My delightful PA, Denise, was in something of a tizzy. ‘I’ve got an angry reader on the phone,’ she said, clearly rattled by this highly unusual occurrence.
She put the call through. It was, in fact, an angry writer, none other than the great James Lawton, our chief sports writer and one of the biggest beasts in the field of sports writing. So, clearly, not a man to upset. Which is exactly what I had done in yesterday’s letter when, responding to a reader who urged restraint after James described a tackle as an ‘assault’, I said that I thought ‘the whole point of watching sport was to lose a sense of proportion’.
Not unreasonably, James took this to mean that I thought he had lost his sense of proportion. However, as I pointed out , I was careful to use the word ‘watching’ rather than ‘reporting’, and was, in fact, describing myself rather than James. For a supporter, sport is about passion, allegiance, faith and hope. For a reporter, it’s about judgement, context, impartiality, and experience. (It’s also about driving thousands of miles on Britain’s motorways, often with nothing more than a pork pie, dodgy phone reception and a goalless draw at the end of it, but that’s another story.)
And, most of all, it’s about the ability to convey the excitement of the occasion, to explain what happened and why, in several hundred beautifully-crafted words before the players have even finished arguing with the referee. That’s what James does brilliantly, and we are very lucky to have him in i every day. And, James, rest assured that I would never suggest that you’ve lost your sense of proportion (apart from that time after the Manchester derby last year).