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The Joys of the Long-Distance Football Writer

Covering Carlisle United is a labour of love for Jon Colman

By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES

AS THE big hitters of the football writing fraternity pondered over their 1,000 word reports on Barclays Premier League matches, Jon Colman was putting together his back page story and a 1,200-word inside spread on Carlisle United’s League One victory over Scunthorpe United for the News & Star.

Forget RVP’s almost inevitable goal for Arsenal, Martin O’Neill’s typically theatrical return with Sunderland or Harry Redknapp’s post-Stoke ref rant, Colman’s focus was on Francois Zoka whose stoppage time winner gave seventh-placed Carlisle a 2-1 win at Glanford Park, a 250-mile round trip.

Colman’s shortest journey is to Preston, 90 miles away. He usually arrives home as Match of the Day is starting but for Colman, it is a labour of love.

A Carlisle fan all his life, he has covered the club for the News & Star for six years and his feeling for the Cumbrians eases the burden of producing around 10,000 words a week and being on first name terms with the road-works on the M6 and M1.

Last February, when Carlisle were in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, beating Brentford 1-0 at Wembley, it was “absolute madness…chaos” but an average
> week comprises Colman writing one or two back page pieces and “a substantial inside spread” on a daily basis.

He said: “Carlisle United drive the sports pages in our paper. We don’t have superstar big names but being a smaller club can work in my favour, though clubs at all levels have changed the way they operate and deal with the press. Two or three years ago players would happily chat away before training but the club have exerted more control over this and everything goes through the press officer. While I don’t get to know them in quite the same way now, there aren’t as many barriers between journalists and players or the manager for me. I don’t have to fight too many battles to speak to them.”

Colman enjoys a good relationship with manager Greg Abbott, essential for the local beat reporter. “He’s quite a character,” said Colman. “He can be absolutely brilliant value at times when he’s upbeat and flying. You’ll walk out the room with a notepad full of gems but if the team’s not doing so well, it can be a bit different. I’ve not had any major run-ins with him though he has gone down the all too familiar route of not being accessible on the phone as managers at this level used to be. Most weeks it’s just the pre and post-match press conferences.”

Isolated as Carlisle may be, Colman said it remains a football town and older FWA members will recall the club being top of the First Division for a spell in 1974. He said: “Those were the days. People are still very proud of that up here.”

Workington AFC are the traditional rivals of Carlisle but they are in the Blue Square Bet North so Preston or Hartlepool represent the nearest to any sort of derby, though hardly local.

Colman said: “We play Preston on Boxing Day for the first time in about 15 years and we’re looking forward to that.”

The travelling is accepted as part of covering Carlisle. “It’s only a grind if you get a lot of long trips all together,” said Colman who shares the driving duties with colleagues. “My paper allows me to stay overnight for some midweek and weekend games which helps. Not all local papers offer that facility.”

Brunton Park’s press box is basic “but we’re not too precious up here…we have wifi and as long as you can sit down and do the job, that’s fine.

“It’s not a job that’s going to make you rich, not at this level but I never get out of bed in the morning and think ‘bloody hell, I’ve got to go to work today.’ I’m generally pretty happy about turning up for work which is really a paid hobby. Sometimes it can be tough if the team’s lost a few games on the spin and people are reluctant to speak to you but against that we’ve had two trips to Wembley in the last two years.’

Carlisle lost 4-1 to Southampton in the 2010 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final but 12 months later were winners against Brentford “and there was a good story with the guy who scored the winning goal.”

The match-winner was Peter Murphy, Carlisle’s longest-serving player at the time. Murphy gave away a penalty in the previous final defeat a year earlier and two days before the victory over Brentford his partner Lisa had given birth to a son.

Colman said: “It was such a nice tale. Covering Carlisle at Wembley is up there with my best memories but it would be nice to have an FA Cup tie at Old Trafford or St James’ Park.”

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