My Week: Ralph Ellis

RALPH ELLIS on good tips, near bankruptcy and what is music to his ears

Monday, December 26, Boxing Day
Some people are out today at 6am waiting for the sales to open. You’d never catch me camping outside the Mall for Next. Instead my Boxing Day begins in front of the Tesco Express at the top of the road just before eight, waiting to buy the papers.

I like to see all five tabloids every day. It was drummed into me by the late but lovely John Pyke back in 1987 when I first joined the staff of the Daily Star that if you don’t know what’s old, you can’t know what’s new. But there’s another purpose today as I have a column to write that goes on the Blog website run by the gambling exchange Betfair. It’s based on what’s in the papers, using the bits of insight provided by so many experts, to try to find a good bet.

Betfair like me to find items away from football when I can, and today I’m struck by an interview with Saracens winger David Strettle explaining why his team can beat Premiership leaders Harlequins tomorrow. So I’m tipping them to do that – and also recommending to lay Quins to finish top of the table. While football’s bottom team at Christmas always gets relegated, I’ve researched some stats that all of the sides who led rugby’s Premiership on Christmas Day have ultimately lost their lead.

Then it’s a chance to join my son and daughter-in-law who’ve just arrived, and unwrap presents. I’m at Stoke in the evening, so the late kick-off means a rare chance to spend time with the family on Boxing Day. When my two boys were little, my wife Sue always ended up building all the new Lego with them. Today I’m leaving home at around 4pm to drive to Stoke. Good job, as it gives me an excuse to leave a big game of Monopoly just before I go bankrupt (having already spent time in jail).

I’m covering Stoke against Villa for the Daily Star, and like to arrive early to do some homework and be ready with facts and figures. Just as well, because there’s a 750-word match report to write, most of which must be filed after 70 minutes, and very little action to talk about. Inevitably the only real incident, when Marc Wilson’s header hits the bar and then might, or might not, have crossed the line, happens two minutes before I’m due to press the button to e-mail my copy.

Fortunately the managers arrive quite quickly to the press conference. I use the Wilson header incident to highlight that FIFA might finally give the green light to goal line technology in 2012, and not surprisingly both Alex McLeish and Dave Kemp, who is doing the talking instead of Tony Pulis, are hopeful it happens. A fresh match report filed, it’s back in the car and the greatest hits of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on a CD that was a Christmas present to keep me awake until I get home at about a quarter to one.

Tuesday December 27
Good morning to all at Tesco Express again, and back home for some coffee and a look at the papers. My Betfair Blog column today is a round-up of the Boxing Day games with the aim of spotting some trends for the rest of the season. I’m amazed to read that Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has effectively ruled his club out of the title race after drawing with Fulham, while Roberto Mancini was also moaning about the fixture list following Manchester City’s 0-0 draw at West Bromwich. Meanwhile canny Sir Alex Ferguson is about to deliver on his promise to be top on New Year’s Day. United are more than 2-1 to win the title so I’m telling my readers to back that.

There’s a follow-up for the Daily Star to be written from last night’s game. Alex McLeish has fears that Emile Heskey and Darren Bent could be out for a while, and he’s let slip in his press conference that he might talk to Villa’s owner Randy Lerner about cash for new players. It was this time last year that Lerner suddenly released £24m to buy Darren Bent and I’m pretty sure McLeish will want to remind the powers that be of the positive effect that had on the club.

Next job is to go through the stats from yesterday’s games. I’ve kept my own Exel spreadsheets for the last six seasons that track all the Barclays Premier League teams with how many minutes everybody is on the field, as well as the obvious things like goalscorers and red and yellow cards. Before that they were always in different coloured pen in a big accounting book. You have to be a bit of an anorak in this game.

In the afternoon I’m covering Swansea against QPR for the Daily Star. It’s a 5.30 kick off, which is an odd time, so it’s back in the car at 2pm with my £5.70 in coins ready for the Severn Bridge. I like Swansea’s passing style and they dominate the first-half, but then Adel Taarabt starts to dominate the game and Rangers equalise. The story of the game, however, is another horrendous refereeing mistake as Lee Probert misses an obvious penalty when Armand Traore fouls Danny Graham. Brendan Rodgers is predictably annoyed, and then even Neil Warnock says it should have been given too which makes the top to the match report.

While everybody else is waiting for the press conference, I sneak out with Paul Jiggins from the The Sun to try to talk to Taarabt. He finds another way out of the stadium, but at least we chat to Luke Young who provides a follow-up line with the opinion that the club “would be mad” to sell the Moroccan.

Back home about 10pm – and check Sky Sports News to find that Saracens did indeed beat Harlequins. Good news – I’m never happy unless at least one of my Betfair tips each week is a winner.

Wednesday December 28
Freelancing is an insecure way of life, but the up side is that you don’t need to ask anybody’s permission to take a day off. Today we’re off to Hertford where my brother lives for the family get-together. He’s used a big lump of MDF to turn his table into something from a film set with 16 of us round it, and a jolly time is had by all.

Mind you, that’s not until after I’ve parked myself in the corner of the room with the laptop for an hour to write up the Luke Young story for the Star, and also a piece with Swansea midfielder Leon Britton about how Harry Redknapp helped launch his career. Modern e-mails make mixing work and pleasure so much simpler. I can remember one year when my boys were small we took them on the Severn Railway to visit Santa’s Grotto. While everybody else was queuing to see Santa, I was in the old red phone box at Arley Station dictating the previous day’s match report to a copytaker.

Thursday December 29
Starting to get into Sunday Mirror mode today. I have an arrangement with them to cover all the Midlands clubs, so need to think about some possible stories this weekend. First, however, there’s a Betfair column to write. The Betfair Blog – you’ll find it on http://betting.betfair.com – has been running four years now and without ever advertising itself has built by word of mouth and thanks to the wonders of Google a readership that many national newspapers would be pleased with. Today I’ve spotted some stories about Zak Hardaker, the young centre who has been given Keith Senior’s
shirt number at Leeds Rhinos. Leeds are reigning champions but long odds for this year’s Super League title, which seems a good bet to me.

The rest of the day is spent making some calls for a gossip with various contacts in the hope of finding some juicy information ahead of the transfer window opening. Sadly, there’s lots of chatter, but so far not too many stories.

Friday December 30
West Brom play Everton on Sunday, so I’ve got to provide a preview for the Sunday Mirror. Roy Hodgson is full of cold at his lunchtime press conference and not keen to do too much talking, but there’s a line with defender Gareth McAuley explaining how Roy Keane helped convince him that, at the age of 32, he was good enough to become a Premier League player. Then it’s in the car (again) to head for Kensington where I do a regular Friday shift as Night Sports News Editor at the Daily Mail.

Big print runs and early edition times always make Friday a busy night, but Liverpool playing Newcastle adds an extra twist. Then reporter Sami Mokbel gets confirmation that David Beckham is about to forget about joining PSG and sign a new contract with the LA Galaxy, so there’s more frantic re-drawing of pages going on. The Mail have an experienced team and all the deadlines are met – just. Head for home shortly after midnight when we’ve seen the first editions of the other papers. Tonight Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks is the CD for singing loudly along with down the M4. Another Christmas present to fill a gap in my collection. Just as well there’s no sound on this

Saturday, December 31, New Year’s Eve
Another day, another drive. We’ve lived in Bristol since 2000 when I spent two years as Bristol Rovers’ commercial director. I love the city as a place to live, but it suffers from being a long way from the nearest Barclays Premier League club, and I drive 40,000 miles or more a year. Today I’m covering Stoke against Wigan for the Daily Star, so the M5 and M6 are the motorways of choice.

Since the closure of the News of the World handed the Sunday Mirror nearly a million new readers the extra print run means a Saturday match report must be filed on the final whistle – not easy when all the action and talking points at Stoke are in the last 15 minutes. How cool is Roberto Martinez? He stayed calm enough to send on his specialist penalty taker Ben Watson, while everybody else was arguing about a soft decision, to earn his 10-man team a late equaliser. And how cool is Watson too, come to that, to step straight off the bench and score with his first kick. It makes a great match report line.

Drive home listening to 606 on Radio Five. Jason Roberts was a young striker when I worked for Bristol Rovers and he’s now becoming an excellent radio pundit. I thought he and Darren Fletcher dealt brilliantly with some emotional calls about the Luis Suarez situation.

Sunday January 1. New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day begins at midnight on Clifton Suspension Bridge watching the fireworks all across Bristol, and sharing with Sue a toast to the New Year. Hope it stays as busy as the last one! But today is a day off, so we finish the giant Wosgij (it’s a back to front jigsaw) that got started over Christmas, while keeping one eye on the telly to see Everton win at West Brom and Sunderland surprise Manchester City. Oh, and put yesterday’s stats into the computer so they are ready to go again at Aston Villa v Swansea tomorrow. What’s the phrase? We never close.



  1. Pingback: My Week: Ralph Ellis | Football Writers' Association | Top Soccer Review

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