THE DAILY TELEGRAPH’S JOHN LEY on stats…Stinking Bishop…and speaking at the House of Commons
Monday, March 12
Wake up with a start. It’s going to be a busy old week and I don’t feel if I’m as prepared as I should be. The last 10 months have been strange; since switching from my role as a football writer on The Daily Telegraph after 24 years, I am still adapting to life as ‘Production Editor’ – that’s a sub in real money – and it still feels strange, knowing that I don’t start work until 4pm.
It would be nice to think I could have a lie-in, but my daughter leaves for college at 9am and if I don’t get up, even for just 20 minutes for a cup of tea and a chat, I won’t see her again that day. Katie, my daughter, is 18 and has Down’s syndrome and diabetes. She is also very special and is doing well at Harlow College, where she attends a special needs class. Her taxi arrives and, within a nano-second the dog has one of my walking boots in her mouth, throwing it into the air with like a canine juggler. Set off with the dog, Bella, and my wife (she’s called Linda to avoid confusion) along the River Lee, throw a ball for the dog a few times then return via the paper shop. Need the papers to update my stats books. Buy my paper and the Sun – they are good on stats which I like to nick – then return for coffee at home.
Normally my Monday routine is simple; spend a couple of hours getting my stats books up to date and start preparing the weekend’s previews for the paper and Telegraph Sport’s website. But I have other pressing matters to attend to.
A month ago I received a call out of the blue from the Royal Statistical Society, asking if I would give a short talk at – wait for it – the House of Commons. I know, I know. I thought she’d got the wrong number as well. But as the lady, Debra Hurcomb, explained, the RSS is a charity leading a campaign called getstats. It’s focused on building confidence with numbers, data and statistics and is currently attempting to focus on “strengthening the understanding, know-how and confidence of groups of people who influence the public such as parliamentarians and their staff.”
They want me to speak at Portcullis House, where MPs have their offices. I’m on tomorrow and haven’t prepared a word. Panic time. I devote my morning to thinking about what I am going to say. The stats can wait.
After a bit of work on some ideas, I change and leave for the office. We’re in Victoria, very handy as my main-line train goes to Tottenham Hale on the Victoria Line. I walk across the concourse and realise it’s happened; a train has just arrived from the south coast and around 200 people, all heading for the underground, are sprinting towards me. This is like swimming against a human, maniacal tide. I’ve worked out a tactic, of sorts; head for the wall, past the Wasabi noodle bar and Mexican food outlet. Then creep past the 24 hour drop-in medical centre – I may need you soon – and, with a bit of luck I’ll make it to the Telegraph without having my knee-caps taken out.
Resist temptation to pop in to the International Cheese Centre and buy my favourite Stinking Bishop. I love it, but the underground doesn’t and last time I bought some the entire carriage was looking accusingly at probable farters with halitosis and BO.
My first job is to sub a lovely piece by Jeff Randall, well known on Sky but also a Telegraph man who has written about what the Cheltenham Festival means to him. This time he has a part-share in a horse – “my share is half a nostril” – and I enjoy subbing it. Sub Henry Winter on David Moyes, and Alan Smith’s predications on the title race. He reckons United will beat City to the title by one point.
All stories also have to go online, but you have to be careful to adhere to embargoes. When journalists get stories they often agree that they must go only in the paper, or at least appear online no earlier than 11pm.
News that one of our bright young things, Jonathan Liew, has won Young Sports Writer of the Year filters through while sports news man Paul Kelso has scooped the Sports News Reporter of the Year. Great for the paper, but when these awards come around I always think there should be a category for Stats Man of the Year….
Delight in seeing Arsenal come from behind for the fourth time in succession. Note that former Telegraph colleague and fellow FWA Committee Member Chris Davies has tweeted that it’s a Barclays Premier League record. Tell the desk, take a short break then return to sub the quotes piece from the Emirates. Get away about 20 minutes after midnight, get home an hour later and make my bed around 2.45am, worrying about tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 13
I’m off today, so I can concentrate on the talk. It’s only for 10-15 minutes but it’s surprising how much one can say in such a short space of time. Let Linda walk the dog while I concentrate on putting some thoughts down. Spend a couple more hours on it, then try it out on myself. It lasts about 12 minutes, which is spot on. I decide to walk away from it for an hour.
Also waiting for a man to repair our oven. Got the old ‘between 12 and four’ promise, so any hopes of leaving the house wrecked. I told them it was the fan; he turns up, says it’s the fan – and he doesn’t have the part. Reckons he did have one – but used it on an earlier repair. So we’ll be a third week without the main oven. Ring insurers and make official complaint.
Get dressed and head off to Westminster. I had been warned to expect a wait, but I am amazed to see the queues of people trying to get in to Portcullis House. So while I’m waiting I consider the size of the place. Did you know it cost £235 million, the world’s most expensive office block?
After 20 minutes, I have a face scan, go through an X-Ray machine and have my bag searched. I put on a security tag and find the Macmillan room, home to the seminar. As I walk around the first floor veranda, I look down on MPs talking in plush coffee shops. On the walls are some terrific paintings of great figures. The one that draws me is a marvellous image of Tony Benn. Not my politics, but I’m a great admirer of him as a man, and the painting does him proud.
On arrival, I’m offered a quick tour and shown the room, next door where the Murdoch Enquiry took place last year. I’m also told there’s a row going on about the £150,000 paid for some decorative fig trees which dominate the inside of the building. Good to see my taxes being used wisely.
Back to the room and I meet Rob Mastrodomenico who, despite the name, is a lad from Swindon with a wonderful Wiltshire burr. “I’m part of Paolo’s red and white army.” Rob’s more than that; after studying at Reading Uni, where he received a BSc in Maths and Statistics, followed by an MSc and PhD in Statistics, he joined a company that produces sports stats and data. Then he set up his own company, Global Sports Statistics, and is doing well.
I meet a few people from RSS and then I am introduced to a charming man, Lord David Lipsey, a former chairman of the Fabian Society and journalist. He is also the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics and announces me as ‘StatManJon’, my Twitter name.
It’s the first day of Cheltenham so he warns that he intends to invoke a little-known Commons by-law that anybody mentioning any results will be marched to the Tower and hanged.
Start the talk my saying how brave they are to invite a Daily Telegraph journalist to Westminster and proceed to explain why I think stats are important, how they once won me four flights to Australia and how I was responsible for earning charity £10,000 by telling the Barclays Premier League they were close to the 10,000th goal. Their sponsors, Barclays, responded by giving ten grand to the scorer’s chosen charity; Les Ferdinand scored the goal, for Spurs, and two cancer charities benefitted.
I finish by telling them I will be putting in expenses. Seems to go OK. Rob is next, and far more detailed with a slide show to put over his points about betting. Lord Lipsey had to leave half way through my talk, to vote on the health and social care bill, but did return – and offered an interesting tip on how to win at greyhound racing. I’m keeping that one to myself. Around 40-50 were there and, afterwards engaged myself, Rob and David Walker, a director of the getstats campaign, in a Q&A. Enjoyed that bit.
Afterwards we mingle and enjoy very nice hospitality courtesy the House of Commons with their own wine and marvellous canapés, interrupted only by the occasional sounding of the Division bell.
Rob and I find a pub showing the second half of Liverpool v Everton.
Wednesday, March 14
Receive a nice email from Debra, describing my talk as ‘excellent’….and a form for expenses! Do a few stats, send some emails to prospective FWA members as part of my role as FWA Membership Secretary, then start looking into some stats on behalf of the League Managers Association, who I also help out.
I also do a little bit of research ahead of another talk; tomorrow I am going to Harlow College to give a speech to some wannabe journalists.
Set off for work and at Victoria I’m confronted by dozens of policeman, awaiting the arrival of the Gatwick Express and Napoli fans ahead of the Chelsea game. One copper is bigger than a house, at least 7ft, with size 20 feet and carrying a machine gun. I bet he’s good at his job. Decide buying Stinking Bishop to avoid antagonising PC Goliath.
Note that Randall’s horse, Vendor, comes in third at Cheltenham.
Sub several bits, including an Olympics story, another on boxing and a delightful piece by Oliver Brown, on Rory McIlroy. Later, Chelsea stage a remarkable fight back against Napoli and I am given a piece about the five things we learned at Stamford Bridge.
Thursday, March 15
Although I didn’t get to bed until 2.30am, I am up at eight. In the shower I listen to 5 live and hear an old buddy Ian McGarry talk about Chelsea. Makes me realise I still miss the old gang, that body of reprobates known as football writers.
I have to be at Harlow College by 10am to address 12 youngsters, between the ages of 19 and 23, on journalism generally and subbing in particular. An old mate, Neil Silver, runs the course and it’s the second time I’ve been there. People like Piers Morgan, who attended the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) course with Neil, Richard Madeley and Jeremy Clarkson took the diploma.
Neil is vastly experienced from his days at PA, The People, Express and Sunday Mirror amongst others, and has successfully reinvented himself as a lecturer. I speak about the importance of embracing digital media, and the response is good, as it was before. Myself and Neil share stories of having to use typewriters, of having to put ‘blacks’ – carbon paper – between sheets so we had multiple copies of our copy. We trigger the type of look directed at Klaatu in The Day The Earth Stood Still as he emerged from his space ship.
After that shock, a couple of lads ask for a contact number so they can speak to me in the future.
The College, part of Anglia Ruskin University, has a nice feel to it. The facilities are outstanding, and you have the impression these youngsters are receiving the best training possible. After all, the NCTJ course at Harlow is the oldest of its kind in the country. Will happily return to speak to the next batch.
Go home via a florists to order Mother’s Day flowers for my mum, now 80 and going strong, then grab half an hour’s kip before going back to work. The smell of the cheese is almost luring me, but I resist again.
Lots to sub, but do get half an hour to continue preparing my stats for the Saturday paper and online. Sub the Man City report, from the ultimately failed attempt to move on in the Europa League, among other stories.
Go back, sub some more then leave. Arrive home at 1.15am and to bed at 2am (impossible to go straight to sleep, mind won’t switch off).
Friday, March 16
I am up at 8am because I have to go in early to write the team-news and stats page. Do a few Tweets on some stats about the weekend’s games. I’m chasing 12,000 followers.
On the way, I wonder what the average time is between stations. I know it’s 22 minutes between Tottenham Hale and Victoria, and count nine stops so – and this is why my life can be so, so sad – I work out that, on average, it’s two minutes, 27 seconds a stop.
The cheese can wait; stats to do. But horrified that the canteen has run out of sausages, my traditional Friday morning breakfast. Go for Plan B – bacon – and set to work on the stats.
I have to work out probable line-ups with shirt numbers, list injuries and players awaiting tests, the refs and their season’s figures, kick-off times, betting odds, TV times and a stat for each game. I also arrange for the guys covering the games to write 75 words with a prediction.
All this is set up for the paper and is also posted online and I get the chance to add a photo as well. I also have to plan ahead to next midweek; the website wants previews of the Tuesday and Wednesday games.
My favourite stat of the weekend is the one about Man Utd, who need four wins from their last five away games for 14 away victories, an all-time club record.
With subbing numbers down, I agree to do a bit of subbing too, and get away about seven and to a roast dinner – a rarity when you work lates.
Saturday, March 17
Take daughter to buy a Mother’s Day present, start writing this diary, then leave for work. On Saturdays I tend to start at 2.30pm as The Sunday Telegraph deadline is earlier.
Give in to temptation and visit Cheese centre. No Stinking Bishop in sight. One could suggest it’s divine intervention.
Sub the match report from Wigan, along with other pieces including 1,000 words from Henry W. He really is prolific. All is going well on the desk until news comes in that Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba has collapsed at WHL. My brother calls me to check I’ve heard, and it’s a horrible feeling.
The pages are redrawn to accommodate the shock news. I was down to do the match report, but instead it’s changed into a news story. Jon Liew has written it and reacted quickly to events. He comes in on his way home and looks visibly shaken by what he has witnessed. The press box at Spurs is just behind the visitor’s dug out and adjacent to the tunnel, so as the drama unfolded, the journo’s would have been on top of it.
Big stories like this, however sad they maybe, produce a buzz in newspaper offices. You have to react, and be considerate as well. Important no stories have defeats described as disasters. This is real life, not a game.
As I leave, I walk past England and Irish rugby fans at Victoria, and arrive home about 10.45, with traditional Saturday night doner kebab in hand. Watch the news for updates on Muamba and notice he’s in the same hospital that saved my dad’s life around 17 years ago.
I Tweet that fact – and the fact that, at 87, he’s still going strong – and it is retweeted quite a lot.
Try to write a bit more of this diary but it’s 1.25am, I’m too tired to write any more. Go to bed.
Sunday, March 18
Wake up around eight. Muamba is still fighting.
Ask my daughter to make breakfast for mum as it is Mother’s Day and then we all go for a lovely walk with the dog, along the old Ermine Street Roman road, and into Hoddesdon Park Wood.
Back home we have lunch then leave for work. I should have been off this weekend, but a colleague has been invited to a two-day ‘stag’ weekend, so I’m covering.
Decide to drive half way. Big mistake. There’s been an accident in Cheshunt and a drive that should take me 25 minutes, takes nearly an hour. At Tottenham Hale I find the car park full. Going from bad to worse. Drive to Blackhorse Road, take tube in and arrive 10 minutes late.
Lots to sub, including match reports from Fulham, where Swansea were rampant, Newcastle, who weren’t but still beat Norwich to stay sixth, and Chelsea, with Torres realising that he can score. In addition, there’s a rugby piece on Ben Youngs, but, later on I have two pieces on Muamba, including an emotional plea from his fiancée to keep praying for Fabrice.
I am given four pages to proof read, and leave about 10.45. It’s been a long week. As I leave I’m passed by Liverpool fans on their way back from beating Stoke at Anfield. Get off the train at Tottenham Hale….and as it leaves, remember I’m parked at Blackhorse Road. D’oh.
Driving home and it’s 11.40pm and, outside the Roman Urn pub in Cheshunt, my eyes are drawn to a dwarf wearing an Iron Maiden T shirt and a hat in the shape of a pint of the Black Stuff. He is swaggering ever so slightly, but with a smile the width of the Liffey. A bizarre end to a bizarre week.