This article is from Edition Nine of The Cynical, our free online magazine.
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I’d never been to a press conference before. Like many football fans, my experience of them could be summed up by the condensed clips we catch on the evening news or as part of a rolling news feed, a constant hum in the background.
Occasionally, there’s some brief excitement: a controversial statement, a rant followed by an early exit or – everyone’s favourite – a reporter forgetting to put their phone on flight mode, ending up with Pep Guardiola speaking to your granny in front of the world’s media.
But apart from that, they’re just there, aren’t they? A contractual obligation that allows the media to catch a potentially headline-steering soundbite or broadcasters to gather content for muted pub TV screens the world over. Players don’t want to be there, managers don’t want to be there and judging by the quality of questions asked, more often than not, most journalists don’t want to be there either.
Then the question came from the 90 Minute Cynic Editors whether I could attend post-match press conference at Celtic Park after the RB Leipzig game? It was the most striking of transitions; from being a part of a wave of euphoria in the standing section during the game, watching one of the most pulsating games of football Europe is likely to see this year from one of the loudest and most raucous parts of any stadium in the world, I now was making my way around the stadium to be part of the press pack.
A press conference novice, being thrown in at the deep end; armed with only the Voice Notes app on my phone and a misspelled press accreditation. As preparation goes, I’m not sure if it was inspired or idiotic.
I couldn’t help wonder what type of reception I might receive from the assembled media. Open arms? Friendly, smiling faces wishing to pass on their years of experience to a newbie? I was pretty sure that I was going be met with a lot of quizzical looks and murmuring before I received a tap on the shoulder from a steward and was unceremoniously turfed out.
As I took my seat in the wind-battered tent outside Celtic Park, I was glad to see that I was half right, at least. Remembering my instructions, I waited until Brendan Rodgers sat down, hit record and placed my phone face down in front of him, hoping and praying that my dad didn’t choose this moment to call me.
I hadn’t really known what to expect when Brendan started talking, but I think Hollywood movies and their flashing press bulbs and hacks shouting questions over each other had somewhat skewed my idea of a press conference. In actual fact, the only moment of significant note from Rodgers speaking was when he chastised a BBC reporter for being negative on a night of real positives for Celtic and Scottish football.
As the Celtic boss finished and stepped off stage, I grabbed my phone and hoped I had definitely hit record. It was just then I noticed Rodgers surrounded by a small circle of reporters, recording devices in hand, firing questions at him. What was this? Some sort of private audience? Was I supposed to be here? Who knows, but I certainly wasn’t waiting for an invite.
As I edged in closer, arching my phone over someone’s shoulder I became acutely aware of the circle getting smaller and me being squeezed out like the last of the toothpaste. Wait a minute, is the guy to my right actively edging me out here? As I tried to break free, he only succeeded in closing the space even more. I whispered into his ear about his man-marking qualities being good enough to replace Mikael Lustig, but he was having none of it.
It was at this point I noticed a club official eyeing me up like a Daily Mail reader looks at anyone not wearing tweed all year round. I reckon I wasn’t meant to be part of this crowd. I eventually managed to shake off my man marker and move towards the players’ mixed zone inside the stadium.
Once I’d made it inside Celtic Park, I somehow found myself in the standard press conference room (the outside tent is usually only used for European matches) where James Forrest was sat behind a desk fielding reporters’ questions.
This was amazing. Every door I opened just yielded Celtic players. I had obviously missed the start of this, so I wasn’t just going to wander up and place my phone down to record, thus exposing myself as some sort of blog writer who had no idea of what was going on!
No. Instead I sat in the row behind them all and stared longingly at wee Jamesy, wondering if he really was that small or was it some sort of optical illusion. Unsurprisingly, he finished up not long after.
It’s only after European matches that Scottish clubs are obliged to hold a genuine mixed zone where players pass through. Celtic create these mixed zones at pitch-side and as I was making my move outside, I was stopped by a friendly reporting colleague, who felt the need to bark “THAT’S FOR THE SUNDAYS!” into my face from only a matter of inches away.
“What you recorded down there in the circle (with Rodgers), that’s embargoed until Sunday.”
“Aye, doesn’t go anywhere, no matter what.”
I was going to point out that due to his peer’s homage to Catenaccio earlier, I hadn’t been able to get anything of any value, but thought better of it.
He had got so close by this point I wondered if I was going to have to buy him dinner afterwards, but my assurances that I understood his request seemed to placate him slightly and he wandered off.
Was this some sort of journalistic ritual prank I wasn’t aware of? Were they all laughing at me over there? Is James Forrest really that small? It was all a bit much.
Thankfully, the mixed zone brought fresh air and some, eh, fresh faces. Wandering down to the front of the Main Stand I made sure to hang back and pick the correct spot to stand in:
‘Television broadcasters’ | ‘Radio broadcasters’ | ‘Written press’ | ‘Online written press’
Where was the ‘Chancers now shitting themselves’ section?
Anyway, as it turns out, I was stood next to more reporters looking exclusively for quotes “FOR THE SUNDAYS”, who took a great interest in me and who I was there on behalf of.
I was reminded of the “embargo” in place and then offered some advice disguised as a very obvious dig at supporter-led publications. It was a less than pleasant experience, and I can’t help but feel for any young reporter looking to break into the big bad world of sports journalism when the industry is clearly so hell-bent on self-preservation.
I fully appreciate the desire to gather and report on an exclusive quote, or the thrill of scooping a major story that could potentially become a talking point for years to come. It is, after all, the reason so many young people dream of becoming journalists.
But is this where we are now with journalism in Scottish football? New faces from non-traditional media formats being set upon and instructed to obey the unwritten rules that exist within Scottish sports media? Representatives from a different kind of media seen as some sort of enemy?
I can’t help but look south of the border and draw comparisons. There will naturally be a much larger pool of media outlets covering every single facet of the Premier League.
From traditional print press, through overseas broadcasters and individual reporters covering specific teams for websites such as ESPN, there is only so much content that can be harvested from press conferences and mixed zones. One look at Twitter highlights clear divisions between all three, with broadsheet and tabloid writers occasionally, and very publicly, slating each other over quotes and headlines.
But where England seems to excel is the way in which they have allowed more room for new forms of media. Bloggers like Michael Cox have broken into what, at times, must have felt like a very closed shop and now carry with them a following that absorbs and understands football in a very different way.
Outlets like Mundial Magazine and COPA90 seek to explore football through the prism of supporters and what they really want to see or read about. They actively steer away from the hysteria and melodramatics that underpin so much of traditional football media and seems determined to paint players, clubs and fans in a bad light.
Such outlets and writers will continue to succeed because football is evolving. These days a red-top exposé on the perceived misdemeanours of a player is more likely to be met with the contempt it deserves than taken seriously.
Yet, I feel in Scotland we aren’t quite at that level of maturity. So much of Scottish football coverage is still dictated by a traditional press pack that fears for their existence, with newspapers and media outlets seemingly closing every month due to a downturn in sales.
That in itself will create a siege mentality, highly suspicious of outsiders from blogs or supporters’ websites and I suppose that’s only natural. But does it need to be this way? Can’t they both co-exist together, servicing the needs of a very diverse footballing community? Such a big demographic will want to consume football media in different ways and in different kind of outlets.
In Scotland we have a unique, rather peculiar footballing landscape that should be championed at every opportunity. We punch well above our weight in attendances, in giant killings and in fantastic narratives. We have major clubs performing on the biggest stages and we have the smallest clubs doing fantastic work in our communities.
It is a league where progressive ideas and new types of coverage should be experimented with, not one where the football media landscape should be a pale imitation of the traditional coverage of mainstream leagues like the English Premier League. That in Scotland the football media actually seem more reluctant to change than down south is disheartening. And it’s a futile resistance – the social media explosion and technological developments now allow any independent fan group and blogger to produce content of high quality and publish it around the world instantly.
There should be space for anyone in this new media landscape, and it’s healthy that traditional norms and practises are challenged and changed. My first press conference was an eye-opener. I’m ready for my next.
This article is from Edition Nine of The Cynical, our free online magazine.
Download the magazine here: