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Playing the game (Confessions of a football journalist)

Playing the game (Confessions of a football journalist)
By Colin Mitchell

Life as a football journalist is total glamour, yes? You get to meet top stars, watch brilliant games, down a few beers, write about the beautiful game and earn a footballer-type salary.
That might be the dream. The reality can be a whole lot different!
My first memories as a football journalist involve travelling on the coach with a non-league side to places I had never heard of, with pitches that looked better than some ski slopes.
There were no mobile phones those days, you usually had to fight, beg or borrow a landline from a local reporter. Or, more likely, when you were reporting for local radio like me, goals involved a sprint out of the ground to find the nearest call box, hope it wasn't damaged and that the operator answered to transfer the charges (it took far too much cash to feed the payphone).
Mind you it was fun, I kept fit and the memories are always good to raise a smile.
Progress to the professional game often - but not always - meant you got your own dedicated phone line at the ground. Mind you at Wimbledon's old Plough Lane it usually meant you had to climb over someone in what was a goldfish bowl of a press box.
You don't get to pick which games you see: you get told. Of course you could always get a plum job like Newcastle v Barcelona at the Camp Nou for a Champions League clash.
Like me, you could get there and find 24 hours of torrential rain have washed out the fixture, you can't get a reasonably priced flight back the next day and have to fly home as planned and miss the game.
Even worse, over-zealous stewards won't even let you have a look inside the famous ground!
I won't deny that meeting and interviewing some stars can be fun. But you wouldn't be smiling if you drove all the way from London to Leeds and then got a call to say the player now doesn't fancy being interviewed (something about his wife having broken a heel…on her shoes, I think).
Or you could always line up an interview with a promising young England star who offers to see you outside…purely for asking how you thought his club team would do the next season. Never did quite figure out that one, but I decided never to see him again.
There are the fun times too, like sharing a laugh with Michael Owen over why there's a cut on my head and blood running down my face (I'd run into a wall trying to direct a youngster to the nearest loos).
Or chatting to Sir Bobby Robson in a deserted TV studio, handed over to you for the interview. The man was every bit the legend you have ever heard about!
I left the building with him and he asked to be excused for a minute. He went over to two quite nice looking girls outside the studio who were having a cigarette break and told them it wasn't good for their health. No one else would have got away with that and got a smile.
And I won't name the top midfielder who almost gave his agent a heart attack by threatening to ride naked on a bike in Amsterdam, purely because he was bored.
You work all sorts of hours, the money is nowhere near what even a half-decent footballer now earns, there are many disappointments but you know what…I wouldn't have changed anything in my career.

Colin Mitchell began life working for local newspapers and reporting on football for BBC local radio. He also worked for national radio and a number of magazines before becoming editor of Shoot in 2000. Check out "Shoot Magazine" where you can also find out about the digital version of the magazine.