The untimely death of Brian Woolnough, aged just 63, of bowel cancer got me thinking about the whole changing nature of football journalism in this country. Woolnough was a doyen of the old school when the press pack seemed to be much more important than it is today.
Of course a lot of that is to do with the how much football is available to view these days. A serious fan of a major club would not have too much difficulty in seeing the full 90 minutes of every game his team plays via a combination of television, internet streams and live attendance. On top of that games, highlights and goals from other teams, leagues and countries are widely available.
The position of privilege that journalists like Woolnough once had of attending games and then offering their pronouncements on something only a few had witnessed has completely dissipated. Everyone who wants to can see more or less everything they want to and Twitter and texts from friends will take care of the rest.
Of course it is always better to watch a football match at the ground itself but nobody needs a factual account of what happened any more. In fact the only reason I can think of to read a traditional match report these days would be a type of game to determine whether the journalist in question is sane, biased or a drunkard.
This change has brought about a new kind of football journalism which is mainly based around things that may not be instantly visible, e.g. tactics and statistics. I will offer my opinion on this at a later date.
For a while the position of power held by football journalists persisted mainly due to the access they had to people within the game but this too is on the wane. All clubs have media departments and websites now on which they can distribute their own news and if you really need to know every inane thought that a footballer has then there is always Twitter.
So what is football journalism all about these days? To me it is a cross between being a not-very-good pundit (and god knows there are armies of people on television, radio and blogs also offering their not-very-good opinions on football) and being a celebrity gossip columnist. Why is Cristiano Ronaldo sad? How much money does Theo Walcott want? How much weight has Wayne Rooney put on and what diet should he go on?
Of course there are exceptions to this but increasingly few it seems. It is all a long way down from when the likes of Brian Woolnough and the terrifying Jeff Powell ruled the roost. Powell applies his florid vitriol to boxing these days which might be indicative of the status of football journalism now.
The Sunday Supplement was a guilty pleasure of mine and whilst I disagreed with almost everything Brian Woolnough ever said, he still seemed to care more about the game itself than the peripherals around it and for that he will be missed.
by Nilesh Bhagat