In My Opinion: Frank Gilfeather: Football clubs and their media relations

GRAEME Croser’s article in last weekend’s Scottish Mail on Sunday highlights the difficulties many sportswriters face in trying to carry out their jobs.

For those who didn’t catch it, Graeme travelled 170 miles to Inverness to preview the Highland capital’s football club’s League Cup semi-final against Hearts, only to be told that no player would be offered for interview.

You can imagine how he felt and he was scathing in the article he wrote, following the experience.

Aside from the obvious ones – Alan Burrows at Motherwell FC and the communications chief at the Scottish Football Association, Darryl Broadfoot – media relations staff at too many football clubs see their task not to facilitate the needs of journalists but to place barriers in their way.

I swear, some seem even to take delight in doing so.

“This player or that,” they will say, “is not available to talk to the media.”

Or, “I know we’re opening a new club shop at which there will be players, but the media is not invited.”

Or, “You’ll get two minutes with the manager.” Even when the paper involved might have devoted¬†acres of space to the club over the years.

From my experience in covering football for a number of newspapers, I can only guess that these football club representatives believe they’re doing a good job by preventing access, an attitude which can only damage what has laughingly become known as ‘the product’.

Are they not aware that by engaging with us they will do what they’re paid to do, sell their game?

Let’s not mince words here: football clubs hate the media, and newspapers in particular. We are a pain to them. We take up too much of their time. Which is why they, or the people they employ to market them, will not try particularly hard to help us.

Attempt to do your job in the flurry of activity come 4.45pm on a Saturday and you’ll be told: “You need a player for the Sundays and one for the dailies? Er… sorry, we’ll give you one between you.”

Or, “Wait in the [frequently rain-lashed and usually bitterly cold] stand and we’ll bring the manager and players to you.” Amazingly, not every club, even in the top flight, has a Press Room.

I’m told my colleagues who are members of the Scottish Football Writers’ Association are compiling a survey covering the media relations of the SPFL clubs.

It should have been done years ago, though recognising the arrogance of some clubs and their media personnel, I’m not convinced what I expect to be a damning indictment will effect improvement.

When I suggested to one club director why the aforementioned Alan Burrows – at a different club to his – lifts the SFWA’s Best Media Relations award every year, he said, in all seriousness: “Is it because he gives the media coffee and bacon rolls at Motherwell’s press conferences?”

It is, of course, because Burrows sees the benefit of using the media to communicate the Motherwell message to supporters.

It’s time for the Press to fight back. But it has to be led from the top and backed by editors and sports editors.

If the helpful, proactive communications teams at Scottish Rugby, Glasgow Warrirors and Edinburgh Rugby, not to say those at theatres up and down the country, see the value of good relations with the media, why can’t the ‘ostriches’ of Scottish football?

Frank Gilfeather has been a print and broadcast journalist for more than 40 years and is a football correspondent for Sky Sports, The Times and The Herald, as well as many other newspapers.