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