During the press conference, after the much-needed and joyous Reading victory against Blackburn Rovers, Paul Ince once again mentioned ‘three matches in a week’. Immediately, and pedantically, I sat there thinking ‘technically, it’s three games in eight days’ and, selfishly, ‘you may also want to consider the emotional roller coaster and geographical journey of being a Reading fan too with five matches in eight days’ (RFC Women, under-23s and the men’s teams) scanning the breath of the south coast to the northwest and three evening matches.
My mind quickly returned to the present as I remembered I was lucky enough to have these thoughts, while in the post-match press conference, with the gaffer and the professional journalists, because Reading Football Club kindly allowed me to experience a match day from the press and media area.
As a guest writer of The Tilehurst End for the Reading Football Club women’s post-match reports and as a volunteer and amateur ‘in learning’, it was great to witness the professionals in action. At this point I feel it’s timely to say thank you to TTE and to anyone that’s ever read one of my ramblings. The feedback (to date anyway) has been very kind and that I often reference the weather in a report!
Well, today’s no different (so humour me) because the media gantry is right at the top of the Upper West Stand and, although I could see the East Stand fans enjoying the Spring equinox sunshine, it was shaded, cool and windy up in the Gods with ‘the workers’.
I should also say a big thank you to chief communications officer Mark Bradley and Mitch Parris, marketing manager at Reading Football Club, for allowing me ‘access to all’ areas. I got to witness the hubbub of media goings-on for both for the women’s match against Manchester United on March 12 and Saturday’s men’s match against Blackburn.
If there’s a lot of money in professional football you maybe reassured to hear that it’s not being squandered away in media hospitality. In fact, as part of the match-day information, you are actively encouraged to bring your own food. There is however access to the press lounge, a series of desks, indoors (although you can’t see the pitch from here), with access to power for laptops and mobile devices. There’s also access to the press conference room where the post-match interviews are held with the home and away managers, and this was also where the hospitality food and beverages could be found.
I didn’t arrive until 1.50pm, around the same time as Reading midfield legend (and now Radio Berkshire guru) Mick Gooding, to see him grab one of the last two remaining smoked ham sandwiches (and I smiled as I also heard the passing comment of ‘should have got here earlier...’). Hot drinks were very welcome indeed (have I mentioned the windy cold weather?) and were available in the form of a hot water urn and pre-ready Tetley tea and Kenco coffee cups to add the hot water to. There were no biscuits available, not even at half time (hence the warning of BYO).
I took this opportunity to ask very important questions to the Blackburn representatives, such as ‘how do the RFC hospitality and facilities rank within the Championship?’. Their reply was that they were ‘very pleased indeed’ and went on to explain that they were also not in a position to judge, with what Blackburn provided in exchange. Their exact words were ‘at least you have branded hot drinks and fridge-chilled sandwiches available!’
On the gantry it was busier, as expected, for the men’s match compared to the women’s game on Sky TV when a lot of the press media happened pitch-side (and being Sky TV I didn’t have access to it). For the women’s game I sat alongside and could hear every word of the commentary team of Seb Hutchinson and Andy Hinchcliffe, the latter sporting Norwich City gloves ‘as he was at a Man City v Norwich match when his last pair of gloves perished’ (another one of my challenging interview questions).
The gantry was busy, littered with laptops, cables and technology and including representatives from Blackburn, national media and local media. The video analysts for the team (both men and women) sit separately and nip down at half-time to show any clips that the management want to review.
I sat alongside Richard, who does a great job providing the Twitter and photo updates throughout the match, after some chaps from Blackburn had already occupied my allocated seat (an early but only victory for Rovers that day!). With my ‘old school’ notebook-and-pen approach it was a delight and privilege to have a desk to lean on, complete with a video screen to watch replays of any action.
BBC Berkshire were also on the gantry, live and in full flow with Ady Williams at the helm and ‘smoked ham sandwich’ fuelled Mick Gooding, flat-capped and wrapped up warm, standing alongside providing the expert views and commentary from this bird’s eye position.
After the wonder goal from Josh Laurent to secure all three much-needed points, it was back to the press conference room to await the managers - as the professional journalists started typing their reports. I glanced over a shoulder to view a Rovers laptop where the player rankings (and description) were being typed. It looked like Thomas Kaminski was going to come out with top performance marks.
A happy but realistic Paul Ince was first up to attend the press conference. The radio interview took place first, followed by questions from the general media (and a couple of answers were requested to be embargoed until Monday). Paul Ince’s comments to some ‘very good questions’ (so not from me) included ‘we should have been three or four up at half-time but you’re going into half-time wondering if we’re going to get punished’, adding ‘but the lads have got an incredible spirit about them’.
Ince was rightly glowing for not only Laurent’s goal but also his all-round ability and attitude. ‘He reminds me a bit of myself, Josh, with how powerful he is and how he runs. He is an exciting player and if he can add moments like that to his game then he’ll be a top player. He’s a great kid, he’s been out for three/four weeks with an ankle injury, but he gives us something different.
In contrast, Tony Mowbray was very downbeat, very dour and softly spoken (but apparently ‘he’s always like that’). He said his ‘young team haven’t been in this position before, were struggling mentally and football is an emotional learning curve’. He was interviewed and recorded live, on an iPhone on a tripod, by a representative from Rovers only - there were no general questions from the audience. In a laughable and almost cartoon moment, after the last question, Mowbray literally mumbled ‘thank you’ and couldn’t get out of the room fast enough, leaving his seat with a whoosh and gentle sound of a closing door…
I could easily get used to this. I do understand this is a working environment, the rooms/gantry are people’s offices and they have a job to do reporting what happens on and often off the pitch too. I, however, would not particularly miss some of the away-fan experiences including the indignant and accusatory full-body searches, queuing with hundreds of other people to get a drink or use the facilities in some stadiums that are not fit for purpose (recent trips to Peterborough United and Blackpool spring to mind) and stewarding and policing not fit for purpose either (Bournemouth).
Anyone who knows me knows that I think all directors, owners of football clubs and even the odd non-playing footballer (fair play to Tom McIntyre and dare I say Liam Moore? often sighted) should witness a match from the visitors’ end and away-fan experience and I’d extend this to reporters too.
Thank you to Reading Football Club for an enjoyable couple of match-day experiences providing me with a new and different added-value perspective to the afternoon. I’m not sure it will speed up my match-day report typing - so thanks to The Tilehurst End and any readers for your continued patience too!