Dan Tolhurst. Communications Manager, Arsenal, on a major decision about CBeebies…problems with a chunky monkey…and a happy boss
I’m proud to say that I’ve been Communications Manager/Press Officer at Arsenal for nearly 14 years. I joined Arsenal just after the Double’season of 1997/98. Since then, a lot has changed in football and at Arsenal, including a new training ground and a new stadium, but thankfully all the while with just one manager.
Monday 19th March
We were all rocked by the events at White Hart Lane on Saturday evening. Fabrice Muamba joined us at Arsenal as a schoolboy and came through the youth ranks under Liam Brady at Hale End and London Colney, before becoming a professional in 2005. A lovely lad and as a press officer, an absolute pleasure to work with. Full respect and credit to everyone at Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur – they have been impeccable in their handling of the situation. On Sunday morning, we gave our fans the opportunity to send in their messages of support to Fabrice. We received over 20,000 messages in the first 24 hours. Says a lot to how much the boy means to everyone at Arsenal.
Monday morning started with the usual commute from Kent to Emirates Stadium. The journey in always gives me the chance to take a view of the morning’s newspapers and track that Twitter time line. Got into the office and put a call in to the training ground to arrange messages of support for Fabrice from Arsène Wenger and Liam Brady. Both called back within minutes and quotes posted on our website.
Early flurry of calls from the journalists on the Arsenal beat regarding the media reports in Germany about Lukas Podolski. Cologne media reporting the deal will be announced today, so UK journalists needed to check the facts. No signing, but most of the day spent relaying our position and giving the information out
Tuesday 20th March
Newspapers, online Blogs and Twitter safely navigated with no major Arsenal issues, so I get down to some planning. Pre-season tour plans are already moving. We’ve already confirmed matches in Beijing (against Manchester City on 27th July) and in Hong Kong (against local side Kitchee FC on 29th July), so we spent some time discussing tour events, media access and engaging supporters when we’re out there in the summer.
Following the Fabrice Muamba incident, media debate is focussing on the heart screening of players. We liaised with our medical team, in order to determine our position on heart screening – which is that we give all our players a cardiac screening once a season and our facilities and staff at London Colney and at Emirates Stadium are more than adequate.
OK, so this bit isn’t going to please the FWA members. We’ve got a match tomorrow at Everton, but we haven’t had a press conference. This doesn’t happen often, and is purely down to schedules. However, Arsène gave a brief interview to Arsenal.com, which we distributed to UK newspapers and held back on a 10.30pm embargo.
Also, finalised our stat pack and club information ahead of the match at Everton on Wednesday night. Our stat pack (for those anoraks amongst you) will always consist of Arsenal’s all-time stats and breakdown of player information. We know you guys have Soccerbase and Wikipedia these days, but you can’t always rely on them. For me, it’s such an important part of a press officer’s role – know your facts, make yourself available and be ready at any point to help and assist journalists and broadcasters.
Wednesday 21st March
It’s matchday. After all these years, I still find myself ‘in the zone’ on matchdays, which I know is not a bad thing at all. Today, it’s Goodison Park.
Quick stop at the office before heading up to Liverpool on the train. Usually travel to away matches on the train. With the journey from Euston to Lime Street being direct and just over two hours, it’s fairly straightforward. Together with the Arsenal media team, we jump on the 3.07pm and we’re at Goodison Park in good time before kick-off. On arrival, meet up with my counterparts at Everton to gauge the media presence at the match. It’s fairly quiet from a TV perspective, as they are all in Manchester to cover Man City v Chelsea. However, it will still be busy after the match, with BBC, Sky Sports, radio and written media present in numbers.
Behind the scenes, Everton are a great club to work with. Very friendly and cooperative and the stadium always reminds me a little bit of Highbury. Narrow players’ tunnel and terraces close to the pitch.
The match goes well from an Arsenal point of view, an early goal from Thomas Vermaelen securing a valuable three points. Post-match, Arsène and the players were understandably in good spirits. Vermaelen, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny stopped for media interviews, together with AW, who was delighted with his team’s performance.
Thursday 22nd March
The school run and not much sleep was made better after last night’s result. Drop the children at school and nursery. Sounds like I’ve got a coach-load of children, but just the three. For the majority of time, football has no part to play in my home life, which is a good thing. This morning, my major diplomatic decision was to decide which TV channel would be accompanying breakfast – CBeebies or the Disney Channel.
After the school run, get home and digest the morning’s media, which makes good reading the morning after a victory. Get to the office and finalise our activities of support for Fabrice Muamba at Saturday’s home match against Aston Villa. We’ve produced a giant banner for the supporters to show as the teams come out. We’ve also prepared a PA announcement from both clubs to be read before kick-off. A section of Saturday’s Matchday Programme will also be devoted to Fabrice.
Have a good update and review with our Head of Education and Welfare regarding our media training programme for our younger players – now known as Scholars (YTS players to the older readers). We set up a number of sessions each season with our first and second year scholars, using journalists and broadcasters, in order to educate and train the young players, focussing on the role of the media in football and also to engage them in some practical sessions in mock interviews.
Friday 23rd March
Press conference day. Preview for our home match against Aston Villa is 12.30pm today at our training ground. As well as player media interviews, Arsène has his press conference and the usual session with UK newspapers – Friday for Saturday. A relaxed Arsène gives an update on Jack Wilshere’s recovery, telling journalists for Saturday that he’s hopeful Jack will be back playing in around five weeks.
Get back to the stadium and finish off preparing for tomorrow’s match. Press Box is nearly full for the match.
Saturday 24th March
Home matchday. Get to the stadium at about 10am. Check that the media areas are ready for action.
There are about seven of us from the club who work in the media areas on a matchday. We have a team meeting about three hours before kick-off, then we are open for business.
Quite a few journalists arrive early to watch the Chelsea v Spurs match, so our catering staff are ready to roll. However, there is a problem. We are very proud of our ice cream selection available in the media lounge on a matchday, but we have a serious problem. I’m approached by a journalist (who will remain nameless) who asks whether we have any chunky monkey ice creams left. Unfortunately we don’t and my day will now remain unfulfilled. It is a known fact to our regulars that Arsenal’s media facilities go hand-in-hand with the availability of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The chunky monkey news is a severe blow.
Anyway, back to the serious stuff. The Arsenal and Aston Villa fans join together and show magnificent support for Fabrice Muamba before the match. Also before kick off, we announce that a 29-year-old man has been arrested by the Met Police on suspicion of a Racially Aggravated Public Order offence, following the recent match against Newcastle United. Great that Arsenal and Met Police have acted quickly and strongly on this matter.
On the pitch, we continue our good run of form with a 3-0 win. Goals from Gibbs, Walcott and Arteta. Post-match is enjoyable, with the boss and a number of players talking to the media.
Winning makes the job of a press officer so much easier.
Hope you’ve enjoyed.