By Dr John Beech, Winner of the Football Supporters’ Federation Writer of the Year Award for 2010 for his Football Management blog
In the latest Coventry Conversation, Jim White, the legendary Daily Telegraph writer showed that not only can he provide humour and sports insight through the written word but also through the spoken word.
Starting with a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of Wayne Rooney, Jim took his audience on a guided tour of the relationship between sports personalities and the press, and how agents intervened in that relationship.
In an age where taking out a super-injunction to gag the press has become a status symbol among Premier League footballers – two are currently in force, and hence even who has taken them out cannot be reported – Jim argued that the British media had faced the particular challenge of finding a British Tiger Woods. The extra-marital affair of Wayne Rooney had been a gift-wrapped offering from the ‘spud-faced nipper’.
Jim had first interviewed Rooney when the latter was a shy 19-year old, offering little in response to questions without the explicit approval of the coterie of minders who already surrounded him. Not that Jim saw today’s Wayne as someone in any way stupid. Far from it – he is, we were told, very, very shrewd. His indiscretion had not only threatened Rooney’s image, and hence his price as an endorser, but it had threatened the rather purer image of Colleen Rooney. The pressure of these threats, coupled of course with his personal discomfort, had had an enormous and direct impact on Rooney’s performance on the field, an impact which is till apparent notwithstanding Saturday’s somewhat isolated wundergoal. Among those only too happy to exploit Rooney’s discomfort were his agent Paul Stretford, and that master of obfuscation, Sir Alex Ferguson.
What followed next was a catalogue of actions by football agents that can only be described as blatantly self-serving, and not in the interests of the player particularly from the point of view of career development. Jim told how Paul Stretford had offered to put Andy Cole up when he moved South until he could find somewhere to live. This turned out not to be the gesture of friendship one might imagine – Cole was slightly taken aback to find rent deducted on his monthly invoice from Stretford.
The role of the press was not immune from Jim’s criticism. He pointed out that golf writers had been complicit in a conspiracy of silence over the extra-marital dalliances of Tiger Woods, only breaking that silence when Woods himself made its continuance impossible with his spectacular exit from home in the middle of the night.
The talk concluded with a very active and interesting question-and-answer session. When asked how much he earned, Jim conceded that he could hardly keep his salary private when he and his fellow journalists were so happy to write about the salaries of sports stars. A definite incentive to sports journalism students to rise up through the profession is the revelation that Jim earns £120,000 a year.
In short, Jim demonstrated in trumps the qualities that took him to the top of the sports journalism ladder – erudition, objectivity, openness and – the quality you just can’t learn – passion.