Sunday November 20
Door to door, the commute takes about 30 seconds. Roll out of bed, stagger down corridor, enter office, plonk down in front of PC. None of this “what shall I wear” malarky. Winceyette pyjamas and hair rollers meet the dress code at Self Towers. Hah, you thought this job was glamorous? My first task of this working day (weekends are working days, generally) is to put the finishing touch to part of my match order from the previous day.
Having already written 750 words after the game for The People, I am now on Daily Mail duty, completing the Monday morning Match Zone box. I need to find a Top Tweet from the West Brom v Bolton game. Easy in theory, ridiculously hard in practice. Finally, after sending out a series of Twitter maydays, I’m pointed in the direction of someone who I’m assured is the real Phil Gartside. Hope so anyway, although his tweet is so banal it can’t be fake. Can it?
Match Zone sent, breakfast consumed (croissant and coffee) then it’s time to write a 400 word match report which will go on Mail on-line at 10.30pm. Pressures of space mean that there is simply no room for most Saturday matches in the Monday paper.
Now for the second part of my working day. I’m off to the Mail office to do a night news desk shift. The commute is slightly longer and I decide against turning up in either the winceyette pyjamas or the hair rollers. Door to door it’s 145 miles one way and the journey becomes a pigging one thanks to thick fog. Arrive in Kensington for 5.0ish. The simplest way to describe the job is that you are a conduit between reporting staff and the production desk. The only late sport tonight is the tennis at the O2 – Rafa Nadal’s press conference starts at past midnight and the Mail’s erudite tennis correspondent, Mike Dickson, is on the case. Leave the office at 1.0am for the short drive home. At least the fog has cleared.
Monday November 21
Knackered. Then again, I tumbled into bed at 4.0am. Unlike the song, I actually quite like Mondays. It’s usually an invoice-sending, money-chasing, books-updating slob-out day of catching up except when I’m on podcast duty (more of that later).
First though, I log on to socqer.com to answer a couple of questions. It’s one of the projects that I’m involved with – a football questions and answers site, which has been launched quite recently. Questions range from the in-depth to the inane and so do the answers.
After that I have one more task. I am on the committee of the Sports Journalists’ Association and every week the website publishes the week’s sporting quotes. Usual contributor, Ian Cole, is up to his neck in organising the SJA’s prestigious Sports Awards lunch on December 7 so I have stepped off the bench. My favourite is Gary Neville’s brilliant description of David Luiz – he looks like he’s being controlled by a ten-year-old on a Playstation. My day finishes in front of the tv, watching Tottenham toy with Aston Villa.
Tuesday November 22
A morning of leaf-sweeping, an afternoon as a domestic goddess and then it’s Birmingham v Burnley for the Mail. Arrive early, tuck in to cajun chicken, sweet potato fries and Mediterranean vegetables – excellent fare considering that the club have no money and are in the Championship. The press room is virtually empty – many journalists have decamped to the FA Cup replay at Stourbridge. Nice to catch up with Darren in the Burnley press office and to poke fun at the slugs on the upper lips of Chris and Andy in the Birmingham press office. Birmingham win 2-1 with an injury-time goal – some 20 minutes AFTER I have sent my match report. I pick up the phone and talk the goal through with the sub-editor who is handling my copy. Wait for managers – both excellent value – then do a 350 word re-write and head home. I’m always hyper after a night match so stay up and watch the Champions League highlights. Napoli are quite good.
Wednesday November 23
Day off – apart from answering socqer.com questions, exchanging twitter banter, taking several phone calls and speaking to a man about a book. And does watching Chelsea labour in Leverkusen count as work?
Thursday November 24
Alarm goes off at 5.0am. A crazy day. First, podcast. This is my chance to sit on a red sofa and pontificate with the BT Life’s A Pitch panel and mine host, the multi-faceted Michael Calvin. Mike’s show is bi-weekly and there are a dozen or so journalists who contribute regularly. I’m a late stand-in today and my fellow “pundits” are Ian Ridley, author extraordinaire, and old chum John Cross of the Mirror. There is one logistical problem. I live in the Midlands and the BT headquarters is next to St Paul’s tube station. And I have to be there for 9.30am.
I hit the road at quarter to six, breathe a sigh of relief that there is no fog, ice or rain, just pitch-blackness and pull up at Perivale tube station at 8.30am, giving me time to check the morning headlines. Then it’s 35 minutes on the Central Line. The guys at BT are great. Opt for a strong cup of coffee but decline the offer of a sausage sandwich as we talk about what we’re going to talk about. Today Chelsea crisis, Manchester United blip in Europe, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City, transfer watch and manager of the season, so far (I go for Chris Powell at Charlton). We head to the studio around 10.0am then it’s make-up, lights, action.
As soon as we finish, I am off. The Mail have asked me to cover Mick McCarthy’s pre-match press conference, at Wolves’ training ground, at 2.0pm. Wolves are playing Chelsea, after all. I drive away from Perivale tube station at midday, which means I am not so much cutting it fine as embarking on mission impossible. Luckily, the way MM operates is to speak to the tv guys first, then radio, and finally written. I arrive at Compton at 2.25pm to find Mick still talking to the cameras. Phew.
Mick’s on fine form, too, accepting with good grace that he will spend a lot more time on the subject of Chelsea than the subject of Wolves. He gives the written press 20 minutes, finishing off with a message of encouragement for Matt Jarvis, whose form has dipped since his England call-up. The consensus is to keep the Jarvis line for Saturday morning as the match preview.
I realise as I’m driving home that I have not actually eaten anything but a banana all day. Thankfully there is a cold sausage lurking in the fridge when I get home. So far my working day has been 13 hours long and I’ve driven about 320 miles. Write my Wolves story for the Mail and crash out.
Friday November 25
While I am a freelance (available to work for anyone, in other words), my two regular newspaper gigs are for The People and the Mail. This weekend Aston Villa play at Swansea on Sunday so I’m on preview duty for The People, which means a trip down to Villa’s training ground – A SHORT DRIVE AWAY.
Last week we spoke to Alex McLeish about Spurs so today the club have made defender James Collins available to the Sunday papers. I know Collins from covering Wales and he is a very good talker. He is brutally honest about his own and Villa’s shortcomings in the defeat at Spurs. It will make a good read for Sunday. Bump into Alex McLeish on the way in and he looks at my boots and my gilet and asks: “Have you left your horse outside?”
He’s being peppered with insults and criticism from every angle but McLeish is a class act as a person even if I am now questioning his sense of humour. Consider bowling up in winceyette pyjamas and hair rollers next time.
Saturday November 26
Match day. West Brom v Tottenham and I’m really looking forward to seeing Spurs “in the flesh”. Food at The Hawthorns is of the pie and pastie variety with delicious creamy things and the strongest, most undrinkable coffee imaginable. Make the fatal mistake of mentioning the diary to the troops. Monday – did the ironing. Tuesday – vacuumed. And so on. Men will be boys, after all. My match order is 750 words on the final whistle and same again, with quotes, at 6.0pm. After a ropey start, Harry Redknapp’s team start to strutt their stuff although West Brom contributed fully to a great match. Even better, both managers are in the press room to give the post-match verdict very quickly. Email the re-write just before 6.0 and head home.
Sunday November 27
On the road 5.30am. Gale force winds and driving rain make the journey more interesting . Back down to London, this time for a day news desk shift on the Mail. Groundhog day for this diary. Miles driven this week – over 1,000. Days worked – most of them. And you thought this job was glamorous.