The almighty revenge of the regional sub-editor
It’s a tough old life covering a Football League club for a regional newspaper. The grizzled local hack will have paid out of his own pocket to travel to South Africa, perhaps envious of Fleet Street’s finest lording it up with the England squad in the lap of luxury.
The early exit of Fabio Capello’s side may have been a blessing in disguise too. Our intrepid reporter had to be back on these shores for that opening pre-season friendly with Telford Washing Machines and would have had to tune into Clive Tyldesley and co for any unlikely English interest in the latter stages.
Of course, that never materialised and it is unlikely many regional newspaper football correspondents were in South Africa over the past few weeks anyway, even at their own expense. It is a job which never ceases, despite the summer break in league action.
For most, warm-up friendly coverage will consist of visiting a series of cramped press boxes at unglamorous non-league grounds. If you are lucky, though, you might get to go on a nice little pre-season jaunt overseas.
Such as Malta, perhaps? Sheffield Star journalist James Shield struck it lucky when Kevin Blackwell’s Sheffield United announced their annual preparation on the island, situated in the Mediterranean Sea between the southern coast of Sicily and northern Africa.
This was no jolly, though. This was serious business. With the Blades missing out on the play-offs in disappointing fashion at the end of last season, it was a great opportunity to get behind the scenes and gain insight into the mood of the squad ahead of the big kick-off.
Imagine Shield’s delight when he managed to glean some information about United manager Kevin Blackwell’s precise preparation and meticulous methods. Gold dust. The story practically wrote itself. It practically sent itself off via email back to the Star’s sports desk in Sheffield. It practically wrote its own headline when it got there.
But not quite.
You see, journalists can conjure Shakespearean prose on all manner of subjects (although this is not advised when writing about any pre-season friendlies, even in the glorious second tier of English football), but they remain at the mercy of the poor old sub-editor stuck back in the dreary old office. Because the sub-editors write the headlines. And thus, James Shield’s magnificent opus was entitled:
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it on the beach in Bugibba. Sub-editor 1 Journo 0.