Ken Jones: The romantic age lost in a chasm created by money

Sportswriting has undergone significant changes in my working lifetime. The determined romanticism of a more innocent age has long since yielded to the harsh demands of modern journalism.

Sportswriting has undergone significant changes in my working lifetime. The determined romanticism of a more innocent age has long since yielded to the harsh demands of modern journalism.

This has not been a wholly unmixed blessing. The best of the old-timers, who saw their roles primarily as bards, were facile essayists. Some of them may not have recognised an unscheduled news story if it had come with a letter of introduction, but with their quills they could tell you who scored the game-winning goal, landed the fight-winning punch while they tickled you. They told a mean fairy-tale.

The old sportswriters I knew drew no reward for vintage. They still had to meet deadlines. They had to fight for telephones, struggle with baggage, and climb steps to press boxes sited in thrombosis territory. Some had enduring status, but the majority were instructed on their unimportance. Editors preached anti-ego sermons. Nobody cares about you, your mortgage, or your ulcer. It all ends up as a cod's overcoat.

What they and those of my time had over the present generation in this dubious trade was casual and, in many cases, close contact with the people we wrote about. We shared good and bad times together. Lasting friendships were formed. Sometimes we fell out but trust was seldom broken.

They way things were became the subject into which I recently fell at a Premiership fixture. It was with two talented young men who were quick to point out the difficulties they encounter when attempting to establish contact with today's sports stars, especially footballers. They had in mind the aching formality of press conferences, the obstruction of agents and sponsors, the power of television and the general air of suspicion that now exists.

Unwittingly, they made me feel older than I'm inclined to concede. They were asking me to go back more years than I find comfortable to remember, in many ways a different time; not necessarily better, but different. One of them referred to a photograph he'd seen of the England football team, accompanied by members of the press leaving for a World Cup. It was before I became involved but I could see his point. The press party numbered about 10. They travelled with the team, often staying at the same hotel.

My young companions had no sooner wondered about the comparative ease with which reporters of past generations went about their work when it was pointed out that an explosion in sports coverage changed everything. With so many people now at work, so much attention to detail, the switch from personal contact to structured interviews was inevitable.

Today's aspirants are astonished to discover that no formal contact was made with Alf Ramsey and the England team following the World Cup success in 1966. Together with two other reporters, including Frank McGhee, late of this life and the Daily Mirror, I caught up with the players at the hotel in north London that had been their base throughout the tournament. The next morning Ramsey announced that since it was his first day off for six weeks he would not be available for comment. After an exchange of sharp words he relented.

You can go on and on like this. For example, it was fairly common for footballers to socialise with players after matches. Ron Greenwood, when manager of West Ham, regularly entertained the press in his office at Upton Park. Standing outside Tottenham's dressing-room after an away loss to Slovan Bratislava in the Cup-Winners' Cup, the great Bill Nicholson growled: "You're always telling them how good they are, now go in and tell them how bad they were."

When wages in English football were held at a maximum of £20 per week, members of the national team were given a party by the press at the end of summer tours. My friend Colin Hart of The Sun recalls how he and others looked after track and field athletes before the advent of professionalism. "We bought meals, let them make calls home," he said. Out of it came invaluable friendships.

Money changes most things. No matter how well paid, today's sportswriters are separated from footballers by a huge chasm in earning power. They've become people apart, swooned over by fans, admiringly interviewed with permission of their sponsors, encouraged by the media to see themselves as rock stars entitled to adoration, the pamperings of luxury, and all too few questions asked about behaviour on the field.

I guess the sports figure who most influenced the attitudes of my fully active years was Muhammad Ali. "Can we have five minutes with Muhammad?" his trainer, Angelo Dundee, was once asked. "No chance," came the familiar piping reply. "You'll have to settle for an hour." An hour with The Greatest.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Humanities Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

PSHE Teachers needed for exciting project

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teachers with a passion for PSHE neede...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Sup...

EBD Teacher in Shropshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: EBD Teacher - ShropshireWe are current...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits