A WELL-RESPECTED football writer told me when I was making my way in what we still call Fleet Street that there are usually about five meaningful -exclusives per season.
‘Get one and you’ve done well.’ he said. ‘Two and you’ve done really well. Three, prepare for an award.’
Of course the word ‘exclusive’ is used like confetti these days, for an ankle strain to a transfer that usually doesn’t come off.
The football writer in question explained his definition of an exclusive as ‘a story which no one expected’ and has ‘will today’ in the intro.
Footy hacks would have been going through what they had written about Chelsea and Andres Villas-Boas when the news broke on Monday evening. Many, indeed most, had linked the former FC Porto coach with the job – he has never been out of the first three in the betting – but to the best of my knowledge no newspaper, on Monday, had the story ‘Chelsea will today move to make Andres Villas-Boas their new manager with the FC Porto coach expected to be confirmed tomorrow.’
Now THAT would have been an exclusive. Most of us, yours truly included, had expected Guus Hiddink to be Carlo Ancelotti’s successor.
A grudging well-done to Chelsea for keeping the appointment as secret as possible. Football writers rarely miss much. While it may be more difficult, putting it mildly, to build up a relationship with managers and players as could be done in the Seventies and Eighties, the secret is to know the people who know the people. And contrary to what some believe, not every story is bought in. Good old fashioned journalism, phoning around contacts, still reaps rewards.
When I was on the Daily Telegraph the then football correspondent Colin Gibson told me the secret can often be out-thinking the opposition…asking the right person the right question. Think of a topical theme…telephone the Football Association, Premier League, UEFA or whoever and fire away. In my experience, sporting bodies cannot lie. The spokesperson may be reluctant to go on the record but the proper ‘steer’ will do. Aware that giving false information will rebound on them, they would prefer to say ‘no comment.’ In football writerspeak that is usually taken as a confirmation that the story they are checking is correct. After all, it hasn’t been denied, has it?