FWA Q&A: David Walker

David Walker (Sports Editor, Sunday Mirror) on Blackburn’s freezing punch-up…fun with low-litre on a flight…and Brian Moore v Charlie Sale

Your first ever job in journalism?
Working in Manchester for D.C. Thomson, the publishers of the Weekly News, Sunday Post – as well as Beano and Dandy.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
Yes. I spent five years in football as a director at Leeds United and Barnsley.

Most memorable match?
Liverpool beating St Etienne in the European Cup quater-final in 1977 at Anfield. Dominique Bathenay scored a left-footed screamer into the top corner at the Kemlyn Road end. You can find it on Youtube. It’s worth a visit.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Can I have two? Mark Viduka scoring all four goals for Leeds in a fight-back and 4-3 win over Liverpool at Elland Road in 2000. When Vidukes put his mind to it he could be an unstoppable opponent. Elland Road was rocking. It was a great game. Secondly, the Sing for your Supper nights staged by sponsors Opel for the media covering the Republic of Ireland away games. On the eve of a major international manager Jack Charlton would be there singing Blaydon Races. I particularly remember a special version of There Ain’t Nothing like a Dame, rewritten by the FWA’s Chris Davies. The new lyrics referred to a minor house fire suffered by a well-known TV pundit who was also in attendance. The lyrics scanned perfectly, Rodgers and Hammerstein would have been proud to hear the English press corps sing: “Beglin’s house went up in flames.”

Best stadium?
San Siro.

…and the worst?
Ali Sami Yen, home of Galatasaray until 2010 was the worst.  The coldest was the Lenin Stadium in Moscow for what we thought was a meaningless Champions League game between Spartak Moscow and Blackburn Rovers. The English champions had already gone out and were fulfilling the fixture. Some of the English press corps indulged in snow ball fights around the media cabins. After all, this was the game that wasn’t worth more than ten pars in our northern editions. Then David Batty and Graeme le Saux had their on-field fight and back page splashes and double page spreads were called for.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
I’m sure we’ve all endured that horrible moment when your computer screen slowly dies in front of you. It happened to me in Dublin in 1995 when the Republic of Ireland’s friendly with England had to be abandoned because of rioting England fans.  Thanks goodness the Daily Mail still had copy takers.

Biggest mistake?
There are probably too many but one was sitting between Tony Stenson and Peter Fitton on a late night trip from Izmir to Dublin. A litre of vodka had been purchased at duty free. That nice, friendly stewardess from Aer Lingus supplied the orange juice and all fluids were consumed by the correspondents on the flight. I was taking antibiotics and couldn’t touch alcohol. Let’s just say it made for an interesting three hours in the observer corps.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Yep, former Wales midfielder Peter Nicholas. I had more hair then. During the five-year ban on English clubs post-Heysel I covered a few Scottish teams and was in Aberdeen for a UEFA Cup tie. My old mate Ian Porterfield was their manager and we met up for a couple of beers on the eve of the game. The next day the Ian received complaints that Peter Nicholas had been spotted boozing in a local hotel and should be dropped. But the super grass hadn’t spotted the person “Nicko” was drinking with was the Dons manager. Ian put the complainant right.

Most media friendly manager?
Jack Charlton during his days as Ireland boss and here’s a surprise nomination: Alex Ferguson. In the days when we could get to him and Fergie gave us his home and mobile numbers,  we knew if we kept him talking long enough he always delivered a back page splash.

Best ever player?
Denis Law and Billy Bremner.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Johan Cruyff’s Holland, 1974-78. Didn’t win much but great to watch.

Best pre-match grub?
Steeles Restaurant (fish and chips), Cleethorpes.

Best meal had on your travels?
Botafumeiro, Barcelona. Recommended by Terry Venables. It was superb.

…and the worst?
The eve of match directors’ dinner in Ukraine when Leeds played Metallurg Zaporishny.

Best hotel stayed in?
Kempinski Palace, Istanbul.

…and the worst?
The brand new hotel in Tirana where the Republic of Ireland were billeted back in 1993. My room had cardboard window frames and cling film for glass.

Favourite football writer?
Ron Crowther (Daily Mail) for breaking stories. David Lacey (Guardian) for his analysis and match reports.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Clive Tyldesley (Radio City, Liverpool) Whatever happened to him?

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Make it mandatory that every club has media areas with working wi-fi and signals for mobile phone. The fact that journalists can’t do their jobs in media areas at several Barclays Premier League stadia is astonishing and unacceptable for “the best league in the world”. One sporting event outside football you would love to experience? Given Frank Warren is now promoting unlicensed fighters I’d like to see the Brian Moore – Charlie Sale showdown on the undercard to Haye v Chisora.

Last book read?
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

Favourite current TV programme?
Not a programme, a sports website called Firstrowsports – great for 24 hour coverage of live sports events from around the globe. Warning – it could end in divorce and is probably illegal!

Your most prized football memorabilia?
Leeds v Barcelona programme from 1975 European Cup semi-final, signed by Johan Cruyff.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Be honest and open in your work. And when you get a major rollicking from a famous manager make sure you keep pursuing stories with him. Never skulk away and let him think he’s beaten you. Funnily enough, there are plenty of old pros who’ll confirm some of their best, lifelong contacts and relationships started out as rows over copy or headlines.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    tony stenson

    May 22, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Excellent stuff Her Valker. Ireland trips…those really were the days. Swimming in the filthy Baltic, Mr Bean table dancing in Turkey. Jack serving us Guinness in thimbles. I could go on and on.
    I lost my watch the night after the Vodkafest. Wonder why? And where?

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