign at St James’ Park, which will be published next year. The process of formulating and pitching my idea, sourcing and conducting interviews and making 80,000 words flow has improved my self belief to the point where I am able to accept my disability and talk about it openly for the first time in my life.

As a freelancer, pitching is a crucial aspect of my livelihood, and before the book process began in March, I was petrified of putting myself out there. I hated the idea of ‘bothering’ somebody with a phone call, but felt appreciated and respected by those who picked up at the other end when Sir Bobby was the reason. Too often, I suffered from imposter syndrome, my disability most likely being the reason for that, but I have shown myself I can do what any good journalist can.

I am not attempting to speak on behalf of anybody but myself; a problem with the discourse surrounding disability and disabled people is a need to pigeonhole how it can affect somebody. The truth is, there are so many different facets and no two people have the same experience, whether they have CP or separate conditions.

On the surface, I use one hand for almost everything I do, I walk with a slight limp and I’m slower than almost everybody when it comes to completing tasks; in that sense, I am easy to diagnose. But I have also suffered from crippling self doubt and anxiety my entire life; I know, having spoken to others within journalism, that those issues are commonplace. The point I’m making is my disability is not simply physical as it may appear, it is one very complex cocktail which changes and develops as time goes on.

My career has followed a similar path to many of my generation; I went to university, got my degree, and joined the rat race in the hunt for work. There are thousands of people who are doing what I am doing, and as a freelancer from the moment I left education, I have found it difficult to quantify things. It can be hard not to feel unemployed at times; I’m not sure if I’ve had my ‘big break’ or whether it will ever come. What I do know is I work with and for some superb people and love my job.

I suppose the most crucial step to date came in 2018 when I began covering North East football for the Morning Star newspaper. That meant, prior to lockdown at least, regular visits to clubs like Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Hull City. This is a role for which I am so thankful to the Star’s sports editor, Kadeem Simmonds; it is he who entrusted me with covering matches at the highest level in my area, allowing me to grow further into the industry in a way that fitted my needs.

Press rooms are intimidating places; they are often filled with people who know the sport and field inside out. You have to make yourself feel at home; you have to make yourself known. This is just with your peers, let alone asking managers questions when the pressers are underway. Early on, I would hide my hand in my pocket as I entered the room, to make my CP more difficult to be seen for fear of awkwardness and embarrassment.

For the benefit of every single journalist I have ever met face-to-face, I must state that I have never been made to feel uncomfortable in any way relating to my disability. If you see me in person, it is almost impossible not to notice my condition, especially if we meet every other week. Those with whom I cross paths regularly have almost certainly seen it and carried on to greet and treat me normally. You may think this is courtesy or the obvious thing to do, but trust me, it doesn’t always happen. I’m really thankful for that.

Working online has been a safe haven. It has allowed me to create a body of work without fear of being seen differently. There is evidence that I am not anyway, but working on-site does have its difficulties. In my first few months on the job for the Star, I was covering Newcastle vs Bournemouth at St James’ Park, and in the second half I began to hyperventilate and feel nauseous. There was no obvious reason for it, but I was having a panic attack; I lost control for a few, mad, scary minutes right there in the press box. It resulted in my right arm tensing up and my eyesight getting worse. That is just one example of how I can be affected in different ways at unexpected times. Many other people who suffer from similar conditions will, I’m sure, understand how debilitating this can be.

Logistically, too, there are challenges. Midweek games at some grounds are unattainable because I can’t drive, and the last train will be too busy for me to cope. In that sense, regularly being confined to zoom press conferences has actually allowed me to work more. I miss the atmosphere, as everybody does.

I also work regularly for Eurosport, combining live commentaries and on-the-whistle match reports; the buzz of a late goal and balancing a tight deadline can bring extra strain because of my physical deficiencies, but I have found a way to handle it that works for me; practice makes perfect.

Having no drivers’ license has significantly reduced my opportunities for full-time employment, mainly because most job adverts list it as a requirement. As soon as I see that, regardless of its locality or my suitability, I put my laptop down and walk away. I think this is evidence of the issue within disability equality and awareness; there is no alternative for those who can’t drive, and yet nobody asks why.

It should be said that having physical disability does come with a caveat not seen by other marginalised demographics; the issue itself can directly result in an inability to work for a variety of reasons. I understand why driving is key for a football journalist, especially one who lives away from a major city. But this is just one example of why the disability conversation needs to be had, to explore if anything can be done to make it fairer for those who live with different conditions to thrive.

Acknowledgement would be progress at this early stage. Football reporting needs to be more accessible; while I have been made to feel comfortable, I have always feared mentioning my disability to editors in case they assume I can’t do the job. It always felt like it would be an extra hurdle if it came up; now I’m looking to challenge that thought process, if it is indeed true.

I hope that, by writing this piece, I am shining a light on something that has not been considered before. I’m sure there are other journalists out there, and even other FWA members, in a similar boat to me. As things stand, though, I haven’t seen any on my admittedly small patch. More disabled people in high places within the industry will breed confidence for those who don’t feel represented.

There are a few people who have helped my career along in different ways. I opened up to The Athletic’s Chris Waugh about the difficulties of joining such an established press pack as the North East’s at a presser last year, and he offered superb advice and is someone I can rely on today. His colleague George Caulkin, who wrote the foreword for my book, has helped me a lot, while fellow Star reporter James Nalton has been great, too. I mentioned this piece to all three of them, and they were all very supportive.

Others who I feel compelled to mention here are Sam Marsden of ESPN, who set me up with the best work experience possible in Barcelona five years ago, Joe Brewin at FourFourTwo, whom I worked opposite for a week in my uni days and regularly pitch to now, and Tom Adams, Head of Digital at Eurosport. He invited me to their London offices in May 2019 and allowed me to learn the ropes for my remote work, without any pressure; working with him has been a very positive experience. There are so many other great people on the circuit, but I owe a lot to all of those mentioned. This article is essentially about confidence growth, and without them, I wouldn’t want to write it.

Thank you to Carrie Brown, chair of the FWA, for her understanding, encouragement and for allowing to share my perspective, and thank you very much to you for reading.

Bill Meredith 1928-2020

By John Ley of the FWA National Committee, and formerly the Daily Telegraph 

It is with regret we announce the passing of our oldest existing member, Bill Meredith, who has passed away at the age of 92.

Though Bill spent most of his working career on the production side, he was a familiar face for six decades in football press boxes pursuing his great love of writing.

Bill retired in 1993, after 26 years’ service on the Daily Telegraph, where he was assistant sports editor.

Bill’s love for all forms of sport saw him cover so many different types, from cricket, golf, tennis and football to fencing.

Those who were lucky enough to encounter a man who always seemed to have a smile on his face remember his preference for ‘man hugs’ long before they became fashionable, and, as I can testify, his ability to come close to breaking a shoulder when he greeted you with a welcoming punch.

Bill was born in Northampton, in 1928, and soon became a fan of The Cobblers. He was in the press box when George Best scored six at the old County Ground, in 1970, when Manchester United won an FA Cup tie 8-2.

The family moved to London when he was nine and, just short of his 14th birthday he took his first, tentative steps into Fleet Street when he became a ‘copy boy’ for the old Evening News, collecting and delivering copy from all over London including Westminster.

After the war, in 1946, Bill was conscripted into the RAF and was posted to Egypt where tensions were running high after the hostilities.

Bill had always wanted to write and, on his return to England, landed a job on a magazine called The Competitors Journal, as a sports reporter.

Bill also did subbing shifts on the Daily Mirror – he became good friends with my father, Charlie, who was a photographer there around the same time.

He honed his writing skills by covering games for Sunday papers before landing a job as assistant press officer at Ladbrokes – only to discover on his first day that he had been promoted to press officer after the present incumbent had quit!

Bill’s contacts within all sports – he was a member of the MCC – through working with the betting company was to prove invaluable and. In 1964, when the Daily Herald was replaced by a broadsheet version of The Sun, he was ‘poached’ by Sports Editor Frank Nicklin, as a sub.

But after three years he moved across the Street to the Daily Telegraph as a sports writer, and remained there until his retirement, in 1993. But you can’t keep a good scribe down and Bill continued to write match reports well into the new century.

Bill made people smile and commanded the respect of all he met – even more in more unlikely areas.

Ian Pfeiffer, a Telegraph ‘comp’ or compositor in Fleet Street, South Quay and Canary Wharf, remembers him fondly.  “As far as I can remember Bill was just one of two editorial Subs that we banged out on their retirement, which speaks columns of how well he was liked on the stone in Fleet Street and the subsequent cold metal days in Docklands.”

Another story is told by his wife Margaret. “He was with the comps and when one of them complained that the sports pages were late, so he ruffled his hair – and removed his toupee.  He tried to put it back – and put it on back to front!”

Those who recall the frosty atmosphere on ‘stone’ will know those actions were unheard of. But that was Bill.

Bill had high standards and those at the Telegraph all remember the times when he would lose him temper at the sight of a shoddy sentence, or wrong facts.

Former colleague Peter Mitchell recalls:  “What a lovely, quirky, vital man he was. He was in the office when I did my first shift on the Telegraph in 1988 and within the first hour I had witnessed a classic Bill glasses-throwing episode.”

Indeed, that act was always followed by the words: “I’m not sure I like your attitude,” if anybody dared to respond. Mostly, though, it was said with tongue in cheek.

Another former Telegraph colleague, Gareth Williams, recalls another great story. “We both loved boxing and Bill’s legendary story was when he was covering the Joe Bugner v Richard Dunn British heavyweight title fight. The office asked for a round-by-round account with a top and tail – at least 1000 words. Bugner raced out of the blocks and knocked Dunn down three times. All over in two minutes. Even Bill was lost for words!”

Bill and Margaret were able to celebrate their 60th Wedding anniversary and she reveals a man who loved writing as much as he loved people. Bill was a churchgoer, who also loved nothing more than going to the opera or a good musical.

“The last production we saw was Hamilton,” says Margaret. “We warned him there was a lot of rapping – but he loved it, loved the vibrancy and life in it. That was Bill.”

Bill is survived by Margaret and children Steve, Sarah and Will, and 10 grandchildren.

Bill Meredith with former Telegraph colleagues on his 90th birthday

Bill with former Telegraph sports editor Keith Perry

Kevin McCarra 1958-2020

We at the FWA are saddened that our dear friend and colleague Kevin McCarra has passed away at the age of 62.  Kevin was a much-loved member, friend and colleague. His good friend Philippe Auclair has written this tribute to the former Guardian football correspondent.

“There are few things which are harder to write than a tribute to a friend who has just died. I knew Kevin was desperately ill, but somehow hoped against hope that he’d pull through one more time. Then the phone rang late on Saturday night, and as soon as I saw who was calling, I knew. We’d lost Kevin.

Jonathan Wilson has written, quite beautifully, about our mutual friend in the Guardian, and I won’t attempt to tread the same path myself. The overwhelming response to Jonathan’s piece told its own story: Kevin held a very special place in people’s hearts.

He owed this unique place – beyond the circle of friends who adored him, beyond the Celtic family which has lost one of its most cherished members – to his prowess as a writer, or, more accurately, to the uniqueness of his writing. For Kevin wrote like an angel, but not just in the sense we usually mean when we say this. He had the economy of style, the lightness of touch and the elegance you’d expect from an admirer of David Lacey’s journalism, as well as a remarkable ability to detect and fan away the faintest whiff of cliché; but what made Kevin’s gift unique is that he never used it to mock, belittle or hurt anyone, whilst still conveying the passion he had for the game and not once reneging on his beliefs and his contempt for those who betrayed what he held to be right for football – and for society.

His readers could feel this. They instinctively knew that his passionate, yet measured voice was the voice of a kind man, and they were right: kindness was the defining trait of his character. Many of the other virtues he demonstrated in his life and in his work sprang from it. When the news of his death was made public on social media on Sunday, people who’d met him on just a few occasions spoke of how he’d always been considerate, attentive to them, polite to a fault (if such a thing is possible), humble and helpful. These were other ways to say this simple thing: he was the kindest of men. He could be as sharp as anyone, and as funny too; but not once did I hear him being cruel.

There was a certain otherwordliness about Kevin, which is the first thing which attracted me to him when we met in the press box for the first time, some twenty years ago, and which went well beyond his legendary incapacity to master anything to do with computers. Kevin stood out in a way only Kevin could. Maybe he still felt a certain bemusement at having become the Guardian’s football correspondent, the position he’d dreamt of long before he moved from Glasgow to London. He did not fit in, yet he did. He remained a fan to the last (attending home games at Partick Thistle until his condition made it impossible for him to bear crowds), but could not found guilty of one-eyedness. He was a celebrant in the church of Celtic FC, but was never blind to the dangers of sectarism.

These are not contradictions. These are the characteristics of a good man. This is how I will remember him. And when I miss him, which will be often, and for a long time, and I’m hit by his absence a bit harder than usual, I’ll play Curtis Mayfield’s version of the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun, a favourite of his, and will give thanks to have called a friend the lovely man who brought this song and so much else in my life, as he did bring so much else in the life of so many others.”

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/oct/25/kevin-mccarra-obituary

FWA AGM on Wednesday October 14

The Annual General Meeting of the FWA will be held on Wednesday October 14 at 10am on Zoom.

All FWA members are welcome to attend, and if you wish to do so, please contact our executive secretary Paul McCarthy for log-in details on paul@maccamedia.co.uk

All members of the National Executive committee are expected to attend.  Matters to be discussed will be election of officials, financial report and matters arising. Minutes will be published following the meeting.

Mental well-being advice for football writers

Paul McCarthy, our Executive Secretary, has posted an important message on Twitter about mental health (below). The FWA and our chair Carrie Brown have worked hard with the FA, via their HEADS UP campaign, to develop a resource pack specifically for FWA members: https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/toolkit/mental-health-some-pointers-for-football-writers/
From @PaulMcCarthy66:

Apologies in advance for a somewhat lengthy thread but as Executive Secretary of @theofficialfwa it’s become a real concern to see so many young sports journalists suffering mental health issues through simply trying to do their job.

Our chair @CarrieBrownTV has made it a major part of her tenure to highlight this issue and for the FWA to provide assistance and support for anybody suffering in this way, be they members or non-members.

But I thought I’d try and put down a few thoughts on trying to cope with the pressures the job entails, especially in an era where your work is scrutinised and possibly decried almost instantaneously. I also write this as somebody who has made more than their share of mistakes.

If you write with honesty you never have anything for which to reproach yourself. You’ll make mistakes, but if they are made honestly and you learn from them, you can always look yourself in the mirror.

Never take short cuts, even if you are under pressure from your boss or even if you’re putting pressure on yourself. A great reporter, Alex Montgomery, once told me never to write what you don’t know. There’s no shame in admitting that, just work harder to actually find out.

Being at the receiving end of a Twitter pile-on can be overwhelming. But remember the vast majority of those criticising don’t have your level of credibility, insight, knowledge or contacts. Your best friend is the mute button, never be afraid to use it. In fact, enjoy using it.

By and large, Twitter is the equivalent of six blokes arguing in a pub after a match. Sometimes it’s funny and insightful but most of the time it’s just seeing who can shout the loudest to make their point as they become increasingly pissed.

Despite the inevitable pressure, football journalism is an incredible job even if it might feel there’s not the same level of prestige attached to it. Remember, most fans would give their eye teeth to do what you do, so try and enjoy it. Easy to say but important to do.

Most of all, talk to people. The job is too isolated now because its so easy to get in touch via email, text, WhatsApp or DMs. The best reporters actually physically TALK to their contacts, colleagues or even their rivals. We’re in the communication industry so communicate.

Finally, never be afraid to ask for help. My contact details are easy enough to find and I’ll always be happy to help or just try and offer advice. I’m sure the same goes for all my fellow FWA National Committee members. DO NOT SUFFER IN SILENCE. Asking for help is not a weakness.