“It wasn’t possible to talk to Sir Bobby Robson without falling in love with football all over again,” says Sports Writer of the Year PAUL HAYWARD
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
PAUL HAYWARD will never forget writing the article that gave him most pleasure in an award-winning career – it left him injured and unable to walk properly for a week.
Hayward, the Daily Telegraph’s chief sports writer, was this week named the 2012 Sports Journalists’ Association Sports Writer of the Year. The only damage this time was to his wallet as he bought celebratory champagne for his colleagues in Podgorica, his Olympic-based portfolio winning the award for the second time.
The injury came while writing his 5,000-word Olympic review “which ended up as its own supplement,” said Hayward. “I started writing on the Friday and filed it on the Sunday afternoon. It was such hard work almost being chained to my lap-top for three days that I put my back out. I could hardly walk for the following week.
“But it was a great privilege to be asked to write the piece, telling the story of the Games. I’ll never have the chance to cover an Olympics in London again and it turned out to be a glorious success rather than the farce some had predicted.”
Hayward was not at the awards ceremony, he was in a bar in Montenegro with England sponsors Vauxhall. “We were watching the results roll in on Twitter, there’s a sign of the times,” said Hayward. “Martin Lipton [of the Daily Mirror] showed me his BlackBerry with confirmation I’d won it. I initially told him to stop messing about because for me David Walsh was certain to win the award after exposing Lance Armstrong. Martin showed me his phone and I spent a lot of money on Montenegrin champagne.”
The winners are not told in advance “but had I known I would have still gone to Montenegro because the job always has to come first.”
Walsh, of the Sunday Times, was named Sports News Reporter and Feature Writer. “We all assumed David would complete the Slam, winning every award possible. His exposure of Armstrong is a great moment for our profession. It shows sports journalism still has bite, that reporting, digging and a free press is still the highest form of journalism. David had to put up with so much intimidation and pressure, but he kept going. In the end he brought the villain down.”
Hayward was with the Daily Telegraph when he won the award for the first time 16 years ago. He started his career on the Racing Post, joining the Daily Telegraph from the Independent. After two stints with the Guardian and one with the Daily Mail, Hayward returned to what many consider his natural home in 2011. “I’ve been a Guardian reader from my young days, but the Telegraph has always promoted sports journalism like no one else and has given me my greatest opportunities.
“The daily sports supplement during the Olympics was magnificent, the proudest I’ve ever been on a newspaper. The people in the office were producing a 30- or 40-page supplement every day and each page was brilliant.”
The sports editor when the Daily Telegraph became the first national daily newspaper to produce a sports supplement that appeared initially in 1990 appearing on Mondays and Saturdays and then daily was David Welch who died a year before London 2012, sadly never seeing his dream become a reality. Hayward said: “David campaigned for the London Olympics at a time when it was a very unfashionable idea. He kept banging the drum, even getting it talked about in the House of Commons. He believed London would stage a great Olympics and on the day of the opening ceremony I thought of David. He’d have loved to have seen that, but unfortunately he was taken away from us before he could have that opportunity. I made sure I remembered his contribution throughout the Games.”
While Hayward’s title is chief sports writer, inevitably football dominates his schedule. “We were speaking about this in Podgorica, discussing what proportion of the agenda is taken up by football in sports journalism. I argued for 70 per cent. Henry Winter, our football correspondent, said: ‘As low as that?’ Henry loves football so much he’d like it to be 100 per cent.
“At various points of the year other sports become dominant. The British & Irish Lions tour this summer will be huge, there’s Wimbledon, the Open, the Ashes…they have their periods when they are the absolute centre of attention, but taking the whole cycle of the year football rules. It’s still the daily consuming diet of drama and controversy plus usually high class action.”
Unsurprisingly the Olympics and football World Cup are Hayward’s favourite major events. “I like World Cups because they give you the opportunity to travel round countries. I enjoy the feeling of moving along on a white water rapid where the story changes all the time. When there is an Olympics or World Cup, there is a beginning, a middle and an end…it takes your life over and every day is a fresh chapter.”
Hayward has met most of the outstanding sportsmen and sportswomen of his generation, but one stands head and shoulders above all others. “Sir Bobby Robson, a true gentleman” he said, a sentiment no doubt shared by those who were lucky enough to work with him. “I still have a very soft spot for Bobby who transmitted his enthusiasm to you. It wasn’t possible to talk to him without falling in love with football all over again. When I was writing his final autobiography I used to come out of our sessions together bouncing and loving football in a new way. I’d sit down and ask Bobby one question and by the time he’d finished talking I’d have 100,000 words.
“During our interviews he’d be jumping up and imitating Alan Shearer or illustrating some defensive position to stop Ronaldo. His energy for the game would just pour out of him and I found that very infectious.”
Hayward was also influenced by many his own profession. “From a young age I looked at the great sports writers as people to be revered. They set the standard for journalism and I read them avidly at university. When Frank Keating died recently it brought back the memory of the time I was at the Cheltenham Festival as a young Racing Post reporter and he came into the press box. I couldn’t believe I was in the same room as Frank Keating and was unable to speak to him.”
When Hayward was in Podgorica celebrating his latest award he proposed a toast to “the reporters.” While Hayward’s job does not involve him to be at the sharp end of digging for news stories he retains the greatest respect for those who are responsible for the back page stories.
“My message to young journalists is to remember to report, to talk to people, go to places, makes notes…all the old fashioned reporting skills which have been under threat as a result of mass opinion, Twitter and blogs. Reporting is still the most valuable thing we do and for me there is no higher calling in journalism that being a reporter.
“In football, the barriers are so high. Football pushes you away, putting obstacles between writers and the game, it closes itself to journalists. Reporters who have to fight their way through that jungle to get stories…they are amazing and I don’t know how they do it.”
Hayward has the luxury of a week off before heading to Augusta to see whether Tiger Woods can win his fifth Masters tournament, but keeping a close eye on Brighton’s challenge for promotion to the Barclays Premier League.