Often Partisan

Interview with Janine Self

Those of you who use twitter may well know Janine Self – the “Queen of Midlands Football” is a well-respected sports writer covering the midlands patch for The People, as well as the ghost writer behind Robbie Savage’s autobiography. I caught up with her this week to ask her her thoughts on the bias against midlands teams in the national press, her view on the enigma that is Robbie Savage and her favourite grounds to visit as a reporter.

I suppose it’s a bit clichéd, but I have to ask it – in a male dominated world like sports journalism, especially football, how hard is it for a woman to succeed? Have you ever had difficulties talking to footballers or people connected with football because you’re a woman?

It depends how you categorise “succeed”. If you are talking old-fashioned print journalism and the aim to be a football  reporter on a national paper, then it’s easier than it ever was – which means it’s now just very hard! I You may be amazed to hear that I was told to my face that I would never be employed as a football reporter on both regional and national papers because I was a woman and for no other reason. That’s illegal now, but I’m an old fart, remember!  I went for a reporting job on a Sunday tabloid and didn’t get it because the sports editor didn’t think I would be able to “go night-clubbing with players”. I kid you not. It was over 20 years ago when sports journalists were expected to socialise with players!  Luckily for me, I got a job on the production side of the sports desk of the Daily Mirror in Manchester and the sports editor allowed me to do midweek and Saturday matches if I was off and that set me on my way, but only after a few more years of rejection.  These days most sports editors – not all – are a far more enlightened species hence the arrival of more women on the scene.

In answer to the second part of that question, I had problems when I first started because you did not see females at all in that environment. I was once refused entrance to a press box by a steward who said ‘sorry love, press only’ and wouldn’t believe I could possibly be press. I was told to stick to knitting by Joe Royle, who incidentally went on to become a friend! But in the last two decades we have had the rise of Sky, the arrival of media departments, etc and the modern player and manager doesn’t bat an eyelid at seeing women round the place.

One of the names I’ve seen given to you is “the Queen of Midlands football”, which I think is a bit of an honour really. As someone who writes for a national newspaper, do you think the midlands gets a fair deal football wise? There are a lot of accusations of bias against midlands teams from a London-based press on BCFC messageboards for instance – is this criticism justified or is it a fair editorial line for the nationals to take because there isn’t as much interest in midlands football?

I’m pretty sure that I’m only described as the “Queen of Midlands football” by my cheeky colleagues winding me up!  No, I don’t think the Midlands get a fair deal, at all. I moved here in 1999 from Manchester and my perception of the area was pretty stereotypical, I think. It’s that space between London and the North-West. I will also hold up my hands here and say that my knowledge and appreciation of the non-PL clubs was pretty rubbish – Birmingham, West Brom, Wolves were all unmapped canvas. During my time in the area I’ve seen Blues, Baggies, Wolves promoted as well as League Cup finals, FA Cup semi-finals and I have also become far more aware of the rivalry between the fans. As an aside, it always amuses me that if I criticise Birmingham, for instance, fans accuse me of supporting Villa. It happens the other way round, too. Anyway, my ignorance and non-appreciation of Midlands football is echoed in London. It’s like the Match of the Day joke – our teams are always on last unless they play Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal etc. Scott Parker was named Football Writers’ footballer of the year even though he played for a team that was relegated in West Ham. Can you imagine Barry Ferguson being awarded that prize? When I was on The Sun, I knew that a “reasonable” Birmingham City story would get far less than a “not-so-reasonable” West Ham story. That has been highlighted since David Sullivan changed clubs. We all enjoyed his rants over the years here but they didn’t make the back pages like they do now.

Re London-based anti-Midlands bias, I’m not so sure. The focus of papers is on the Big Four and it would appear that mentioning Manchester United on a website sparks about a zillion hits from South Korea or somewhere. That doesn’t mean journos are anti-Midlands, anti-Yorkshire, anti-north-east etc. All the nationals have Midlands reporters and it is as frustrating to them as it is to the fans that stories do not appear. At least Blues is well served by the excellent Birmingham Mail – I would be the first to admit I’ve lifted stories by Colin Tattum! What I would say is that the place you find Blues fans is, by and large, Birmingham. Same with our other teams. Villa have the widest appeal because of their European history but their fanbase would not compare with a Manu or a Liverpool or even Leeds. These days it’s rarer and rarer to find different editions targetting a certain geographical area and the conventional wisdom is that who wants to read about Birmingham City in Manchester? I can’t answer that question but sports editors appear to have done so.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that you do a lot of reporting from non-Premier League grounds, which also gets my respect, as I don’t think the national media covers non-PL football as well as it could. What’s your favourite non-PL ground to go to? Is it easier to report at smaller grounds where there aren’t so many journos fighting for a soundbite in the mixed zone?

I wish I saw more non PL football, again because this is vibrant area for good teams. You only have to go to Forest, Leicester, Derby, Coventry and now, of course, St Andrew’s to see that. As regards grounds, it depends whether I’m going as a reporter or a watching punter. When you’re working then the important things are seat, clean and solid desk, decent view, power point, safe parking (we’re coming out a lot later, remember) etc.  When you’re a punter you go for atmosphere, a decent pie and/or pint and accept you might have to jump out of your seat at certain moments! There are so many new stadiums that tend to blend into each other. I used to live in Sheffield and have always had a soft spot for Hillsborough, although that name is now tainted by tragedy. In the Midlands I love the City Ground as a punter for atmosphere and history but detest it to work in as the facilities are very sub-standard and you get fans standing in front of you. Burton’s Pirelli Stadium is really neat and tidy for work. Hereford is a creaking wreck of a place but you can park in the market next door and munch a pie – punter land rather than journo land.

I have to admit here, I loved Hereford away this season.

As far as the lower leagues and quotes, it gets easier and easier as you go down. Managers in the Championship tend to go to the press room afterwards and then there will be a handful of journalists in the mixed zone. Lower than that, clubs don’t have adequate press rooms so we troop down to the pitch and stand by the tunnel for managers to come to us and players to walk past – there is no fixed mixed zone. in pre-season I did Notts County v Wolves and spoke to Mick McCarthy pitchside about ten minutes after final whistle with only Sky and two other journos there – if only it was always that easy!

Knowing that you helped write Robbie Savage’s autobiography, and that Robbie gets a bit of stick from us bluenoses because of the, ahem, slightly acrimonious circumstances he left the club in, do you think it’s deserved? What’s your personal impression of the man behind the floppy blond fringe?

Firstly, I can understand why Bluenoses are not happy about Mr Savage. To be fair to Sav, he is also very aware that his actions would never be forgotten or forgiven. Yes he is a friend of mine but I don’t think he handled it very well. This is my take on it, a personal view only. He loved Blues, he loved being the kingpin and Brucie allowed him to do that. But he made a few mistakes. The first one was to buy a house in the middle of nowhere which frightened his missus so much that she wouldn’t stay there on her own. At the same time her mother became ill so she spent more and more time in the north-west. Robbie loves people and crowds and was unhappy at home. In normal circumstances, he would probably have sold his house and moved to somewhere a little further north to suit his club and his wife.  The timing coincided with the departure of Mark Bowen (still largely unexplained and very sudden). Now Robbie and Bowen are great pals and what happened upset him. Bowen was part of the Mark Hughes management team with Wales and Hughes was about to get the Blackburn job. During that period Robbie’s Dad began to show the symptoms of what he suffers from now – Pick’s Disease, which is a sort of Alzheimer’s.

I know that a lot of people made fun of Robbie when he said he wanted to go to Blackburn to be nearer his family but he was actually right!  By moving to the Cheshire footballer belt, he could be at his parents in an hour, his wife’s parents in similar time and Blackburn’s training ground in 45 minutes. It was as if a whole host of factors had added up to one thing – his departure. I’m sure he wouldn’t have given Blackburn a second thought had Hughes not gone there. I recall that he signed a new contract not long before and I don’t think he should have done that. He also admitted in his book that he deliberately didn’t try in one game but he is not the first and won’t be the last footballer to do that – although I accept that Bluenoses would be angry as hell about it. It would be fair to say he didn’t see eye-to-eye with Karren Brady either! What he didn’t do is go for more money, believe it or not!

My take on Mr S? I first met him on Wales duty when he was at Crewe and I thought he was a bit of a show-off! He was that rare breed of footballer, though – he was interested in the press.Perhaps that’s why he is a pundit now. He always knew who journalists were and was never shy to confront one when something was written that he didn’t like. In my first week in the Midlands, my very first match was Leicester v Chelsea. I was despatched to the mixed zone to speak to Robbie, because I knew him and he’d stop for me, to talk about the 2-2 draw. Leicester had lost at Arsenal the first game of the season and Robbie said that, based on the two games,he thought the Gunners were the better bet for the title. I went back and handed the quotes to the other journalists – sometimes we have to do that if access is restricted – and the long-retired man from the Daily Mirror decided to give the quotes what is commonly known as a “twirl”. The headline was something like SAVAGE LABELS CHELSEA BOTTLERS. Not surprisingly, Martin O’Neill went ballistic – with Robbie and with me! Robbie was threatened with a two-week fine and I offered to back him with the PFA and explain his innocence as well as try to plead my own innocence. It was my first week in the area, remember! As a result of my immediate offer to help, Robbie realised he could trust me and over the years we formed a decent journo-player relationship. But I got to know him properly and personally when he asked me to ghost-write his book (available in all good book shops) and I have to say he is an utter gent. He is well-mannered, reliable, thoughtful and he was a joy to work with. His wife, Sarah, is equally lovely and his boys are nice too. I went to meet his parents and they are so proud of their boy. All he wants to do is please them and his Nan. Yes, he is an extrovert. Yes, he sometimes goes over the top. But I have seen him patiently pose for photo after photo and it is a fact that he was the most popular player at every club he was at. You have to say it as you see it and I am proud to know Robbie.

I appreciate you might not be able to answer this one, but what was your take on the DataCo v media standoff at the start of the season?

That’s a difficult one for me to answer because I was only a pawn in the whole chess match. It was a battle between DataCo and the newspapers and much of it was legalese. All I know is that I’m glad I don’t have to buy tickets and sit with fans in the future. Not that I have anything against sitting with fans but it’s hard to work in that environment. I hope to get my own freelance DataCo licence this season after a dispute last year.

As someone who is a regular on twitter, do you think it’s something that the football world should embrace, or more of a hindrance than a help?

If I was head of media, or director of comms at any football club in this country I would make it compulsory for every footballer to be on Twitter. Sunderland have a policy where they say to their players that they should tweet what they would say to a journalist in a mixed zone. Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Phil Neville, they have it down to a fine art. It is a wonderful way to engage with fans and it can be used for marketing too. You may mention Joey Barton, but he has always been liable to go off on a rant in the mixed zone too! If Marlon King scores a hat-trick on a Saturday(ha ha!) and then puts a pair of his boots or his shirt on his twitter timeline for a prize, it would be immense. I am told that clubs do hold media training sessions for their kids and pros (although I sometimes wonder what they are taught as most of them find it hard to string two sentences together) so just put Twitter training in with the rest.

What was your football team growing up, if you had one? If I recall correctly, you were from an army family – did that affect who you supported? Do you hold a candle for any particular team right now?

I’m going to avoid answering this question! As you rightly say, I was a child of the Forces. The first game I ever saw was at Borussia Moenchengladbach! I will be shouted down by many of my colleagues now but I don’t think you can be a proper fan and a football reporter. What happens is you either come down far too hard on the team (imagine you’re all in the pub having a moan on a Saturday night) or you see a sense of injustice where there is none. I supported a team from afar while I was growing up. They are not in the Premier League and a few seasons ago I actually sat and hoped they’d lose because it would mean a Midlands club in the play-offs, which is more important to me professionally. Yes, I look at their results but that emotional umbilical cord does not really exist any more. When I stop this job, it will be interesting to see whether I become a fan again. I suspect not because I love watching a game as a neutral. It’s far less painful.

I’d like to thank Janine again for agreeing to be interviewed, and to wish her all the best as she continues to report on midlands football this season.

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18 Responses to “Interview with Janine Self”

  • Poppa999 says:

    Nice one Aljamir. “Give up the day job!” ;-)

  • bluenose08 says:

    Good story interesting about robbie savage. Think janine should investigate our chinese owners and how they passed the fit and proper test to take over our club.

  • Cleggy says:

    Enjoyed that.

  • bluesbot says:

    excellent article and a great insight into the press aswell as the infamous Savage transfer saga, nice one al’

  • bluehag says:

    Good questions, interesting interview al. Personally I don’t feel she’s any different from the rest of the national press or the villa mail (with the exception of the totally inept neil moxley from the daily mail who wins the bluehag award for most clueless anti blues dick head reporter of the decade) I remember when yeung bought blues and janine self wrote an article basically saying we were a shit club with a limited fan base and why would he even think about buying us. I’ve got a long memory so like the rest of the anti blues journo’s (which is the majority) she can do one.

    • almajir says:

      Neil Moxley is actually a Blues fan. I know this for a fact.

    • Janine Self says:

      Bluehag – I nearly brought that up as an example of why fans jump on journalists! It is a fact that Carson Yeung paid too much for Blues. It is a fact that you are a club with a limited fan base. You and dozens of other clubs in the country. Doesn’t make you any less lovable., doesn’t mean you are any less of a club.
      Zoolog – all I can say is that if you tasted my cooking you would never, ever suggest I head back to the kitchen. Guessing you don’t support Birmingham City Ladies either, then? xx

  • soothsayer says:

    Says it all really that there is an anti Blues bias in the London based press. Interesting that Janine admitting to lifting stories from the Birmingham Mail and twirling stuff. decent read all the same

  • chris says:

    looking into yeung and his cronies means you need to be a good journo so it won’t happen because there aren’t that many around.
    reading owner Madejski turned down yeungs approaches about 2005 i believe so why didn’t journo’s and prem league investigate professionally into his past and why reading turned him away

  • Letsby Avenue says:

    Thanks Aljamir.

    Most especially thanks to Janine.

    That has got to be the most honest account from a sports reporter I have ever read, about themselves and their own values through their work.
    Nearest I can come to a similar, honest and straightforward account is Henry Winter in the Telegraph a good few years ago.

    Lovely account, anecdotal and not fence-sitting (bar favourite club :-) )

    Thanks to you both, and especially to my new hero – Janine.

  • almajir, i was on the radio wm fans forum panel with mr moxley but i’m 99 per cent sure he was there to represent the press. I will listen to it again and check but i’m pretty sure he talked about “you blues fans” not “us”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he’s “antiblues” but I don’t think he’s a blues fan at all…

  • zooolog says:

    Still applies a woman has no business playing talking .or writing about football, back to the kitchen sink girl

  • Dean Giblin says:

    Hi Janine
    I would like to get your take on the story Neil Moxley ran in the mail
    Would you consider yourself an investigative journo? Would you be prepared to did deeper and find out where all this money has disappeared to. I know you probably don’t hold much sway in to what footballers think but for Ben foster and Roger Johnson to come out and say ” the blues fans need some questions answered” there has got to be something seriously wrong don’t you agree? I can’t see how in less than 6months we go from being league cup winners, passing a financial uefa test! To where we are now. Also would like to get your opinion on supporters of teams creating a supporters’ trust as this is what a few of us blues fans have been organizing.

    • janine Self says:

      Hi Dean,
      I saw Mox’s piece and thought it was a good one. Funnily enough I was talking to a few people on Friday afternoon about where the money has gone and opinion varied. I think the current regime have definitely been taken for a ride in terms of wages, fees etc. Say what you like about Karren Brady but she squeezed every penny. Hleb must have cost a fortune, for instance. I was also staggered to learn that not all the players had relegation pay cuts written into their contracts. So I’d say some of the money has gone because of a lack of knowledge and understanding of business practice in football. However, there is still a major shortfall. To investigate it, I would have to be able to go through the books and follow the paper trail and it’s something I wouldn’t know how to do. I’m a sports reporter and I struggle to do my own tax returns. You only have to compare Blues with Baggies to see how a club can do the yo-yoing and come out of it very much richer. David Conn of the Guardian is excellent at looking at these things – maybe you should lobby him. Sorry if that’s not the answer you were looking for. – J

  • […] Moxley Interview After the success of the Janine Self interview, I’m very proud to publish another interview with another top class journalist […]

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