AS a sports journalist, I tend to judge the significance of what I do by how much verbal (and virtual) abuse I get from the public. The more abuse I get, the clearer it is that what I’m writing or talking about matters to people.
There is, of course, another way of interpreting those high levels of abuse. But let’s not go there.
A few years ago, I worked – among other jobs – as a commentator and reporter for Silk FM, a radio station in Macclesfield. My role was to travel round the country for Macclesfield Town matches, try to convince various car park attendants and ticket office managers that I was who I said I was, find somewhere in the stand within 200 yards of my seat to plug in my radio equipment, pray that said equipment actually worked, and then attempt to commentate over any excitable children who decided to run up to the press box and shout “Come on, Mansfield” into my microphone. (Admittedly, the last one only happened at Field Mill. But it was still bloody annoying.)
One Tuesday night, I was covering a game between Macclesfield and Cambridge at the Moss Rose. I’d managed to plug everything in, and it all worked, meaning that I had a good hour to write the script for my preview.
Just as I was settling down to start my preparation, an elderly chap, who looked rather uncertain on his feet, hobbled up to the press box, which is at the top of the main stand. It was a major physical effort for him to get up there.
When he finally reached the press box, he shuffled over to me, and said: “Are you the man from Silk FM?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I just wanted to say, I thought your commentary at Yeovil on Saturday was terrible.”
“It was terrible. Absolutely terrible.”
“OK. Thank you.”
“All I wanted to know during the game was where the ball was, and you just kept waffling on about this, that and the other.”
“OK. Thanks for your comments.”
“You were going on about the Eurovision Song Contest at one point. I don’t want to know. I just want to know where the ball is.”
“OK. Thank you.”
“It was terrible.”
“Terrible, it was.”
And then, exhausted by his efforts, the man shuffled away, back down the steps to his seat in the main stand. In a way, I was touched that someone had gone to that much effort to tell me just how bad he thought I was. In another way, I wasn’t.
No piece of abuse I have received since has really matched up to that. Sure, someone once anonymously posted a message on another blog of mine which stated, without the asterisks, “ur a c**t”; and it’s arguable that such a statement does have its own minimalist charm. But the level of physical effort put into it doesn’t get near that of the elderly chap in the main stand at Macclesfield.
Nowadays, the only time I really get much in the way of abuse is during the few weeks of the year that I cover Manchester City for the Manchester Evening News, and most of that is online. It’s strange; because I do plenty of other writing for newspapers and magazines throughout the year, without so much as a peep of protest from anyone.
But there are some jobs, it seems, that stir some people’s emotions. The Silk FM job was one; the MEN City reporting role is another. And that can be very flattering. Because although it’s never nice to have someone tell me that they think I’m rubbish, I’m incredibly fortunate that anyone gives a stuff about what I do at all.
Oh, and I get to watch football matches for free.