Media: Perfect jobs for boys (and girls)

Today, children want to grow up to be football journalists.
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The Independent Culture
IT BEGAN with a classified ad a fortnight ago. "Britain's leading football magazine," it read, "has a very rare opening for a staff writer... What you need is an unrelenting fascination with the world's greatest game and the desire and dedication to become an excellent magazine writer. What you do not need is a vast amount of experience or to be a man."

Nearly a thousand CVs (971 to be exact) and covering letters have since been hauled across the threshold of FourFourTwo's offices in Teddington, west of London.

"We're beginning to wonder whether this is the most popular job ever advertised," says Matt Tench, the editor, who is trimming, the initial 971 to an interview shortlist of 15.

As the ad says, the job will entail everything from big-name interviews to features and checking next month's television fixtures. And all for a salary of less than pounds 20,000. It will be for love, not money.

Des Lynam once said that if you're no good at sport then you end up writing about it, adding that he opted for television because he couldn't write. But you get Des's point. Short of playing for a living, what greater pleasure can there be for a football nut than being paid to indulge the obsession by becoming a football writer?

But the extraordinary enthusiasm that has poured through FourFourTwo's letterbox is about more than a fan's love for the game. The legion of applications says something about the status the game occupies, particularly as a sphere of media endeavour.

It is the sort of response that a couple of decades ago would have greeted an ad for a job at the NME or Melody Maker. The rock'n'roll of the time, was, well, rock'n'roll, a scene that stood for creative endeavour, glamour and a lot of money. Today football has that privilege.

Italia '90, the Taylor report, the all-seater stadia it spawned and the hundreds of millions of pounds that television tipped into the trough have all played their part in purging the English game of the grimy associations that reached a nadir with the disaster at Belgium's Heysel stadium.

The game has now been cleansed, purified and, like the favoured tipple of a Chelsea season ticket holder, gently carbonated.

All that has changed the way the game is written about. Players and managers greet with suspicion any suggestion of an intellectualisation of the game. However, there is no doubt that Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and the My Favourite Year anthology he later edited legitimised football as a quasi-literary phenomenon.

But the major change has been wrought by the influence of the fanzines, particularly When Saturday Comes. Since its launch in 1987 WSC recognised that the world of football was not confined to the 90 minutes of action, groin strains or boardroom machinations that had hitherto preoccupied media coverage.

Instead, it recognised that football was life-consuming. Noting that the title was borrowed from an Undertones song, Hornby wrote of WSC: "How did these people know that football and pop music were the two most important things in life?"

Several fanzine writers have since moved on to nationals - John Duncan and Amy Lawrence (a former FourFourTwo staffer) are both at The Observer, while Harry Pearson writes for The Guardian. But fanzines' major contribution is to imbue football journalism with wit, enthusiasm and interest, to square the game with the preoccupations of the fan. Now newspapers are also prepared to discuss players' haircuts and dress sense and the music that leads teams on to the pitch (Z Cars at Everton, for instance).

The message today is that anyone can do this, even if at FourFourTwo that someone is one in a thousand.