Book Review: Confessions of a Football Reporter
Confessions of a Football Reporter
…another Biggs at Large
By Alan Biggs, Published by Vertical Editions,
August 2011, £12.99, ISBN: 9781904091516
In the second of three book reviews we should be publishing this week, we welcome back Ian Rands of A United View on Football. Ian was lucky enough recently to secure an interview with football journalist Alan Biggs – the BBC’s go-to guy for South Yorkshire football for many years. From my perspective, Biggs is comparable with the likes of Jimmy Armfield as a purveyor of a brand of warm spirited, genuinely interested reportage – a tradition that seems to be slowly in decline in the rush to provide greater levels of sensationalism. Here, Ian provides us with his thoughts on Biggs’ autobiographical account of his time in the game.
Alan Biggs may not be a familiar name, particularly to those of you outside of Yorkshire, but his voice will be well known to football fans across the country thanks to his football reports for Final Score and 5 Live. He has also written articles and reported for both the national press and The Football League Paper. His book tries to convey the life of a sports journalist and many of the scrapes he has managed to find himself in.
It has been a many and varied life Alan has led, from local newspaper tea-boy, to local cable TV, local radio, national papers and national radio and TV. For that reason he has shunned a chronological approach to his book, making it less an autobiography and more a collection of memories and reminiscences. As such it is a perfect book to dip in and out of, as you will still enjoy each chapter of linked stories, but not be worried about losing a narrative thread.
There is a heavy Yorkshire/Derbyshire focus to the stories, unsurprising given where he is based, however these take you back to a time of success and big personalities in Sheffield football. When managers such as Dave Bassett and Big Ron could always be guaranteed to provide good copy. Atkinson’s successor at Wednesday, Trevor Francis, provides the Foreword to the book, a great example of Alan’s journalistic standing with those he came into contact with.
In amongst the quirky stories and unusual occurrences which pepper the book, it is just as interesting reading of the different approaches he took with each managerial ego and personality, just to ensure he got the story. All the while he is trying to ensure that he maintained a good working relationship that would lead to further copy in the future. Fascinating insights into the mind of a journalist, but also into the mind of leading football figures.
When referring to those high profile names his tone appears quite reverential, yet Biggs also explains how he was unafraid to ruffle feathers to get his story (sometimes with subsequent regret). Being a good journalist is not always a popularity contest with your subject matter. With managers letting fly; “I am f***ing furious with you” and once, caught up in a dispute between player, journalist and manager, being told “One of you is f***ing lying!”.
His work at the BBC has placed him at some of the more unusual football happenings of recent seasons; be it the phantom beach ball goal at Sunderland, Phil Brown’s on-pitch half time team-talk or the Di Canio/Alcock incident. Each event is recounted, along with amusing and lesser known incidents, with the great storytelling style you would expect from an experienced writer. They certainly give a glimpse of the perils facing a journalist when reporting such events live to the nation.
One of the most interesting stories centres around the aftermath of the infamous “Battle of Bramall Lane” between Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion, which saw the match abandoned after sending offs and injuries left the Blades unable to field more than 6 players. Alan’s reporting skills and his eye for an angle provided, not only an exclusive for his paper, but also greater clarity regarding the actions of one of the key protagonists, at a time when post-match accusations of wrong-doing were being cast around. It also highlights that for every individual you support; there is always another who feels unsupported. Thankfully, for Alan, none of this frustration seems to linger long.
Although football is at the forefront of the book, there are also anecdotes featuring some of the famous names from the world of snooker and cricket, where Alan has dabbled, and also Netball where Alan commentated in the early days of Sky’s coverage. A whole new ball game indeed. His snooker tales unsurprisingly come from the sport’s heyday and the Crucible Theatre and one story shows that commercial radio and a defining sporting event are not necessarily a good combination.
By the end of the book you sense the difficult path Alan and his freelance colleagues walk these days, as cutbacks in both broadcast and print media impact upon a freelance journalist’s opportunities. The industry contracting, seemingly week by week. With an appetite still to be quenched and a genuine love of the game, as a reader you hope that he continues to be given the opportunity to do what he loves and maybe bring out an updated version of this book down the line.