After 20 years reporting the best games and the best teams, the Daily Mail’s chief football correspondent MATT LAWTON is ready for a new challenge as executive sports editor
IT HAD been an enjoyable summer for Matt Lawton, the Daily Mail’s chief football correspondent. Despite England doing what they usually do at major tournaments and losing on penalties in the quarter-finals, Euro 2012 was the best finals for many years, full of excellent football and outstanding individuals while Poland and Ukraine proved not to be the war zones predicted in some – well one – quarter.
Lawton then reported on the swimming at London 2012 which enabled him to tick off another ambition, covering an Olympic Games. The day after his Olympic stint had ended his phone rang. It was the office. Not about some pre-season features. How would he like to become executive sports editor?
“It came out of the blue,” said Lawton who has been on the road for almost 20 years working for the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express. If being a football writer is a job coveted by many, then being a football correspondent, covering only the best games and best teams, is as good as it gets. Giving it up is not easy but it was an offer Lawton could not refuse. In fact, his mind was made up in five minutes.
“Yes, it was a big decision,” Lawton told footballwriters.co.uk. “To give up what many people think is the best job in the world is difficult, but after 11 years [as the Mail’s chief football correspondent] I thought it was the right time to try something different. It’s a chance to test myself again – not that the job doesn’t test you every day.
“When you are offered an opportunity like this it’s very difficult to turn down. Within about five minutes of being asked and once I’d got over the initial surprise, I was quickly getting into the idea.
“I’ll miss the banter of being on the circuit but there are a lot of guys I’m looking forward to spending more time working with in the office.”
These are exiting times for the Daily Mail with a significant expansion of the web site imminent. “It will be fascinating to be part of all this,” said Lawton who admitted his experience of working “inside” is almost zero.
He said: “The most production experience I’ve had was when I was on the Western Daily Press. We did everything. I wrote, I subbed and once a week I was stone sub.
“I’m not going to walk in on day one and draw a page. We have some very capable people to do that, though it is something I’ll have to learn so I can have more judgement about the pages.”
Lawton knows he has some of the industry’s finest sports writers to all upon, with Martin Samuel a multi award-winning columnist. In football and cricket, the sports that tend to generate the most back page leads, it is rare for the Daily Mail not to lead the way on the biggest stories and Lawton, a football correspondent who never lost his eye for an exclusive, will still be working with the reporters to bring stories to the pages.
He said: “I’ll be part of a team overseeing a very strong sports desk. We have brilliant writers and brilliant reporters.”
Lawton, who starts his new job next month, will still appear in the sports pages, but once every other month as opposed to virtually every day. He said: “There is a desire for me to do the occasional interview. I enjoy doing them and it would have been one side of the job I’d miss most of all. I like meeting new people…different sportsmen…and this is something the new job will allow me to do, maybe half a dozen a year.“
His experience on the road will help Lawton in his new position because the sharp end of a sports desk needs a combination of a top class production team plus those who have sampled life on the circuit.
He joins head of sport Lee Clayton and sports editor Les Snowdon as the major decision makers and said: “I think it can be of benefit to reporters to have somebody in a senior position on the desk who has been there, seen it and done it to work alongside the production guys.
“Lee is the perfect example of a former football writer who is a brilliant sports editor, the best I’ve ever had. With the different skills Lee and Les bring to running our department, I could not wish for two better teachers.”
And Lawton has been fortunate to work under “some terrific sports editors” during his career. He said: “Bill Beckett was my first at the Western Daily Press. At the Express I had David Emery, then at the Telegraph it was David Welch before Colin Gibson brought me to the Daily Mail.”
Tim Jotischky succeeded Gibson before Clayton and then Snowdon assumed control on the Daily Mail sports desk.
Lawton remains part of the most successful media organisation in what the former inhabitants still refer to as Fleet Street. At the 2012 Press Awards the Daily Mail won eight prizes, including Newspaper of the Year with Mail Online named best web site.