Book Review: From the Back Page to the Front Room
From the Back Page to the Front Room by Roger Domeneghetti
Published by Ockley Books
Our latest book review features yet another offering from the industrious Ockley Books, an enterprise that has left no stone unturned in producing quality offerings from the football blogging community. To review Roger Domeneghetti’s From the Back Page to the Front Room, we have called upon Ollie Wright aka @derbycountyblog on twitter to provide his thoughts while Ollie’s own excellent site devoted to the Rams can be accessed here and Roger himself can be followed at this link.
My tickets for this season’s Leeds United v Derby County game were on row AA – ringside, if you will. I would never take a front row seat by choice, but as it turned out, we were ideally positioned to witness an event which was far more widely discussed and will be remembered for much longer than the afternoon’s goals, or even the actual result.
Tight to the touchline directly in front of us, Leeds forward Adryan received the ball and turned away from the onrushing Johnny Russell. With the Rams 2-0 down and sulking, Russell pointlessly committed to a challenge he couldn’t win, arrived late and caught Adryan to concede a clear free kick.
So far, so unremarkable. Then, as Adryan went down, he twisted in mid-air, craning his neck to see where the ref was. He landed, then he rolled, twice, before, salmon-like, launching himself into the air, twisting and jack-knifing in a paroxysm of faux-anguish that went on and on, while the Derby fans formed a hellish Greek chorus of wrath in the background.
At full-time, I left Elland Road feeling pissed off with my team’s performance, but was soon cheered up by a few drinks with fans of both clubs. Later on, I sent a couple of texts about the dive and tweeted a comment, making a mental note to mention it to workmates on the Monday.
By that time, however, BBC Radio Derby’s Owen Bradley had tweeted a Vine of the incident. Replays confirmed it – so colossally laughable was Adryan’s simulation that people all over the world delighted in it – in other words, it went viral. I didn’t need to tell the Bolton fan at work about it, because he’d already seen it. He, like football fans of all nations, had already had the chance to marvel at the risible histrionics of the boy signed from Flamengo.
That evening, I watched the highlights package back on Derby’s official website and as Adryan performed his party piece, the camera cut to an angle facing the stand. There I was, in my hat and scarf, howling blue murder in the Brazilian’s direction – gesticulating, pointing and in all possible ways, expressing my displeasure.
In the earliest iteration of football broadcasting, as Roger Domeneghetti explains, highlights were screened in cinemas as part of newsreels and the producers were very keen to include the excitement of the crowd in the package. Along with capturing the action on the pitch itself, making supporter reaction central to the drama as it unfolded was box office gold – the people who flooded into cinemas were thrilled to get the chance to see themselves or their friends on the big screen.
Domeneghetti’s central thesis is that modern football is a creation of the media and totally indivisible from it. ‘Traditionalists’ who lament the death of the universal 3pm Saturday kick-off, for example, might not realise that this standard was in the first place introduced at the behest of the newspaper industry, who wanted to be able to print all of the day’s results in one evening “green ‘un”, or “pink ‘un”. The Football Special became huge business as a result. In other words, the 3pm ‘tradition’ was a media creation, tailored to line the pockets of the press tycoons of the day.
Just as today’s satellite TV broadcasters turn up their atmosphere mics, even though this inevitably means airing some rather fruity industrial language and chants, the football film pioneers decision to include the fans in the newsreels helped to reinforce their audience’s ‘emotional ownership’ of the game, as Domeneghetti dubs it. This sense that morally, the game belongs to the paying supporters, he adds, is ‘something that fans have clung to ever since, despite their lack of more concrete economic and political control’.
Manchester United fanzine Red Issue recently ceased publication, on the grounds that its authors no longer wish to participate in ‘the bullshit industry’ around the club. The death of the terrace culture that nourished them is what they’re talking about – the ‘economic cleansing’ of football. RI’s jokes about Man City fans hailing from the outskirts of Greater Manchester and north Derbyshire feel parochial and quaint in an era when both giant Manchester clubs are so proud of their multi-millions of global ‘followers’ – and when the Premier League is desperate to take them off to mega-stadiums in Asia, North America and anywhere else they can sell branded merchandise.
The loss of local ‘ownership’ and scrutiny of global brands such as United is certainly to be mourned – but then again, the birth and gradual growth of the fan-owned FC United of Manchester is a direct result of that process of alienation. The more things change, the more they stay the same. People still want to support their local team and if they’re priced out of the one they used to watch, or if it’s suddenly picked up and transplanted 100 miles down the road, then they can build – and even become part-owners – of their own.
Domeneghetti reflects on how the ‘inkies’ of Fleet Street and the local newsrooms are battling to remain relevant in the internet age. Arbitrary embargos to allow news to be ‘broken’ when a newspaper hits the stands first thing in the morning are mostly a thing of the past when anything can be leaked and tweeted in a flash – and think of the farce of the first editions not carrying the final result of a midweek cup game that went to extra time, when everybody who cares already knows what happened. News journalists therefore have to trade on the access they have to the clubs, their contacts and their ability to confirm or rubbish the reams of digital speculation appearing on the countless ‘clickbait’ websites. Consumer trust, local knowledge and relationships with the clubs are the regional papers’ shield from irrelevance.
By that token, consider what can happen if a local paper prints something that their club disapproves of. Plenty of journos have found themselves excommunicated for offending the Powers That Be and after all, why should a club go out of its way to help a newspaper when they can publish stories directly to their supporters whenever they want using their own channels, thus retaining total control of the message?
This leads on to a section about bloggers and fanzine writers, including an interview with @untypicalboro scribe Anthony Vickers. In trying to peer through the layers of happy-clappy PR obfuscation, we bloggers can be passionate, unfair, hilarious, judgmental, maybe even offensive at times – but it is the amateurs who follow the clubs more closely than anyone else over the years and because we are not dependent on towing a line in order to please a key contact, it’s the fans-as-journalists who can sometimes get closer to the truth than the club they love would like. The legendary Michael Cox v Owen Coyle story is one classic example of an ‘outsider’ pricking the football bubble and an interview with Cox is also included here.
From dispatch by carrier pigeon to newsreel to the 1980s tabloid ‘monstering’ culture to Ceefax to the present, reading a history of how the game has been portrayed and consumed gives a totally different perspective on football, the people who make a living out of watching it and the millions more worldwide who dream of doing so. ‘From the Back Page to the Front Room’ is an enjoyable ramble down some of the less travelled alleys of English football history, although I use the word ‘ramble’ advisedly. Some sections do fall into the curate’s egg category and a firmer editor might have improved the flow of Domeneghetti’s study with a few judicious cuts.
But that’s a minor gripe. This is an accessible, likeable canter through the tale of English football’s co-development with the media and demonstrates how the two have been inextricably linked ever since the dawn of professionalism.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. 100 years from now, our great-grandkids will be watching, consuming and reporting on the game in radically different ways than we do today. Salaries may crash and boom, individual clubs will sink and soar, kick-off times will become ever more fluid to suit TV, while camera angles will become ever more sophisticated. Referees might have to be given bionic implants to help them keep up with play and they will certainly depend ever more on the same technology that the media currently use to dissect their every mistake.
Everything around the game will change, but at the end of the day, Clive, it will still be a lot of hot air about 22 people chasing a bag of wind across a rectangle.
And it will be just as much of an unhealthy fascination for millions of us as it was 100 years ago – and our obsessive love will be exploited for commercial gain by the media just as vigorously as it is today and as it was in the days of Steve Bloomer.