FWA Q&A: Lee Clayton

LEE CLAYTON, the Daily Mail head of sport, on a laptop swimming in Diet Coke…Bradley Wiggins’ sideburns…and trying to be Alvin Martin

Your first ever job in journalism?

I worked at The Sun 25 years ago, aged 16. One of my jobs was copytasting from the wires for the editor Kelvin Mackenzie. I had to learn fast. I worked with some excellent journalists, who taught me high standards and I was thrilled to be part of a team who expected to win every day. It was a good early lesson. In those days, The Sun was must-read. The first read. Nobody else could compete with it. I was a bit laid back, but they knocked it out of me.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
I was an outdoor clerk (briefly) for a firm of solicitors in Chancery Lane. I was good at the outdoor bit, but I wasn’t a very good clerk.

Most memorable match?
Can I say three? Manchester United versus Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp. Ribbons on the trophy, intro and match report written…and then Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer intervened. It was wonderful! England v Argentina in Marseille was another dramatic evening in the 1998 World Cup, but my favourite has to be England 4 Holland 1. I was Football Correspondent for the Daily Star and – along with Martin Samuel and Rob Shepherd – spent quite a lot of time following Terry Venables, the England coach, in the build-up to the match. Venables scouted the Dutch players obsessively (which mainly consisted of watching a lot of Ajax). I knew that stunning win wasn’t about one night’s good work, but months of preparation by Venables, studying the Dutch system and uncovering weaknesses. I learned a lot from watching, listening and talking to him. It was a privilege for a young journalist to be given such a football masterclass.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Ray Stewart’s penalty technique…and give it to every England player. Why are England so useless at penalties? When will they learn? Goalkeepers dived out of the way when Stewart hit the ball.

Best stadium?
Nou Camp. Made me think: “How lucky am I to be working here?” I like the charm of Villa Park and enjoyed the hostility of the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, where Fenerbahce play. They turned out the floodlights before Manchester United came out, plunging the ground into darkness. No health and safety there. I have a season ticket at West Ham, but I don’t see too many wins there. Newcastle is the best ground I visited last season – when they were flying. Reminded me of how the whole city comes alive on match day.

…and the worst?
Sorry if this is a bit romantic, but there’s never a bad ground in which to watch football as a fan. I went to Soham Town last season to watch Charlton’s U18’s win 9-0. I love watching games live. I don’t have to work in football grounds now, so it improves all of them! No reason to moan about facilities, cramped press boxes and poison hot dogs.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
A laptop swimming in Diet Coke is never a good idea. Mine happened as David Batty missed his penalty in the shootout between England and Argentina [at France 98]. I knocked over the can. Paul Hayward put his arm around me and said: “Are you ok, mate…you’ve gone as white as a ghost.” I felt sick. My ‘running’ match report had just got through to the office to make the first edition. The rewrite had no chance.

Biggest mistake?
Not working hard enough at school.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
No. But I was recently told I have had the same sideburns at Bradley Wiggins. They’ve gone now. And I don’t have a bike, either.

Most media friendly manager?
Terry Venables, Alan Pardew, Harry Redknapp have to be up there. I also like Mark Hughes, but he’s not very media-friendly! We have had a few discussions about it – and we might have a few more. I like him, though. He’s good company, he was a great volleyer and he absolutely has to win.

Best ever player?
Zinedine Zidane was decent. Messi can play. But can they really share an answer with Alvin Martin? Should have won more caps for England. I loved watching him play as a kid and then as a young reporter. Tony Gale used to complain that I would always give Alvin higher marks in my match reports. He was right. Sorry, Tony. Alvin was the centre half I always wanted to be. Anyone who saw me play will confirm that never happened.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Manchester United’s treble-winners. Watching and covering the football United played, with two wide players, pace and flair was a treat. I interviewed Eric Cantona on the pitch at Old Trafford once and he was huge. I really did enjoy his swagger. He made that Manchester United team and they made him. I was also invited to spend a little time with Sir Alex Ferguson, by Steve Curry. It was a treat talking football with him for a couple of hours. And Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t bad, either. I can’t think of anyone better than the current Spain team.

Favourite football writer?
Alex Montgomery was my chief football writer on The Sun and he wrote match reports that were about the football. It was a pleasure to sit next to him in press boxes and listen to him dictating live reports to copytakers with his soft Scottish voice. He taught a young and very raw junior a lot on those nights. He also had a dignity and a presence that all football correspondents should have (and many do). I do think there are some brilliant writers around now. And they all work for the Daily Mail. Well, most of them do. I’m very lucky to have an amazing team, who can write with intelligence, insight and authority. There is an art to good match reporting on tight deadlines.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
John Motson and Mike Ingham on football while Brendan Foster and Steve Cram called the Mo Farah 10,000 meters absolutely brilliantly. I grew up listening to radio commentaries on Radio Two and it’s the job I always wanted, but never got. Foster and Cram that night, in the Olympic Stadium, delivered a masterclass on BBC1. I do think radio commentary is much underrated. Five Live’s Olympic commentary was excellent too, such as Alan Green at the rowing.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Follow the example of Manchester City.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
The Olympic 10,000m with a British winner in London. Although that can never happen, can it? In the meantime, I’ve got my eye on a Lions Tour to South Africa and a Ashes series in Australia. Probably for when somebody tells me I can’t do my job any more. I hope that doesn’t happen soon.

Last book read?
I’m obsessed with James Patterson. I’ve read something like 30 of his books. They’re not the most challenging, but they are fast and punchy and he brings his characters, like Alex Cross, to life. He’s the Dragon Slayer and very, very cool. I usually read crime novels. I don’t like autobiographies, but read them when I have to. Steven Gerrard’s book with Henry Winter was among the best.

Favourite current TV programme?
I don’t get to watch much TV. I liked the BBC drama Line Of Duty and I especially liked the line from the character played by Lennie James. “Son, if you are going to shoot the king, don’t miss.” And I like Luther, with the brilliant Idris Elba. I can’t miss Match Of The Day, but it needs an overhaul. Maybe I do watch quite a bit of TV. Sky Plus is the answer.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I’ve kept most of my stories from The Sun, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Star, the People and the Daily Mail. I’ve kept the good ones; it’s a small scrapbook.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Do it. It’s brilliant. If someone tells you no, don’t believe them. Find someone who believes in you and keep searching for that person. I’ve been very lucky. I found a lot of people who believed in me and they will all tell you that when I was told ‘no’, I wasn’t listening.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Latest

To Top