FWA Q&A: Shaun Custis

Shaun Custis (Chief Football Writer, The Sun) on being a theatre critic and a double-glazing salesman…being told by Fergie to work in Glasgow…and dog day afternoon in South Korea

Your first ever job in journalism?
I did a week’s work experience on The Hexham Courant where my first byline read Theatre: By Shaun Custis which will have some of my colleagues spitting out their sparkling water in disbelief. On my last day one of the reporters left a note for his mate warning him not to touch my typewriter because he had wired it up to 10,000 volts.

My first full-time job was on the Coalville Times in Leicestershire and my first interview was with the very pleasing on the eye gymnast Suzanne Dando who was opening a local leisure centre. She thanked me for my time and I floated out of the front door thinking ‘is every day like this when you’re a journalist?’ I soon discovered that it wasn’t.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
I did a week training to be a double-glazing salesman. Strangely it actually helped me when I went into newspapers because it taught me a lot about how to soften people up and get them to trust you.

Most memorable match?
As a youngster nothing beats Blyth Spartans 1 Wrexham 2 in an FA Cup fifth round replay at St James’s Park in 1978.

In my work life it’s level-pegging between Germany 1 England 5 in Munich and Liverpool coming back from three down in the Champions League final against AC Milan in Istanbul. Mind you Manchester City’s win over QPR to take the Barclays Premier League title runs them close.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Malcolm Macdonald’s hat-trick against Liverpool on his home debut for Newcastle in 1971. Supermac was born.

Best stadium?
Durban’s newly built ground for the 2010 World Cup – fantastic atmosphere and great working facilities.

…and the worst?
The Tofik Bakhramov Stadium in Aerbaijan. We were squashed together on rickety benches without shelter in the cold and rain and no-one could not get a signal. I eventually filed some copy from the showers in the stadium which also doubled up as a toilet for the fans. Number ones and number twos were much in evidence and I’m not talking about the chief football reporters and their deputies.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Knocking my computer off the desk at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and watching it bounce off three steps of concrete. I tried to switch it on and it wouldn’t work meaning I had to file 1,000 words on copy. When I flicked it on the next morning it sprang back to life.

Biggest mistake?
Excitedly telling Alex Ferguson that I was a new football reporter on The People and looked forward to working with him. He replied that he hated the paper and everybody on it and that he would get me a job in Glasgow where his mate was the sports editor. He said if I didn’t take the job he would have nothing more to do with me and he’s pretty much stuck to his word.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Whenever I went to The Open in the late 80s I was often mistaken for the Australian golf Ian Baker-Finch. After he won the title in 1993 it got even sillier and I was once pursued through the car park by a Japanese TV crew who refused to accept that I wasn’t him.

Most media friendly manager?
Arsene Wenger – whether life is good or bad he never ducks an issue, however annoyed he might be with the line of questioning.

Best ever player?
My personal favourite was Malcolm Macdonald but growing up watching the game on television I realised Johan Cruyff was pure genius.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Arsenal invincibles of 2004, Holland in the 70s, Newcastle Journal Wednesday League Cup winners 1987.

Best pre-match grub?
Chelsea – great variety and very nice cakes which you know you must resist but can’t

Best meal had on your travels?
A plate of elk in Estonia very late in the evening. The meal also sticks in the memory because Steve Howard got very excited about the fact there were ashtrays at the table and he could smoke indoors. Suddenly a waitress came round, took his ashtray, and told Steve not to light up. The smoking ban in Estonia had started at midnight and it was now 12.05am.

…and the worst?
Dog in South Korea on the basis you have to try everything once – once was more than enough.

Best hotel stayed in?
It was in Crete when a few of us were lucky enough to be sent to a game between Greece and Albania because we were checking out the Greeks before their match against England in 2001. We stayed for four days in a hotel with a gorgeous pool, wonderful rooms and a sensational view and there were beach bars down a little flight of steps which stayed open till four in the morning. The office asked for ten pars!

Worst hotel stayed in?
A flea pit in Donetsk when Arsenal played there in 2000. We slept in our clothes because of the bed bugs, there were gun guards on each floor and I queued for an hour at the supermarket next door to make a sandwich of mouldy cheese slices in a bread roll which I swear cracked the pavement when I dropped it.

Favourite football writer?
John Gibson of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle who made following the black and whites seem magical. He is the reason I wanted to go into football reporting as a kid.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
The ones from your childhood seem the most special, Peter Jones on Radio Two and Brian Moore on ITV. Brian introduced himself to me when I was working on a local paper and I couldn’t believe how he took such an interest in someone so far down the ladder.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Make players available every day – that way the occasional interview we do get would not seem like such a big deal fraught with danger.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
The Masters – I’m determined to get there one day.

Last book read?
Chris Evans – Memoirs of a Fruitcake. He is a self-confessed idiot who finally worked out what was important in life but had a hell of a good time getting there.

Favourite current TV programme?
The Good Wife (Channel 4) – quality drama.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
Michael Owen’s signed boots from World Cup 2006 for winning a football skills competition. Michael did a press conference afterwards and was asked what was the biggest surprise he’d ever had in the game? He replied – “seeing Shaun win a football skills contest.”

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
If there’s a fact you need to know ask Martin Lipton, if you need a radio soundbite anytime of day or night ask Henry Winter or John Cross, and if you want to know the best restaurant ask Martin Samuel – but make sure you’ve remortgaged your house.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    June 11, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Dear Sean Custis,

    Your biggest mistake was, by far, your ‘exclusive’ last year QPR had been docked 15 points. Unsourced, untrue and totally typical of The Sun’s football reporting standards.

    You must have forgotten, glad to help out and remind you.

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