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Remembered! ClubCall: the pre-internet hub of transfers, rumours and rants

ClubCall
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Costly mistakes

The occasional forgetful owner also did their bit to add to that revenue. Former QPR chairman Robert Thompson once called the service from his car phone to hear a report on the club’s midweek match. He then forgot to hang up, and left the tones of the Super Hoops’ ClubCall man Tony Incenzo continuing on loop for the remainder of the evening. It cost him £500.

Key to ClubCall’s success was its combination with Teletext, which encouraged punters to pick up the phone so they could hear the latest transfer rumblings (or ramblings), usually with deliberately vague promises of a ‘sensational deal’ for a ‘London star’. Imagine the number of Chelsea and Southampton fans urgently grabbing their landlines in the summer of 1995 when Teletext told readers to call if they wanted to hear the latest on Matt Le Tissier’s proposed move to Stamford Bridge, with David Rocastle, Mark Stein and/or Gavin Peacock heading south.

“Stories of Matthew going to Chelsea are rubbish,” said Lawrie McMenemy, Southampton’s director of football. “It is just not true,” added Chelsea chairman Ken Bates. Both were proved right, but not before thousands of supporters from west London and the south coast had dialled up in a bid to split fact from fiction.

Still, that separation was nowhere near as taxing as the time a young ClubCall employee misheard the top line involving the potential move of three players from a leading London club. Teletext splashed the headline ‘Three on the Moon’ instead of ‘Three on the Move’, leading to a rash of calls from curious fans and an eventual complaint that callers had been misled, lodged to the Independent Committee for the supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (or ICSTIS, now – thankfully – rebranded to PhonepayPlus).

Another error led to the home phone number of ClubCall employee Geoff Owen being printed on advertising hoardings at Walsall in a pre-season friendly. Unsurprisingly, his phone rang off the hook as news-hungry Saddlers fans set to work.

Access (almost) all areas

The main complaint about the service wasn’t its inaccuracies – which were, insist those who worked for it, extremely rare – but the cost. Mind you, supporters of West Ham could hardly complain about not getting their money’s worth, as Jonathan Pearce, now a Match of the Day commentator but previously a ClubCall editor for a short period in the late ’80s, reveals.

“I did one interview with Paul Ince at a West Ham training session and neither of us could remember who the club’s next match was against,” he tells FFT. “He was effing and blinding, and I told the desk they would have to edit it before it went out. They asked me which bits and I told them that would be obvious once they listened to it, because it was every other word. The interview wasn’t edited. It went straight to the line.”  

Catching a player or a manager at home was the best way to get them to talk. Expensive it may have been, but with the clubs creaming off their share of the profits – in Arsenal’s case, for example, this was reported to be as much as an 80/20 split in their favour – ClubCall’s merry band of journalists had the sort of access to players that the modern football scribe would give their eye for.

“I would insist on having the number of every player and the manager before I took on a club,” says Raistrick. “Catching them at home was always the best way to get them relaxed and talking – can you imagine that now? I remember Arsenal’s press officer trying to stop John Hartson from giving me his mobile number. [Hartson] turned around and said: ‘It’s OK, it’s Khris from ClubCall – he’s a legend’.”

Big names onside

Ian Holding recalls he once travelled to Gary Lineker’s pad in St John’s Wood for an exclusive sit-down with the goal machine. “All the players at that time – Lineker, Ian Rush, Bryan Robson – would have spoken to ClubCall exclusively,” he boasts. “They were always happy to sit down with us.”

Ian Wright, meanwhile, was also a lively ClubCall presence, labelling referees as ‘incompetent’ on the Arsenal line before telling the callers that David Elleray was there “for players to talk to, not to be a little Hitler”.

At Manchester United, Alex Ferguson ensured ClubCall got their exclusives, although he would sometimes keep them waiting. “After each match we’d have to grab a word with the manager and at least one player,” says Adam Marshall, a reporter who would eventually go on to become ClubCall’s managing editor.

“I remember an FA Cup match at Selhurst Park between Wimbledon and Manchester United [a game Fergie’s men lost 1-0]. I had to wait so long for Sir Alex that all the Wimbledon players had left before I’d finished. I had to track them down in the bar.”