By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
Paul Hayward this week returned to what many feel is his natural home, the Daily Telegraph, after a six-year absence. While most newspapers are tightening their belts, the Telegraph are again investing in their sports coverage, 21 years after producing the first broadsheet sports supplement.
Hayward said: ‘That was a golden age and it was a great challenge to be part of the revolution. It started as a Monday supplement, then a Saturday and soon there was a sports supplement every day. It put sport at the forefront of the newspaper and we were able to write about sports as never before.
‘There was more space for columns and analysis but then the recession kicked in. The Telegraph are again big and bold, investing in sports journalism which is always attractive while I know Ben Clissitt who is head of sport at the Telegraph from the Guardian.’
Hayward spent three years with the Daily Mail and a further three with the Guardian/Observer after leaving the Telegraph in 2005. He said: ‘I have never changed my style wherever I have worked. I was presumably employed because of how I wrote so there is no point in trying to write like someone else. The Mail taught me a lot. The sports pages are highly disciplined and I learned to get to the point quicker in my columns.’
Football, inevitably, dominates the life of a chief sports writer and self-confessed Brighton fan Hayward said: ‘I’d say football probably accounts for 70 per cent of my writing. You cannot be a sports writer unless you cover football. The only exception I can think of with an iconic sports writer is the great Ian Wooldridge who turned his back on football to a large extent but these days you have to be educated in football.’
As a columnist Hayward is not in the firing line when it comes to finding a back- or front-page lead though he has nothing but admiration for the news hounds who work at the sharp end of the business, searching for stories that clubs would, in many cases, prefer not to be made public.
He said: ‘I feel almost embarrassed sometimes seeing them in action, hanging around car parks and waiting in mixed zones for players. While I am usually in the mixed zone I am not under the constant intense pressure they are to produce stories to feed into the furnace. There are more barriers between the media and players than ever before. They are almost inaccessible with managers, agents or image rights consultants to be overcome.’
While in the past newspapers just competed against their rivals to break stories, the age of new technology means the internet is now a powerful opponent for the print media.
Hayward believes Twitter, the latest platform for breaking news and goal-flashes, can be used to the media’s advantage.
He said: ‘Sports journalists are cunning and have survival instincts. You can use Twitter to your advantage, opening up a market with people who would not necessarily read you. You should use your rival as a friend and a lot of writers have embraced Twitter. While you don’t want to spill the beans with a story, if you give people live observations from press conferences or games they may go on to read the real thing.’
With just about every major sporting event, plus well deserved individual awards on his CV, Hayward can look back on a wealth of happy memories but one occasion stands out. ‘When France won the 1998 World Cup with a multi-racial team and Zinedine Zidane at his peak,’ he said. ‘I was up until 5am in the streets of Paris and it was a wonderful, unforgettable night.’
The changing face of sports coverage is reflected in Hayward’s advice to the next generation of back-page football writers and columnists. ‘You must have ideas,’ he said. ‘Whoever you are interviewing, be it someone with 40 England caps or a player from Eastern Europe, you must find something new and interesting about him.
‘Also, no 21-year-old coming into the business can expect a career as just a writer. You have to take in radio and TV these days – and have plenty of energy.’