Monday, 2 September 2013

A summer of sunshine and smiles slides inexorably towards a winter of discontent

By Jim Black

THINGS are bad in the media business, but perhaps they have not quite reached the stage of journalists bedding down at the local Salvation Army hostel when on assignment.

According to Phil Goodlad, that irrepressible BBC sports broadcaster whose boundless enthusiasm betrays an as yet unsullied view of life inevitably born of long developed cynicism in the case of those of us of a certain vintage, I found myself residing at such an establishment while reporting on the recent Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.

While not wishing to in any way denigrate the fine work down by the Salvationists, I would like to make it clear that was most certainly not the case.

The misunderstanding arose from a conversation I had with the man from Stornoway, who gives the impression of being double-jointed the way he delightfully twists into camera shot from almost any angle.

“I’m staying at the Sally in Perth,” I informed the good Goodlad in response to his enquiry.

I should explain that the Sally is the commonly used abbreviation for the Salutation Hotel, apparently Scotland’s oldest such establishment. However, my friend the rubber man was clearly ignorant of the fact, which explained his rather sheepish approach the following day.

“Jim, I have a confession to make,” he announced, and as I am not a member of the priesthood I quickly realised that he had not approached me on religious grounds.

“I happened to be speaking to Euan McLean (another member of Scotland’s golf writing fraternity) and expressed my sympathy that due to a chronic shortage of accommodation in the area you had been forced to bed down with the Sally Army” he informed me.

While I found his confession highly amusing, I was left to ponder the esteem in which I am held by at least one of my colleagues.

Suffice to say, when Iain King, the Scottish Sun’s head of sport, informs me that it’s the Sally Army or second hand camper van, my days as a golf writer will be over.

Hopefully that is still some way off, for the thought of a summer without reporting on golf fills me with dread.

Having spent most of the past four months on the road covering tournaments from Wentworth to Dublin, Muirfield to Celtic Manor, I am becoming increasingly apprehensive about what lies ahead for me in the sporting fields.

While I am sustained by thoughts of the Dunhill Links Championship and Ricky Burns’ forthcoming world lightweight title defence, there is also the rapidly growing realisation that most weekends from now on will involve the coverage of Scottish Premiership football.

There was a time when I relished such a prospect. But with the passing of the years has also come growing irritation at the way I and others in the profession are treated by the football world as a whole.

We are regularly subjected to a mix of rudeness, dismissiveness, arrogant disregard and, in certain cases, utter contempt while helping publicise a game that would appear to be in terminal decline.

Rather than embrace the media and work with newspapers in an effort to breathe fresh life into the patient, employees of football clubs would apparently rather further the absurd notion that they are dealing with the “enemy.”

Not all are the same, just the majority. Never mind that work facilities are in many cases completely inadequate, the attitude of the average “football man” towards the media is often both aggressive and disrespectful in the event that any form of justifiable criticism is aimed in their direction.

Do I really care anymore? Deep down, probably not, given that my days of having to endure sub-zero temperatures in cramped press boxes and snarled responses to awkward questions are drawing ever closer to an end.

But a word of advice to the afflicted before I toddle off into the sunset. Take a look at the world of golf and how the European Tour, for example, treats the scribes.

State of the art press rooms, more often than not a plentiful supply of food, an almost instant transcription service, a wealth of information readily to hand and a team of press officers trained to cater for our almost every whim – and, most important of all, in my humble opinion, the game’s stars threatened with disciplinary action in the event that they decline to attend a press conference without first offering a plausible excuse for not doing so.

Oh, I almost forgot. Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player et all invariably willing and seemingly perfectly happy to grant interviews.

Of course I’m talking true legends of sport as opposed to often overpaid, sometimes overbearing and occasionally overhyped footballers who take a lead from the manager in regarding the media with suspicion.

There have been times when that deep-rooted mistrust has been fully justified as a consequence of underhand, unprofessional behaviour on the part of some members of the journalistic profession.

But, “the enemy?” I think not. At least not his gnarled old hack who remains as passionate about sport as he ever did, albeit not with the same blind acceptance of bad manners, shoddy treatment and attempts at intimidation that he once tolerated without comment or complaint.

No comments: