My Week: Jim WhiteThe Daily Telegraph’s Jim White on taking the Piers...a burglary and the other Jim White
Monday January 30
I’m in the stately surrounds of Warrington Town Hall for the Gary Speed inquest. Sombre is barely adequate as an adjective to describe the mood. The Speed family are here looking bereft, drawn and above all utterly bewildered. There’s a huge media presence, too, reflecting the interest the case generated. The public affection unleashed on his passing demonstrated there is a real thirst for answers.
But those hoping for clarity are unlucky. As the coroner Mr Nicholas Rheinberg delivers a narrative verdict, we are no nearer finding explanation as to why a man apparently with so much to live for chose to take his own life. He left no note, an extensive trawl of his computer and mobile phone by the police uncovered no apparent motive, none of those closest to him detected any change in his demeanour in his final hours. He had no history of mental health issues. When Mr Rheinberg asks his widow Louise if she can think of anything that might have provoked her husband into killing himself she can only slowly shake her head and tearfully whisper “no”.
One thing is certain, however: none of the lurid internet stories that filled the information vacuum immediately after his death had any connection to the truth. In a week in which the likes of Joey Barton and Stan Collymore have been championing new media’s superiority over old, it was a sobering reminder that standards of reporting are wildly different out there on the web. Irresponsible some newspapers might be, but not even the most scurrilous red top would repeat some of the stories that spun round social media in the wake of his death without doing the most rudimentary of checks. As Anthony Haylock, Speed’s brother-in-law, put it when he re-tweeted the following: “So, Gary Speed wasn’t gay, wasn’t having an affair and wasn’t facing tabloid exposure. Nice work Twitter.”
Mind you, the fact that the original message was sent by Piers Morgan, a man who made a lucrative career from low-grade tittle tattle, demonstrates that even in a case like this the moral high ground is seldom easily identified.
Tuesday January 31
t is transfer deadline day. Or, as Sky Sports News likes to call it: Jim White Day. My namesake, the silver haired Sky newsreader, has made something of a name for himself turning up the excitement dial to hysterical as the transfer window closes. And as he has done so, he has inadvertently made a name for me too. This morning my phone is already blinking with alerts to the several dozen who are now signed up to follow me on Twitter in the mistaken belief that I am that Jim White. I hope they’re not disappointed when none of the tweets they will subsequently receive from me are written in capital letters and concluded by half a dozen exclamation marks.
Plus, there is a text from an old girlfriend reading: “You’re famous! Check out page 45 of the Guardian”. And there indeed is a profile of Jim White. Though I have to wonder what sort of impression I must have made on her if she cheerily accepted the piece’s description of a “shouty Scotsman” as me.
But then, when it comes to the relative status of Jim Whites (and let’s be honest, both of us trail way behind Whirlwind Jimmy) I was long ago made aware of where I stand. Back in 1999, I was doing some work at STV just after the other JW had transferred to Sky. My then sports editor at the Guardian rang the switchboard in Glasgow in an attempt to track me down. When he asked to be put through to Jim White he was told by the lady on switchboard: “Well, we do have a Jim White in the building. But I have to tell you, he’s no’ the famous one.”
Wednesday February 1
In the office writing a column where I am distracted by the news that, ahead of their Super Bowl appearance, the New York Giants and New England Patriots have sold 8,000 tickets to enable fans to attend a press conference. Apparently the fans will sit in the stands and listen as the event is broadcast on the giant screens. It is an idea that no doubt will soon be borrowed by Barclays Premier League clubs, ever anxious to find new ways to buff up their bottom line. Though obviously at Old Trafford, half those fans hoping to attend the manager’s press briefing can expect to learn when they turn up that they have, in fact, been banned.
Thursday February 2
These days sports reporters need all the skills of the legal correspondent. I’m at Southwark Crown Court to watch Harry Redknapp give evidence in his tax case, and the public benches are packed with football writers struggling to get to grips with the requirements of not prejudicing a trial. How much easier it would be were we in a position to mock poor witness evidence or mark the prosecuting counsel out of ten for his cross examination performance. Instead we can make no comment at all, obliged simply report the facts. A struggle for some of us I can tell you.
Still, I can reveal that at one point the phone went off in the pocket of the bloke sitting next to me in the public gallery. It took him an age to find it and switch it off, giving the entire court the opportunity to be serenaded by several choruses of “Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur”. Lucky he wasn’t in the jury.
Plus, of all the evidence I hear today, this is the observation that sticks in the mind. It comes from Mick McGuire, who, when working for the PFA, used to negotiate Redknapp’s managerial contracts for him. He is talking about the time when he told his client that he was due a pay-off of £130,000 when he first walked out on Portsmouth. However, Redknapp replied that he didn’t want it. Was this unusual? McGuire is asked.
“Let’s put it this way,” he says. “In 22 years negotiating contracts, I never came across anyone in football who turned down any money they were legally entitled to.”
Friday February 3
Am woken up at six by my wife telling me we’ve been burgled. My laptop has been whipped off the kitchen table, together with mobiles, wallets and her bag. After contacting the police, the insurance and credit card companies, I dash off to London Colney for Arsene Wenger’s press conference with a creaking old laptop removed from a cupboard under my arm. I’m looking forward to hearing him discuss the threatened boycott by disillusioned Arsenal fans who intend to put rubbish bags on their seats during the forthcoming game with Blackburn. The good thing about Wenger is he never shies from a question, always addresses all concerns. He is, in short, good copy.
But when I arrive at Arsenal’s training base I discover that his press conference is already over. It was shifted to 9.30 o’clock this morning. Didn’t I get the email? asks an Arsenal press officer. Well, no I didn’t. But if you happen to be at a car boot sale this weekend and you pick up a newish Sony Vaio with a picture of the lesser Jim White on the wallpaper and an email from Arsenal in its inbox, perhaps you could forward it to me.
Saturday February 4
It’s my day off but I end up transfixed by Twitter. Joey Barton is adding further weight to his bold promotion of new media by giving – via several tweets this morning - his unflinching opinion of John Terry. It is pointed out to him – by Stan Collymore among many others – that the law prevents comment on a live court case. Given that with over a million followers he has more people reading him than several national newspapers, it is suggested maybe he ought to observe the rules of sub judice and not pass potentially prejudicial observation. Barton takes offence at these warnings, seeing it as a freedom of expression issue. He is damned if he will be silenced, he angrily announces more than once, quoting George Orwell in his defence.
By coincidence, at an event this week I chat with Matthew Syed, the erudite Times columnist who has been recently appointed as Barton’s ghost-writer for his autobiography. Maybe – in order to facilitate a rapid improvement in the situation - Syed could donate part of his planet-sized brain to his new collaborator.
Sunday February 5
At Stamford Bridge for Chelsea’s game with Manchester United. John Terry walks through the press room and stops for a chat with several reporters. Nobody mentions Barton’s Tweeting. Or indeed the court case. But we do learn that he is injured and that Chelsea will be without not only him but also Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. It is a long, long time since all three of the nation’s favourite footballers have been missing from the blues line up and most in the press room predict an easy victory for Manchester United.
It doesn’t quite work out like that. Chelsea sprint into a three goal lead, the sparky Juan Mata looking particularly threatening. To recover their position as title challengers, United are obliged to launch the most scintillating comeback of the season. It is orchestrated by the immaculate passing of Paul Scholes, who comes on as substitute midway through the second half. Much of the pre-match discussion in the press room had been about the weather and the number of layers being worn to keep out the chill. As if to a fancy dress party on a wintry theme, the Mirror’s John Cross has come dressed as a duvet. I am wearing thermals and a jumper so thick it could double as a bullet-proof vest. Yet I am still freezing. I cannot help noticing that Scholes trots on to the pitch wearing short sleeves and eschewing all hint of glove, high-necked under-shirt or David Luiz-style tights. Clearly in Salford they mock the very concept of winter. And snigger at those who dress accordingly.