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The Man Who Hated Football by Will Buckley

Release date: 04th May, 2004
Publisher: Fourth Estate

List Price: 10.00
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From the outside, sports reporting, be it in print, on TV or on the radio, looks like a fantastic job, although what many of its aspirants occasionally forget is that it is a job and as such is subject to the normal irritants and frustrations one would encounter in any other place of work.

Experienced writers on a newspaper's sports desk build a sizeable database of ignorant football club chairmen who never return calls and of thick footballers who have difficulty in stringing three words together. Most are happy to pass this information on, especially when the player becomes a manager.

One sports editor told me of interviewing an England international a few years back. The player's agent was present and insisted on seeing the written version of the interview before it was published. So consistently poor was the player's monosyllabic response and so dim did the outcome make him look (unintentionally as it happened) that the agent re-wrote the piece completely and begged the sports editor to print the new version.

Jimmy Stirling is the (only slightly) fictional sports journo in The Man Who Hated Football, an immensely funny book which has already been compared with Evelyn Waugh's journalistic satire, Scoop. The obvious difference between the two is whereas Waugh used the subtlest rapier-like blade to extract humour, Buckley brandishes a machete.

Stirling is so cheesed off with his lot, conscious that he can do nothing else but report on football, that wherever he can, he takes the route of least resistance. Here Buckley succeeds in offering a veritable index of the tricks and manoeuvres the lazy journalist has in his armoury; most of them are put to good and amusing use by Jimmy Stirling.

For example, having missed the plane to Munich when charged with reporting on the Germany - England World Cup qualifier, Stirling doesn't tell his editor, but watches the game on television. He decides to use quotes provided by England fans before the game as the basis for what becomes a vehemently anti-English football article. The Germans take a goal lead and Jimmy must feel his night's work is done. Then England rattle in five at the other end and his contribution to the following day's paper looks a little out of sync with that of every other reporter present at the game.

In a spooky echo of the (true) tale of the thick footballer and his agent, Jimmy had interviewed "The Bolton and Wales" player, "Phil Davies", but the boy proved so slow that Jimmy makes up the bit about "Phil's" love of amateur dramatics. All seems well until "Phil" is interviewed on radio about his previously unknown thespian bent. It's a passage that would not be out of place in one of Tom Sharpe's Wilt novels and equally funny.

Ultimately, Jimmy's trickery is discovered and he is fired by his paper's sports editor, a man who clearly takes football far too seriously. One senses that Buckley may be having a dig at Arsenal as the sports editor is succeeded by his son (an Arsenal supporter) while Jimmy's replacement is another Arsenal supporter. The newly-staffed (or should that be seriously-staffed) sports desk each subscribe to the "winning is everything" creed, one which, according to a drunken Jimmy, "demands that the rich get richer and sod the rest."

Now, in which area of the football industry have we seen that attitude before?



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