Any ques­tions?

How pressers have now be­come a key part of a foot­ball pro’s life

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS -

hen Manch­ester City were found guilty of fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties af­ter a 1906 FA en­quiry, Manch­ester’s press gath­ered en masse in­side the city’s Queens Ho­tel. They were all there to doc­u­ment the sheer be­wil­der­ment of the Blues’ slack-jawed direc­tors as they wit­nessed the fire sale of their best player, Billy Mered­ith, to arch en­e­mies Manch­ester United. There might not have been a large club-branded desk, a room crammed full of cam­eras or a press of­fi­cer over­see­ing pro­ceed­ings but, in a sense, this was one of foot­ball’s first ever ‘press con­fer­ences’.

Like­wise, when Leeds City were chucked out of the Foot­ball League in 1919 for mak­ing il­le­gal pay­ments to play­ers, gen­tle­men of the fourth es­tate as­sem­bled at the smoky en­vi­rons of the Metropole Ho­tel to watch the en­tire play­ing staff be­ing auc­tioned for a grand to­tal of £9,250.

Fast for­ward 40-odd years and, thanks to his ex­ten­sive con­nec­tions in the me­dia, PFA chair­man Jimmy Hill was able to hastily con­vene Lon­don press gath­er­ings in the early-1960s, at which he ar­gued that the max­i­mum wage was un­eth­i­cal. Dur­ing a Savoy Ho­tel presser on Jan­uary 9, 1961, he de­clared the abo­li­tion of the max­i­mum wage – a his­toric day for the sport.

Thanks to the ar­rival of the tele­vi­sion age, man­agers and chair­men be­came more high pro­file. Liver­pool supremo Bill Shankly reg­u­larly held court with journos for hours on Fri­day af­ter­noons be­fore games. And the tyran­ni­cal Burn­ley chief Bob Lord (who was dubbed the ‘Khrushchev of Burn­ley’), de­lighted in in­form­ing groups of lo­cal writ­ers that he was go­ing to ban the BBC’S cam­eras in­side Turf Moor, be­cause he be­lieved that the on­set of tele­vised games would de­stroy the sport.

The at­ten­dance – or not – of Brian Clough at press con­fer­ences al­ways added a bit of fris­son to mat­ters. Fol­low­ing his con­tro­ver­sial ex­its from both Derby and Leeds, Clough di­rected pro­ceed­ings with sev­eral re­porters in cor­ri­dors out­side the board­rooms at the Base­ball Ground and El­land Road, while re­spec­tive chair­men Sam Long­son and Manny Cussins – blinded by cam­era bulbs flash­ing in their eyes – briefed some other mem­bers of the press in a ri­val gath­er­ing a few yards away.

In 1979, when Trevor Fran­cis was con­firmed as Bri­tish foot­ball’s first £1 mil­lion player, Cloughie turned up late for the tele­vised gath­er­ing armed with a squash rac­quet. “I will whack him with this if he makes a balls of sign­ing it,” Clough promised. To­wards the end of his ten­ure at Not­ting­ham For­est he opted out of press meet­ings, in­sist­ing: “You s**houses never tell the truth,” but even he deemed it ap­pro­pri­ate to at­tend his fi­nal gath­er­ing in May 1993. Sport­ing his trade­mark green jer­sey, one mem­ber of the me­dia scrum, Brian Glanville, asked Old Big ‘Ead whether he would get bored with life with­out foot­ball. “I’ll ring you if I’m bored, Brian,” re­sponded a pithy Clough.

Prior to the 1970 World Cup, Brazil man­ager Joao Sal­danha in­vited the press to the train­ing ground where, fol­low­ing pres­sure from the coun­try’s dic­ta­tor Gen­eral Medici to in­clude striker Dario in the squad, Have you ever had to take part in any press con­fer­ence train­ing? No. I have been quite lucky be­cause when I first be­came a man­ager, Bournemouth were a club in League Two so press con­fer­ences were ba­si­cally one-on-one chats with the lo­cal jour­nal­ist. I think that was a good ground­ing for me be­fore be­ing ex­posed to big­ger groups and the dif­fer­ent types of ques­tion­ing as we rose up through the leagues. How have you man­aged to adapt to the in­crease in me­dia scru­tiny? The jump from the Cham­pi­onship to Pre­mier League was huge. We’d never had any at­ten­tion na­tion­ally and then sud­denly we were be­ing talked about ev­ery week. The at­mos­phere dur­ing Pre­mier League press con­fer­ences is dif­fer­ent and it’s very hard to pre­pare. You learn ev­ery week through ex­pe­ri­ence. Does your press of­fi­cer brief you on po­ten­tial lines of ques­tion­ing? I am briefed on cer­tain ques­tions that he thinks might come up, just to give me an un­der­stand­ing of the tone of the ques­tions and what they may be about. But there are never any cer­tain­ties, be­cause quite of­ten there will be some things which get thrown in that you can­not sec­ond-guess. I think the re­la­tion­ship be­tween my­self and An­thony [Mar­shall, the Cher­ries’ head of me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tions] is re­ally im­por­tant at the club. I need to be able to trust him and vice-versa. Is there a type of ques­tion you find par­tic­u­larly tricky to an­swer? It’s hard when you get asked about some­thing you know lit­tle about. As a Pre­mier League man­ager you get asked about pol­i­tics, cur­rent af­fairs and any­thing ma­jor that’s hap­pen­ing in the world. The me­dia want you to have an opin­ion on pretty much ev­ery­thing, and if you don’t know any­thing about a sub­ject you’ll end up say­ing some­thing you didn’t mean. I have a rule that I’ll only talk about sub­jects that I have good knowl­edge of. Is it im­por­tant to de­velop a de­cent rap­port with the lo­cal me­dia? You def­i­nitely need to have a good re­la­tion­ship with the lo­cal press. If you don’t re­ally get on with cer­tain peo­ple, your job can be­come a lot more dif­fi­cult. It’s a mu­tual re­la­tion­ship as you both need each other and you will both ben­e­fit from it. I’ve tried to be ap­proach­able, con­tactable and hon­est from the start of my man­age­rial ca­reer and my re­la­tion­ship with the lo­cal paper has lasted through to this day. Are press con­fer­ences a use­ful tool to boost morale at the club? I have per­son­ally never used them for that pur­pose, but I think other man­agers have done. I get that, as man­agers have to use ev­ery tool avail­able to them to try to mo­ti­vate their team, or ap­pease the fans, and im­prove the at­mos­phere that they’re play­ing in. I try to be hon­est with the me­dia and fans, and give a true ac­count of what I’m feel­ing at that time. That’s the ap­proach that has worked best for me so far – I never try play­ing games. Some man­agers don’t like talk­ing about tac­tics. Are you the same? I’ll be hon­est, I al­ways try to avoid talk­ing about tac­tics as much as pos­si­ble be­cause I don’t want to risk giv­ing the op­po­si­tion any sort of ad­van­tage be­fore a game. You can eas­ily give them clues about how you might set up. I very rarely men­tion my po­ten­tial start­ing line-up as well – I like to give the op­po­si­tion as lit­tle in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble.

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Be­low “I wouldn’t say I’m the best man­ager in the busi­ness, but...”

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