Skip to main content

Andy Cole - 'Technical Gadget Man' and The French John Barnes

Technology has made the job of a football journalist much easier, but things havenâÂÂt always been so straightforward.

David Meek, the Manchester United reporter for the Manchester Evening News between 1958-1995 once told me how he covered one European Cup game in Malta. When he arrived at the stadium, the phone line his paper had ordered was non-existent. With a deadline pressing and a desk waiting for him to deliver copy as the game went on, Meek found a solution by paying the owner of a flat which overlooked the pitch for use of his balcony. And  his phone. Thus the people of Manchester got to read MeekâÂÂs match report.

In the 70s and 80s, journalists used to ring their words through to a copy taker. And I can remember doing the same in the early 90s, with news on Preston North End for the Manchester Evening Newsâ Saturday Pink. YouâÂÂd have to repeat some words to avoid confusion, though the odd howler did make it through - as one did to the pages of The Times during the 1998 World Cup when the French âÂÂGendarmesâ were referred to as âÂÂJohn Barnesâ in one match report.

By that time, journalists were starting to email articles â though only after booking a phone connection. Wi-fi has only become the norm in press boxes in recent seasons and, like many journalists, IâÂÂve come to rely on it.

The number of wi-fi spots means that I can work pretty much anywhere while on the road. My office is my computer and I even sent one article from an Argentinian naval base in Antarctica last year.

On Wednesday, I flew from Barcelona to Glasgow via Heathrow for the Rangers v Manchester United match. I intended to send one article from London, but terminal 5 didnâÂÂt have wi-fi. Can you believe that? I paid a tenner for access, but the system was down. It was infuriating. So I had to file copy over the phone to Abu Dhabi. It would get much worse.

Ibrox is a beautiful, modern, stadium. But it wasnâÂÂt designed for wi-fi reception. YouâÂÂll have little sympathy for the working practices of privileged football journalists, but nobody could get online. I was supposed to be doing a live report for FFTâÂÂs website. Not a chance.

The Japanese journalist next to me was supposed to be doing something similar. A wasted journey for him, even with his dongle, which didnâÂÂt work either. The guy from The Times two seats across explained how it was always like that at Ibrox. HeâÂÂd complained to the club and got a reply back about the problems they were having. Problems Rangers clearly hadnâÂÂt solved.

My deadline for a 600 word Manchester Evening News piece was the final whistle. An hour into the game I had to call the desk and say that IâÂÂd have to file by phone. That took an extra 20 minutes (and I repeated the word âÂÂCrerandâ three times) when I should have been in the mixed zone speaking to players. My mate waited outside for me in the freezing cold, near the United team coach. HeâÂÂs good mates with John OâÂÂShea and he texted OâÂÂShea something along the lines of: âÂÂI hope you are warmer on the coach than I am standing outside it.âÂÂ

OâÂÂShea replied: âÂÂWhere are you? IâÂÂll wave.âÂÂ

Nice one, John. A wave to warm the common man freezing on Edminston Drive.

I told Paddy Crerand about the wi-fi problems. I may as well have spoken in Basque to him. He got his first mobile phone last month and only turns it on to make a call.

âÂÂYouâÂÂve got problems with your hi-fi?â he asked. âÂÂWhat are you telling me that for?âÂÂ

âÂÂGood to be back in your spiritual home, Paddy?â I continued, changing tack as he started to growl.

My luck had to turn. After five hours sleep, I caught an early cab to Glasgow airport, where I intended to call Andrew Cole for a column we do every Thursday. I texted to see if he was free, but heâÂÂs so reliable that heâÂÂd already texted me.

âÂÂCan we do it on Skype?â he asked. âÂÂStill in Brazil.â I paid to go in a lounge where I knew there would be wi-fi access. Within minutes I was connected and I messaged Cole in the Copacabana: âÂÂOnline. Result. Will call in five.âÂÂ

I briefly saw the mountain of emails from the day before â typical one - âÂÂHi Andy, you donâÂÂt know me but I once saw you at Leicester away in 2001. Sorry to bother you, but is there any chance you can get Andy Cole to present the prizes at our works Christmas do. WeâÂÂd really appreciate it.â ThereâÂÂs seldom any mention of a fee, because people assume that people like Cole work for free.

I tried to call Cole on Skype - to do the column rather than mither him. The internet was down again. Aaaaggghhh! I had 30 minutes before I boarded the flight. I needed to transcribe the column on the flight to meet the deadline. The lady in the lounge apologised and admitted that they had been experiencing wi-fi problems.

Cole suggested by text that I downloaded Skype to my mobile. Get him, Mr Technical Gadget Man. I didnâÂÂt have time, so he saved the day by ringing from his mobile. The call probably cost more than IrelandâÂÂs national debt, but like with Meek forty years ago, the readers got their Cole-umn.