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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
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

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game