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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss