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The Curious case of a Football Blogger versus the Old Guard

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Five years ago I kicked off Scotzine after creating it as part of a college project, and since then many a day and night have seen articles being published on Scottish Football. The followers have grown from around ten or twenty to at least 5,000 day by day and that is a welcome reward for all the hard work that has been put into the site by not only myself but also our contributors.

Talking about the contributors for this site – several contribute to mainstream media regularly, while others have been writing articles for the site alongside studying journalism at college or university. Those experienced and student journalists contribute along with those of us that have been deemed by some in the mainstream media as ‘fans with laptops’ aka football bloggers – with many of us taking proud of the tag football blogger.

Last season I was given access by many Scottish Football clubs to cover matches, as well as gain access to post-match press conferences. This allowed me to gain access to several league and cup games throughout the season, a number of Scotland games, the League Cup Final and both Scottish Cup Semi Final games also.

However this came to an abrupt end when I tried to obtain accreditation for the Scottish Cup Final. I was informed by the powers that be that a complaint had been sent to the SFA about my attendance within the media given that I was not officially accredited. There was also another issue with several comments which I made on my twitter page – which was described as more of a fan’s twitter page than a publications. I have no problem with that latter comment at all, I can safely say that some of the things that I have said on my twitter page have been far from being that if a publication, but 99.9% of the time it has been football-related. However this is where things get decidedly vindictive, as I was informed that access was being refused because I had been abusive towards one Graham Speirs. I categorically denied this allegation and asked them to corroborate this alleged abuse with Graham Speirs himself.

In fact I contacted Graham myself on the 10th May via email for him to corroborate my side of the case, in which that I had never abused him either in person nor online. Just over an hour later Graham replied:

“Hi Andy, I am totally unaware of any attack – or jibe! – you have made against me. So I hope you can get this sorted out.”

So while I had the backing of said ‘victim’, when this was forwarded onto the SFA along with my disdain at a journalist blatantly lying to help force this blogger out I never heard anything else until I sent in official complaints directed not at the SFA, but of the media ‘person’ in question who will continue to gain access to said games, despite being proved a liar.

One said official complaint was sent to SFA Chief Executive Stewart Regan, which resulted in myself being chastised somewhat by the SFA’s Head of Communications for sending said email complaint to Mr Regan. However I took that decision because of the lack of action in regards to the issue with the lie over abuse aimed at Graham Speirs. I cannot and will not publish said email correspondences between myself and the SFA Head of Communications due to it being a Private and Confidential response, however after discussions both on the phone and further email communication I was given the opinion that if I acted professionally both on the site and via social network, then I could be eligible for access once more.

Sadly, it is now apparent that no such access will be given in future – evidence – the failure to get access to even the Under-21 and Womens games, let alone the Scotland national side. Despite following the communique’s advice to the letter.

Again I do not have an issue with the SFA rejecting access to myself, due to my classification as a blogger and not official media, but I still take issue with the fact that one journalist’s word is taken as gospel merely because of who they are and who they work for. With such standing counting more than any proof or evidence – I always thought in Scotland you were innocent until proven guilty. Sadly when it comes to football bloggers and journalists, it is the journalists whose word is taken as gospel even if there is no proof whatsoever to back up their claims.

Since this summer I have been classed as not only a football blogger, but also a freelance journalist now due to several of my articles appearing in the Daily Record and the Scotsman. However one article that I wrote for this site was published 24 hours before two newspaper articles of similar subject matter. The freelancer who ‘wrote’ said articles sent ‘his’ work to the two red tops and who published them. Despite this exclusive being on my website, quite clearly and receiving thousands of hits on it, as well as through the Newsnow network, the Scottish Sun still claimed it as an EXCLUSIVE.

When I contacted both newspapers, the Daily Record quickly replied and apologised with the comment that they could not keep an eye on every website etc and that the real responsibly lay with the freelancer. The Scottish Sun however failed to reply at all, even when pulled up over their exclusive tag – which stands to do this day.

The Record thereafter advised me that if I had any exclusives or articles that they may be interested in, to send them in. I did this with an interview piece with Celtic midfielder Niall McGinn, which happened to be my very first article that I received a fee for. However I was far more proud to see it as the feature article within the newspaper.

Further to that McGinn article I exclusively broke news on my website that Celtic youngster Islam Feruz was ditching Parkhead for Stamford Bridge. This article was then sent in to a number of papers including The Scotsman who published the article on the 11th August. A mere two weeks later articles were published after comments from Celtic manager Neil Lennon that he had not seen Islam Feruz since the start of the season etc. and within these reports that the player could be on his way out of Celtic Park – despite it initially being rubbished by Chick Young – the same journalist who said that Craig Whyte would not buy Rangers FC, the same journalist who had a tete-a-tete with another OFFICIAL journalist live on air.

Jump to this Sunday and I settled down to cover an SPL game as the club in question had shown great faith in us over the course of two seasons to give us said access. After the match, the management team of both clubs conducted their interviews with a TV broadcaster, before being led into the media room by their respective club media officers. In the room both radio [one specific and high-profile one at least]and written press journalists gathered around those being asked the questions – where questions were asked by said assembled radio and newspaper journalists, as well as myself.

On the way home I heard the coverage of said radio interviews with the management/players I had been part of over the airwaves, and a few hours later spotted a dedicated piece on the Sky Sports Football website from comments made by Alan Thompson.

Somewhat naively I decided to upload and publish the full audio interviews of said pressers involving Alan Thompson, Danny Lennon etc including my own questions posed.

This is where the whole issue exploded. A number of journalists on Monday decided to take me to task for breaching the unwritten rule between broadcasters and journalists, that after the initial few questions posed by the broadcasters that the rest were to be embargoed until the dailies reported them the following morning. An unwritten rule that I knew nothing of, despite a few others throwing their two pence worth in stating that I should have known about it or asked.

I was given not only friendly advice from some journalists, but others in my opinion went for the jugular over a genuine honest mistake. Sadly this allowed the vultures to strike and strike they did. Reporting me to the Scottish Football Writers Association, who in turn emailed clubs. Two clubs to date – on top of the SFA – have now came out and declared that I will no longer be obtaining access. The other SPL clubs were already out-of-bounds to websites due to their instance that only Official Club websites/media would be gaining access.

Again I do not blame the clubs for taking such a stance, however once more it was a case of taking one or two peoples complaint as gospel without getting the other side of the story. At least when contacted the individuals at said clubs had the decency to talk to me in a professional and polite manner.

The same cannot be said for those journalists who ran to ‘teacher’ to tell-tale, as well as adding one or two wee comments on top of an honest mistake, like the notion that I failed to ask any question at all. The same journalists who claimed this were nowhere in attendance at said game at all, so again where is the proof that I did not ask any questions? I have the full audio files to back up my claims what do they have? Again the bloggers evidence counts for nothing when the ‘Gospel of the Hack’ speaks.

On this ‘unwritten rule’ I was questioned or the word should be criticised, for not asking journalists around me who were busy doing their jobs, on how to do the job. I have had previous discussions with mainstream journalists via email, phone and through twitter on many an occasion on the job itself, the way to act, what to do and what not to do. At no time did any hint of an unwritten rule or protocol was ever brought up – not that I am blaming those who were giving me advice or answering my questions.

However given that such a protocol aka unwritten rule is in existence, why then did the Sky Sports Football website publish the exact quotes from the same interview that I was in attendance at that night BEFORE I published the audio. The same quotes that were supposedly to be embargoed until the dailies reported them the next morning. I guess it is far easier to take on a football blogger who innocently and somewhat naively broke the unwritten rule, rather than a massive company like Sky Sports – I wonder if said critics of this football blogger had reported Sky Sports to the Scottish Football Writers Association and subsequently the clubs, like they had done with myself. Was their ‘report’ an honest mistake?

After further conversations with journalists including one from the Scottish Sun, who was advising me rather than criticising or vindictively attacking me, I eventually calmed down and walked away from the computer last night late on. Before replying to one club who had emailed me last night also to put forward my side of the story.

However this afternoon I received an email from said enraged journalist. The enraged journalist informed me of who exactly reported my honest mistake to the clubs, although they failed to mention that it was a genuine honest mistake, merely saying that I broke protocol.

He also stated: “You find yourself in this situation because people have taken issue with embargoed quotes being used before they should have. Now, that might not seem like the biggest crime in the world considering this is a hobby of yours, but for people who actually do this to put food on the table, it’s simply unacceptable.”

The phrase hobby is telling. This journalist states that this is a mere hobby of mine. Five years of daily working on it, with the only break being the odd times when the site was transferred over to a different server, or when I went on honeymoon – even then I had the help of someone who updated the site through that period covering the World Cup – which I was greatly appreciative of. This hobby of mine has led me to writing freelance for a number of publications and secure further paid freelance work with a football website. Likewise given the inroads that I had taken within the ‘industry’ I took the decision in May to apply to a Journalism course which on the work that I produced for the site gained me an unconditional offer. So for me this was far more than just a hobby it was certainly a job in itself on top of my own full time job.

He continued: “I also take issue with the claim you were abused. If you’re referring to my tweets yesterday, then I’m sorry mate, you need to get yourself some balls. At no point was I out of order or abusive towards you. I simply told you how it was.”

Yes, you did certainly tell me how it was in fact, you stated that I would not be allowed to do it again. And we all know what you did next don’t we? The kid running home grabbing the ball in the huff springs to mind. One of your colleagues from the same newspaper gave me advice, you certainly didn’t. It is even more laughable that you attack me for not having original work on my site – when despite our articles being sourced from websites, newspapers etc we clearly state this time and again.

A comment that was clearly jumped on by a graduate journalist who is now being paid by a University in Scotland, who labelled me a copy and paste merchant. That is a bit rich coming from an individual who has done a Journalism degree, who also conducted an act of thievery at the start of his ‘website’ by trying to use the Scotzine fanzine’s name of The 12th Man for his new publication, a year AFTER we had produced three issues of the same name. Highly professional to say the least even more so when you stated that you knew of the publication at Christmas time and two months before your own publication was published. You still went ahead and published said first issue with the name of The 12th Man, then changed it to The Away End the following month.

I especially liked the excuse that was used by one of his groupies that one of the people who ran the magazine/site had the permission of the right holders, that right holder being a member of their family. The quote in full was: “It IS copyrighted in the UK by a cricket club, and the guy who owns the copyright is related to one of the editors of our magazine which is where they actually got the permission to use the name from, however they have changed to The Away End as a compromise to scotzine even though legally they were allowed to use the name.”

When I looked into this copyright comment it certainly threw up some interesting facts. According to the UK trademark database the trademark used to belong to:

England and Wales Cricket Board Limited, Lord’s Cricket Ground, London, NW8 8QZ

The Cricket equivalent to the English FA. I am still waiting on the said name of the person who owned the copyright – since the copyright is no longer held by said Cricket Board nor anyone else in the UK, and I am still waiting on said member of the editorial team to announce that he is related to someone with the Cricket Board, and right holder.

It is certainly laughable that the usual suspects smelling easy prey pounce. Sadly when they pounce they fail to remember the comments they and their cohorts have made. This same graduate journalist is a frequent user of said sectarian word ‘hun’ when referring to Rangers supporters not to mention a few choice words that cannot be reproduced on here about Celtic fans – except for the use of ‘fenian’. How do I know this? Well by mere coincidence I worked alongside someone in my full-time job who helped him write for an Aberdeen FC fanzine. So it is interesting to note that a brand new addition to the Scottish Football journalism fraternity peddles bigotry towards both Rangers fans and Celtic fans.

After being sidetracked by said graduate journalist, I return to said enraged journalist. Who further added that: “You say you’ve worked on the website and covered games for five years. How is it then you had absolutely no concept about how a post-match press conference works? How is it you had no understanding of the protocols that every reporter follows at every game?”

Again case in point the Sky Sports Football article I linked to earlier in this piece – says it all really. But in answer to your question in those five years and in dealing with clubs specifically in the past two, not once has anyone stated or informed of protocols or embargoes – unless it has been a press release coming through my email system – which I have always adhered too, and if knew of said protocols at press conferences, I would have adhered too also, but said enraged journalist and his cohorts did not give me said chance – why? Well several comments on my twitter page thereafter from bloggers, journalists and fans alike state – they are running scared – but why? In regards to numbers I don’t even get 10% of the readership that said big business newspapers get.

However despite my comments that it was a genuine mistake, this enraged journalist claimed different, yet once again he was nowhere to be seen at the post-match press conferences nor knows me at all either. He said: “Might I venture a guess you’re simply at it and knew exactly what you were doing pinching quotes? I reckon that’s closer to the truth.”

He ended his email with the subject header “Let’s set the record straight……” with the comments: “I’m all for new media. The landscape we operate in is changing. News is 24/7 and that’s fine. What isn’t changing is the respect journalists show each other. It’s the only way we get this job done, even if we are rivals. It’s also why you’ve cut your own throat in this instance. I don’t want to see anyone done out of the chance to try and forge a career for themselves in this industry. But your attitude in pointing the finger when you should be taking a look at what you’ve done stinks.”

While I freely admitted that I made a genuine mistake and removed said offending material soon after, his respect for journalists certainly did not extend to me at all if there was any respect then he would have certainly followed some of his colleagues who had a wee quiet word with me via Direct Message on Twitter or by email. Certainly I did not cut my own throat, I made ONE genuine mistake and I bet EVERY journalist working in the industry at this moment can say the same thing, and if any states that they have never made any mistakes then they are liars.

His final statement that he ‘did not want to see anyone done out of the chance to try and forge a career for themselves in this industry’ certainly makes a mockery of what was said earlier then does it not? Because it has already seen me banned from several clubs specifically, and I expect more to follow suit as soon as I try to gain access.

Certainly I freely admitted that I was wrong after being told of said ‘unwritten rule’ but does that give these so-called professionals the right to ruin five years of hard work, burn the bridges that I built with clubs and official bodies in a single email and fail to take that someone can make an honest mistake within the football reporting industry.

But at least all the goings on had one Brand journalist was amused at the discussions going on via twitter etc. He was amused enough to write a blog post on the matter. He did make a telling statement within his post however:

“Sports journalism is one of those rarified environments, full of old connections and friendships, and full of nods, winks, and relationships which could charitably be described as ‘cosy’ – all the sort of things nu-media advocates and the Twitterati traditionally rail against.”

Yet the number of sports blogs moving into the realms of ‘legit’ accredited coverage of games has meant writers who in the past would have been scribing for fanzines and writing rants for a small coterie of like-minded individuals now having the platform – and access – to report on matches opposite their inky brethren.”

And he ended with: “In Scotland, football is king – which means papers and TV networks’ coverage of it will remain the dominant platform.”

“As sports writers increasingly embrace the web, attitudes will change. But as with much of the mainstream media’s approach to digital, it’s an evolutionary process.”

“But as for Muirhead’s spat with the rest of the industry – it will be interesting to see what, if any, support he gets going forward. Scottish football may be a goldfish bowl, but the goldfish have very long memories.”

Napoleon Bonaparte had his Old Guard, Scottish Football has its Old Guard also, however while Napoleon’s guard welcomed in those ranks who gained veteran status after years of experience, Scottish Football’s Old Guard act more like East German Stasi, even those who instigated the policy of Apartheid in South Africa.

In the coming years, I fully expect football bloggers to gain access to clubs, something which will stick in the throats of the old guard of the written press. But there will certainly be signs up with ‘Written Press’ and ‘Bloggers’ in sections of the media room. Just like the buses in America with ‘Coloureds’ at the back and ‘Whites’ at the front.

As a footnote, I have to add that the majority of journalists that I have talked too have been professional, polite and more than willing to give out advice to aspiring journalists and football bloggers. Sadly for every one of them you get one or two of the Old Guard, within the written press who look down their noses at you as if you are something they have just stepped in.

If they wish to fight dirty, then two can play at that game….

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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