Five things I learned from match re­port­ing

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - ON MON­DAY Matthew Lind­say

NOW it can be told. When Leo Tol­stoy fin­ished his novella, The Cos­sacks, he was asked by the sports editor of the Evening Red if he could cover the Moscow derby. Paus­ing only to gasp at the word count, Leo de­murred, say­ing: “I would be quicker writ­ing another novel. And it will take less ink.”

Thus he pro­duced War and Peace in just un­der the word count of the av­er­age Scot­tish fitba’ re­porter at the very av­er­age SPFL match. It is why he baulked at man by man rat­ings. There are more char­ac­ters in War and Peace than a roll call of the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force. And Tol­stoy was haunted by one dilemma: is Prince Bolkon­sky a seven or an eight? This is also why Dick­ens never, ever watched Brent­ford, Dante dis­dained Lazio and Zola chose to play for, rather than write about, Chelsea.

But for the sport­ing hack, there is no choice. Our Bleak House is an af­ter­noon in a dis­mal stand, our In­ferno was the seething caul­dron of in­dif­fer­ence that is the In­do­drill Sta­dium, our J’Ac­cuse is a tepid as­sault in print of an as­sis­tant ref­eree who misses an off­side.

But com­pil­ing a match re­port was once man­age­able. Our only or­der was to turn up at the game and write some­thing that gave the im­pres­sion that we were not there. Count­less read­ers have tes­ti­fied to how good I was at this.

Then sports ed­i­tors de­cided that we should pro­vide a match re­port, post­match quotes, man by man rat­ings, ref­eree watch, num­ber of yel­low and red cards and a philo­soph­i­cal rea­son­ing on the moral­ity of falsely claim­ing for a throw-in. I lie about the last, of course. But there was once in this very blatt a fea­ture called Pub Man­ager that re­lated to the match. No one knew what this was sup­posed to en­tail, no one un­der­stood the re­sult­ing com­ments. Again, I was very good at be­ing in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. Years of prac­tice, I sup­pose.

The whole pack­age came to just more than 4000 words. Se­ri­ously. Thus we were con­demned to use more words to re­flect on a drab goal­less draw at Fir Park than Ray­mond Carver used to break my heart, in­form my life, strengthen my soul and re­new my spirit in Where I’m Call­ing From. Though, he did, shame­fully, ne­glect to give his char­ac­ters nu­mer­i­cal rat­ings.

There is now another de­vel­op­ment. It can broadly be called Five Things, as in Five Things We Learned from Dundee United v Hamil­ton Aca­dem­i­cal. The poor chaps and chapesses have to come up with re­flec­tions on an af­ter­noon of des­per­ate scuf­fling. There is, there­fore, much talk of poor de­fend­ing or tac­ti­cal anom­alies or even the need for bet­ter play­ers. Who would have thought it? But the sport­ing press have to find the rel­e­vant in what is nor­mally the very dull and the de­fi­antly mun­dane.

In the spirit of this in­no­va­tion, I feel I must share with my reader the Five Things I Learned From Match Re­port­ing...


you want a goal to be scored, al­ways tell you col­leagues that this match is sure to end goal­less and then bend your head to type in some­thing on a lap­top that is as li­able to freeze as a koala bear on a Salt­coats beach. A goal will then im­me­di­ately be scored and you will know noth­ing of its con­cep­tion or ex­e­cu­tion.


this point: al­ways sit next to a pro­fes­sional. They will tell you what hap­pened. It is why Blanche DuBois, sports re­porter for the N’Awl­ins Pink, al­ways as­serted she re­lied on the kind­ness of strangers.


ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing. The rule of frost­bit­ten thumb in Scot­land is to con­sider a trip to a press box as an ex­pe­di­tion into Antarc­tica on a par­tic­u­larly brisk day. Once, in Vi­enna, I could not write. My sports editor chor­tled at this, say­ing: “Al­ways in Scot­land you can­not write.” My right thumb and left fore­fin­ger are still stuck to the key­board to this day. If noth­ing else, this at­tach­ment makes an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion piece.


that some­times, just some­times, some­one will read what you have writ­ten. He or she may even be a sub-editor. But this only hap­pens oc­ca­sion­ally now. More dis­as­trously, that some­one may be a player who you have slaugh­tered with­out the aid of a hu­mane killer. He may quote this back to you in a press con­fer­ence months later. Thank you, Scott McDon­ald.


ever en­gage with the punter. They can walk to­wards the press boxes with all the in­no­cence of an in­génue au­di­tion­ing for the lead role in An­nie. They should be ac­com­pa­nied by the sound­track from Jaws. Many of them have lit­tle in­ter­est in one’s care­ful po­si­tion­ing of wicked in front of de­flec­tion. They be­lieve syn­tax is a levy on broth­els. And gram­mar is grandad’s wife. But they know what they don’t like. And it is in­vari­ably a press­man hunched over a lap­top and un­der more stress than a Kardashian corset. They pro­ceed to be­rate one’s in­com­pe­tence with a with­er­ing fury. It is par­tic­u­larly vex­ing when it is one’s brother.

The rule of frost­bit­ten thumb in Scot­land is to con­sider a trip to a press box as an ex­pe­di­tion into Antarc­tica on a par­tic­u­larly brisk day

Pic­ture: SNS

THE PRESS BOX: An ivory tower for the over­worked and un­der­qual­i­fied of the Scot­tish me­dia.

Sports Fea­ture Writer of the Year

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