Gonzo Sports Guest Article: What I have Learnt About Being a Football Club Journalist for a Month

Just over a month ago I said goodbye to Jacque Talbot but for reasons known only to him he’s decided to come back.  Here he takes us through his experiences of working for a non-league club, enjoy.

My first match report/ How to do a novice match report

Job opportunities are few and far between for aspiring sports writers, that’s why is vitally important to say yes to almost every proposition that you come across.

It’s fair to say a writing job with an unnamed football club (they do have a name really, they are not actually unnamed or called unnamed football club), landed in my lap mostly by a good piece of fortune, yet I must stress that in this line of work, you do enable your own luck.

No sooner had I hastily applied for the job vacancy ‘club journalist’ online than I was travelling to their secluded stadium, in midst of the North-West, to liaison with the club secretary and take a look around the ground and training facilities.

Now fast forward to our first agreed match to which I would be reporting: it was 3rd September and a miserable, wet day in Ashton – a small town just outside Wigan. I regrettably misread the bus timetable (I was in town about two hours early), but also had the good fortune to miscalculate the point at which to get off the bus, which in turn resulted in a tiresome, long, soaky trod in the pouring rain, to fill up my time until kick-off. I guess it was a somewhat bittersweet occasion.

The stadium was hidden in the depths of a housing estate on the edge of town. There was advertising boards surrounding the pitch and a stand which fitted several rows of plastic, red, foldable seats, where a single onlooker was already present.

My long walk had cut my time sizably, but there was still about half hour to go, so, keeping in the spirit of the profound immersion of this anecdotal article, I will briefly describe to you how I prepare myself fully before a match starts:

You should exercise a bit of pragmatism so, you need to; bring a number of pens in case one runs out, turn your phone on silent so you don’t get distracted; take with you at least two notepads– one smaller to log the live reporting and one larger notepad so you can start writing your report immediately after (I’ll explain this one further in the article); make sure you dress for the occasion: as silly as it sounds, wearing comfortable clothing during for the match will enable to have your mind thinking both punctually and with clarity.

Positioning is also imperative. You won’t be able to clearly illustrate a game to an audience, a match you’ve watched through the bar window of the clubhouse. Therefore, get there early enough that you have a vast choice in selecting a position which gives you a great view of all ends of the pitch, and with the freedom to move towards areas of significance (such as closer to the 18 yard box to see a forthcoming penalty)- if you have the environmental capability to do so.

In smaller notepad, you should have already laid the foundations –write both teams names at the top of your first page and draw a line underneath. Then put a single line down the middle of the page and in-between the two names, giving something resembling a Christ cross with two club names balancing on the ridge at either end. The idea is to write events, as the match progresses, and chronologically state events under the name of the club you are commenting on. If you make the mistake of writing the events side by side, what you’ll be left with is a mismatch in timeframe, rendering you with just guesswork.

Now with a couple of seconds away from kick off, you may have or may not have the team sheets on your person. If you do not, you have to ask for this after the match from one of the club officials – every football match will have a team sheet, they wouldn’t be able to ‘legally’ play without one.

Regardless, you won’t need to use one until after the match has been played, the way to keep track (On the presumption that you don’t know the player names because it’s your first gig) is to take note of player numbers whilst they play and add them to your notepad whenever a literal-noteworthy event takes place with the said player (or in this case, the said number) on it.

You must also need to work out a key for yourself and write in down in a suitable place or memorise it. This which will enable you to knowledgably jot the ‘code’ down on your journal, quickly and precisely.

Here I will write out a section of my notepad by way of example:

RW O-B 7-11-7, G7 FT I-B LW LF HTR, A11 ’57.

What looks like code is actually a whole lot of useful information for me to write a detailed description of this particular event later on. Without defining every-single piece of information there, I will merely write this out in correct form:

Number 7 plays a one-two with number 11 outside the box on the right wing, the return pass sees number 7 score a goal with a first time shot, inside the box, on the left wing, with his/her left boot, hard into the top right of the net, assisted by number 11, on the fifty seventh minute.

How much you write is up to you, I tend to write as much information as possible due to my lack of confidence in my own memory. You will also be writing the code (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘short-hand’ that’s a whole other complicated game, which can be learnt through NCTJ courses) during the period the action happens, so you better get used to writing on you notepad without actually looking at it.

Of course there is no way of knowing when a massive event is about to unfold in a game, so you have to keep writing somewhat constantly and particularly when the teams(s) get the ball in dangerous areas. Remember too, it’s not just goals you need to report, it’s yellow/red cards, fights, chances, missed penalties, great saves and general commentary on the games narrative: ‘St.Madeupstone are seeing a lot of the ball, but Cantthinkofasecondname United are defending well, closing down aggressively and making decent counter-attacks.

These comments can be made through the centre of your drawn line, particularly when the ball goes out of play and there is some time to reflect on the game so far. The centralisation of your comment will establish to you that it is an overall thought about the match entirely, and not of a specific club.

Once you finish logging the game and the match is finished, you may use the team sheet, and find the player’s names through the numbers matching them on paper – turning ‘number 7’ into ‘actual first and second name.’

Straight after the game is when you need to write up your match report in the larger notepad. Make valuable use of your time commuting, whether you are on comfy train with a table or on a bus wedged between a fragile window and a pensioner, it’s an absolute must that you write out your report whilst it is still fresh in your mind.

At first you may find this hard, but after time you will surely be able write it up with relative ease and speed. After three games into my match-reporting career, I got my report sent-off within the hour of the final whistle. The professional journalists, working at the nationals, have a match report to ready to read online within about ten minutes of the game finishing.

It’s something I do not personally, yet most professionals will usually have the first half of a match report written during the half time interval. I prefer having a cup of tea and sandwich instead – again, these are not rules and regulations, just ideas and prompts to help you.

The aforementioned match I attended my first time, ended in a waterlogged pitch just before the game started. I actually thought the pouring rain attributed to the authenticity of watching a British, non-league game. The reason being that a tiny area of the pitch, just by an obscure side by the corner flag, was deemed unplayable. It was a nervy experience, as I seldom found anything online when I researched for advice.

So this is why I thought I would put some advice out there for the aspirational reporters who need it. For any budding sports writers who are approaching their very first match as a reporter.

Please feel free get in touch with me for any more advice, or see if you find any decent educational videos on YouTube from the pros.

You can find Jacque on Twitter here; @Jac_Talbot

Follow/abuse us on Twitter @GonzoSportsDesk, we’re not fancy we follow back.

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