FWA Q&A

FWA Q&A: CHRIS BASCOMBE

CHRIS BASCOMBE of the Daily Telegraph on having to praise Hamilton Ricard…digital incest…and a Royle ban

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
I worked in a pub in the Old Swan area of Liverpool. If the acts booked for the evening’s entertainment didn’t end their set with ‘The Best’ by Tina Turner there was a riot. Used to be quite tricky for the Irish Revolutionary Ceilidh bands to learn the words.

Most memorable match?
The answer is more boring and predictable than the match itself. Istanbul, 2005.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
David Attenborough should send his documentary team to observe those whose natural habitat is the post-match mixed zone. A DVD on the 101 great excuses for refusing to speak to the Press would be entertaining. Emile Heskey has never been given the credit he deserves for inventing the ‘I can’t stop because I’m talking on the mobile phone’ routine at the World Cup in 2002. It would have worked too if one of the journalists didn’t have his number. It rang just as he was walking past us all.

Best stadium?
I can’t remember a bad atmosphere in The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (except when Wales play). A great city centre venue. The domestic finals there were far superior and more supporter friendly than trips to Wembley.

…and the worst?
The Riverside or BT Cellnet or whatever it’s called now. Always cold, drab and there used to be an unnervingly agitated bloke sitting immediately in front of the away reporters’ desk, He never watched the match. He’d just stare at you trying to make sure you gave Hamilton Ricard a positive write up.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Anything involving Twitter. It’s ghastly, particularly when friends who can text or call each other have excruciatingly self-aware conversations accepting praise (or retweeting  comments) about how marvellous they are. It’s even worse when you know they’re sitting in the same office. It’s like two people using a megaphone to have a chat across a crowded room. Digital incest, that’s what Twitter is. “Look at what this complete stranger who is not my friend at all has just tweeted about my wonderful new book.” Seriously, just get a cubicle.

Biggest mistake?
There are enough people pointing those out in the comments section of The Telegraph’s web pages every day. No need for a free advert here.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Not yet, but I’m trying my best. The car park attendant at Everton calls me Chris Babbacombe. Not sure if there is a Chris Babbacombe whose thunder I’m stealing. If there is I hope our paths eventually cross and I’ll apologise if he is being mistaken for me.

Most media friendly manager?
Joe Royle was really friendly. He was the first to ban me from a press conference – an away game in a pre-season match at Man City – because he blamed the Liverpool Echo for getting him sacked at Everton. The fact that was before my time at the paper didn’t matter. Since then I’ve endeavoured to ensure whenever I get banned I’m the only one who
deserves the credit.
This will seem like opportunistic flattery but Brendan Rodgers is very friendly, although new Liverpool managers usually are. Then they go a bit… unstable. I fear the manager’s room at Melwood is a bit like the caretaker’s office in ‘The Shining’.

Best ever player?
Lionel Messi. His performance in the Champions League Final at Wembley in 2011 was perfection. Thierry Henry is the greatest Barclays Premier League player I’ve seen. For several years every time he came to Anfield with Arsenal he was applauded off the pitch.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Barcelona 2011. Spain 2010.

Best pre-match grub?
Arsenal and Manchester City

Best meal had on your travels?
Lobster Tagliatelle in Capetown.

…and the worst?
Chicken Kiev in Kiev.

Best hotel stayed in?
The Taj, Boston. I was there for Liverpool’s pre-season tour last summer. I thought there’d been a mistake with the booking when I arrived. Turns out there was. For some reason their computer said I wasn’t due until January, so obviously our travel company had been charged a cheaper rate. It was the hotel’s error so they let me stay and only had a suite available.

…and the worst?
For legal reasons, I dare not name the hotel in Bloemfontein during the World Cup in 2010. It made the projects from ‘The Wire’ look like Disneyland. When England lost to Germany, a seven hour drive back to Sun City was preferable to returning to the fleapit of a room.

Favourite football writer?
I’ll have to be nice about someone here, won’t I? When he was deputy sports editor of the Liverpool Echo, Phil McNulty (now chief football writer for BBC Sport online) was always ready and willing to write something scathingly unpopular if he knew it was right, and was wonderfully contemptuous of those who told him his forthright opinions were wrong. It’s had a profoundly negative impact on my career ever since. If I’d ignored him I could have spent 40 years on a local paper saying how wonderful everything at Liverpool is and mastering the art of sycophancy with every player and manager I’ve met. In fact, his articles about Joe Royle led to me being thrown out at Manchester City on the day I  referred to earlier. He’s been a shocking influence. In all seriousness, I think I was extremely lucky to start in sports journalism working alongside a journalist with his skill.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Clive Tyldesley. Before his ITV fame he worked for Radio City in Liverpool. Most Liverpool and Everton fans of a certain age can recite his commentaries from the greatest games of the mid-80s in the era before television took over.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs
and football writers what would it be?
They (currently) answer the phone at Liverpool and Everton. That’s the important thing. Other than that, I’d urge them to ban all club media wearing the team’s casual sports gear on pre-season tours. We all know what they’re doing, trying to pretend they’re players to those gullible overseas fans. It could have serious consequences if those Thai or Singapore supporters believe that website reporter with sparrow legs is a new signing. It could cost millions in merchandise sales.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
Centre court at Wimbledon. Murray v Djokovic. Men’s Final, 2013.

Last book read?
‘Charles Dickens: A Life’ by Claire Tomalin. And ‘The Gingerbread Man’ by Let’s Start Reading. My two year old is a huge fan (of gingerbread men).

Favourite current TV programme?
The Killing (Danish version) and Nigel Slater’s Dish of the Day.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
Signed Liverpool shirt from the last match I covered for the Liverpool Echo.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Steer clear of that moral high ground. It’s a bit overcrowded at the moment and it’s really dull up there. It’s much more fun getting your hands dirty and dodging the shellfire in the trenches. And we need all the help we can get down here, otherwise all those lovely columnists will have no breaking stories to pontificate about.

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