RODDY Forsyth is the Scottish football correspondent for both BBC Radio five live and the Telegraph Group. He began his journalism career at DC Thomson, in 1972, and includes the short-lived Scottish Daily News and Sunday Standard newspapers on his CV, along with The Herald and other titles. He began at the BBC in 1986 and at the Telegraph Group in 1993.
He is also president of the Scottish Football Writers’ Association.
He submitted this on Wednesday, October 17.
What exactly is it you do?
I’m the Scottish football correspondent for BBC Radio Sport and the Telegraph Group.
What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?
Yesterday, I was covering the World Cup qualifier between Belgium and Scotland in Brussels.
Match day abroad is an odd affair if you are working, because the morning and afternoon are mostly quiet but the evening is fairly frenetic – in this instance, much more so than I had anticipated.
At the stadium, the first thing to do is make sure your communications are working. I checked the ISDN lines first – through to Radio 5 live in time for the 6.30pm sports desk and then to the main studio for Sport on Five, which was being hosted by Mark Pougatch from Warsaw, where England were due to play Poland. The producer wanted an early hit with team news and a two-way with [former Aberdeen FC captain, manager and director of football] Willie Miller, who was working with BBC Radio Scotland at the next desk.
Once that was arranged I turned to the Telegraph, who wanted a 700-word piece on a 9.45pm deadline – always tight if the game runs over – and teams and substitutes sent beforehand so they could do a display box.
This is when you pray that the Wi-Fi holds up, which it did, so we were in business.
To do these jobs at a night game demands two sets of concentration skills and experience is crucial.
The first alarm bells went off as Mark Pougatch and Alan Green began to express fears that heavy rain in Warsaw could threaten the England game – in a stadium with a retractable roof that had not been retracted. The match in Belgium got under way with the issue in Warsaw still unresolved, but by half-time it was clear that the England game would not go ahead.
Suddenly, there was a huge hole in the broadcast schedule. John Murray, Five Live’s reporter at the Croatia versus Wales match in Osijek was asked to fill in with commentary at a couple of minute’s notice. His game, though, was close to its end, so studio asked if I could do the second-half in Brussels.
This posed two immediate problems.
First, there was nobody available to act as expert summariser. Second, for the Telegraph, I had to do what we call a ‘runner’ – a match report delivered in segments so that the sub-editor doesn’t have too much copy to edit close to deadline.
Studio suggested that I punctuate the commentary with handovers to Simon Brotherton at the Portugal versus Northern Ireland match in Porto, which was the latest kick-off of the night.
Then I emailed the Telegraph to tell them I was on commentary duty but would file 400 words by half-time and 300 words of intro and end text within 15 minutes of the final whistle.
The trouble at half-time was that the game was goalless, which meant it could go either way – so the interim 400 words had to be story-neutral. Then it was on with the commentary.
Another problem – commentators spend a considerable amount of time beforehand memorising stats and personal details about players but there was no chance of that on this occasion.
However, most of the Belgian players are familiar figures and quite a few play in the English Premier League, so it was possible to get by without too much explanation of who they were.
And I could fill gaps by suggesting topics for discussion on the ‘606 Phone-in’ – the debacle in Warsaw, the racist taunts and fighting at England’s Under-21 game in Serbia and Wales’ latest defeat.
As it happened, Christian Benteke scored Belgium’s first goal during a handover to Simon in Porto but we were back in Brussels when Vincent Kompany scored the clincher three minutes later. That added another topic to the phone-in – who would succeed manager, Craig Levein?
The game finished and it was straight on to the laptop for a snap intro – “Three years of Craig Levein’s management were finished in the space of three minutes in Brussels” – plus an outline of the game, detail of the goals and the implications of defeat for the manager.
Time to pack up equipment and head for the Mixed Zone, where the interviews take place, to speak to [Scotland striker] Kenny Miller for the Sunday Telegraph then – two hours after the game – on to the media bus and off to Brussels airport to join players, coaching staff and officials for the flight back to Glasgow.
That wasn’t the end of the work, however.
The daily papers needed a hold-back story for Thursday publication and the Scottish FA wanted to avoid being plagued by phone calls, so it was agreed that Stewart Regan and Campbell Ogilvie – chief executive and president of the SFA respectively – would brief us in the baggage hall at Glasgow Airport.
Then, home at last, after six days on the road between Glasgow, Bristol, Cardiff and Brussels. But I couldn’t sleep, so I transcribed Regan’s quotes and sent them off to the guys from the other papers – Express, Herald, Mail, Scotsman, Sun, Record – who had been at the interview. Transcription is a chore but we take turns and share and, on hectic days, it makes life easier for everybody involved.
Time of despatch of quotes: 3.27am. Adrenalin still flowing. Bed at 4.15am. Up at 10.20am and 1,000 words filed to the Daily Telegraph about the Scottish FA and possible successors by 1.30 pm. Voice piece filed to the 5 live sports news desk.
Then this request from allmediascotland.
How different or similar was it to your average working day when you started in post?
Not much in substance but hugely in delivery. For radio abroad we used to rely on the host broadcaster to fix us up through a mutual exchange system, which didn’t always work – especially in the old Communist bloc. For papers you had to order a phone and dictate to a copy taker at home – if the phone had actually been installed and if the line was decent – again, Communist countries were a nightmare.
Wi-Fi is far from perfect but, when it works, it’s a Godsend. Communication is almost instant and you can keep up with events elsewhere that have a bearing on your own event.
How do you see the job evolving?
There will be fewer newspaper titles and fewer readers in ten years, but they’ll still be there.
Newspapers – and a broadcaster like the BBC – remain the most coherent and consistent newsgathering operations we have.
The internet dictates the speed of breaking news and papers have shed readers who probably never read all or most of the content before they had an alternative.
But walk into a good newsagent and count the sheer number of paper and magazine titles on display. The colossal loss of nerve that has paralysed some newspaper managements could have killed their publications – but they’re all still there, for the moment. Yes, the demographic for papers is on the older side, but that was always the case.
The other day, I saw a Lana Del Ray double album on sale for £30 – in vinyl. For that money, you also got a double CD, a code for downloading all the songs as MP3s and a handsome book of photos and lyrics. That’s a brilliant assembly of formats (including two that were supposed to have died years ago) and a splendid artefact to have and to hold. That’s my template for print publications – use every medium available to you to present your content at its most vibrant.
And the success of the MPs’ expenses story in the Telegraph showed why we still need the broadsheet format – the story would have been indigestible online.
What gives you most job satisfaction?
Getting it done under pressure. For example, see above.