The special relationship: how football and the media have grown together

  • New book studies a history of mutually beneficial co-existence
  • What football owes to Sky and Sky owes to football
  • How one of game's great traditions came about to suit the press
  • Why women's game should feel let down by football and the media

As Sky were committing themselves to paying £4.2 billion as their share of the latest record-breaking deal to show the Premier League, for every armchair football fan relishing the prospect of even more world-class players flooding to these shores for their entertainment, there were others wondering how much more perversion of the game's traditions might result from television's ever-tightening grip.
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Yet, as Roger Domeneghetti reveals in his fascinating new book, From the Back Page to the Front Room, football has been bowing to the wishes of the media since the century before last.

Take the 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off, possibly the most cherished of all the traditions, the tinkering with which has been the subject of endless gripes since the first satellite dish appeared on a south-facing UK wall in 1989.

That tradition, believe it or not, began at the behest of the media, when evening newspaper editors in the 1880s lobbied for a uniform 3pm kick-off time to aid the production of their booming Saturday night Football Specials.

From the Back Page to the Front Room is a history of football and the media that explains that while at times their relationship has been turbulent it has for the most part been mutually beneficial almost since the game began.

Speaking to The Sports Bookshelf, Domeneghetti said that the bidding wars that attract such interest when TV rights are up for grabs are, in fact, nothing new.

"You could think this was a new phenomenon but it happened initially with radio and then with the cinema newsreels," he said. "The newsreel companies fought for the rights for football just the same.  Obviously the sums involved were a lot less, but the companies nonetheless saw football as something of value to fight over.

  • Buy From the Back Page to the Front Room from Amazon

"From the beginnings of the media industry, sport has been seen as a way of selling content and a way of selling technology.  It was all very well inventing a radio, for example, but you needed something on the radio to listen to.

"Radio, TV and newspapers have all found a lot of success on the back of sport in general but through football in particular.

"And it has been a mutually conducive relationship. Just as football was important to newspapers in selling their Saturday night editions, so newspapers were important to football in those initial years of the Football League as a means of communicating and promoting the game.

"It has always been a relationship to benefit both parties. I'm not sure Rupert Murdoch's success would have happened on the scale it has if he had not won the football rights.   Likewise the money Sky gave to football was vitally important in kicking on from the low point of the 1980s and post-Hillsborough to become the very different and much more modern entertainment product it is today."
Football drove satellite TV boom

Domeneghetti, a journalist since the 1990s and currently North-East football correspondent for the Morning Star, set about writing From the Back Page to the Front Room largely because it was the kind of book he would have been keen to read had it existed already.

"It occurred to me that while there were a lot of histories of the media, such as the Andrew Marr book My Trade, a lot of books about the history of football and also some books about sports media, there wasn't a book that looked at the relationship between football and the media," he said.

"Yet sport has played a key part in the development of all media -- newspapers, radio, television, satellite television and now the internet.  It was the kind of book I wanted to read, so I thought I'd try to write it myself."

Domeneghetti combines his football writing with lecturing in journalism and the sociology of sport and his interest in football's influence on society as well as its position in the media industry shines through in the text.   The depth in which he explores each part of the story makes the reader's experience a little like being escorted through a museum of football and media history with a personal guide ready to provide extra background information to go with every exhibit, or to put it into the context of the day.  Interviews with prominent figures in both the game and the media industry, including Greg Dyke, Henry Winter, Jacqui Oatley, Jonathan Wilson and Hope Powell, further enhance the tour.

There is so much detail, in fact, that it is hard to imagine that anyone, no matter how deeply involved with the football media industry, could fail to learn something new.  Little wonder that one reviewer suggested it should be adopted as a definitive textbook for media students, and not just those with an interest in sport.

"I wanted to produce a book that non-academic people could read and enjoy and get something from and that academic people could look at and recognise as well researched and could add something to the subject," Domeneghetti said.
Author Nick Hornby

As well as charting the relationship between football and newspapers in the past and with radio and television in the modern era, the author looks at such diverse areas of the media as the fanzine explosion and the men's magazine market.  There is even a chapter on football comics.

Football literature and the influence of Nick Hornby's groundbreaking Fever Pitch comes under the microscope in a chapter on the changing nature of books about the game, in which Domeneghetti asks why it took so long for the intelligent analysis with which we are so familiar now to find willing publishers.  The answer to that question comes broadly within the spectrum of social change, in which football and football coverage by the media, the author argues, has had a key role.

Fever Pitch changed the books market, and to a certain extent even the perception of football across English society, in the way that it allowed middle class fans, largely ignored previously as the media remained wedded to the notion that football was a working class pursuit, to acquire some ownership rights of their own by opening the way to intelligent discussion of the game across a whole range of publications that might once have seen football as too trivial to be worthy of their attention.

Domeneghetti argues that, far from being trivial, football has been and will continue to be hugely important to the British culture and that of all the nations in which it is played. Much can be learned about a country, he says, from the way its media covers football and sport in general.

"If you want to understand a country there is probably no better way than looking at its coverage of sport," he said. "It will tell you how strong is that country's sense of nationalism, what its attitudes are to race, to women, to homosexuality, all manner of things, through the prism of football.  Not many other things can you do that with, I would have thought."
Media starved women's football of publicity

Nowhere is this theory more strongly supported than in the book's chapter on women in football, which demonstrates how prevailing attitudes towards women across society are reflected in and perhaps magnified by football, from the Football Association's effective banning of organised women's football soon after World War I -- in spite of, or perhaps because of its enormous popularity while the country's menfolk were otherwise engaged -- to the barriers faced by female football journalists and broadcasters.

Liberally sprinkled with footnotes, and with a comprehensive bibliography and a well-organised index, From the Back Page to the Front Room has the feel of an academic textbook.  Yet Domeneghetti's style is light and accessible and quite apart from anything else it is a good read.

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New biography aims to give former Everton and Sheffield Wednesday manager Harry Catterick overdue recognition

  • Goodison Park legend lived in shadow of Merseyside rival Bill Shankly
  • Top-flight record better than Bill Nicholson, Matt Busby and Don Revie
  • Author granted exclusive access to lost manuscript

After the headlines that accompanied Roy Keane's autobiography and the debate that followed Matt Dickinson's unvarnished appraisal of the life of Bobby Moore, the long-overdue biography of Harry Catterick that appeared in 2014 may have gone unnoticed by many football fans.

That it did will not have surprised Catterick's admirers. Catterick, the manager of Everton during the first of their two golden eras in the second half of the 20th century, can almost be regarded as one of football's forgotten greats.

In the game's history, the managerial giants of Catterick's era  tend to be remembered as Bill Nicholson of Tottenham, Matt Busby of Manchester United, latterly Don Revie at Leeds and, of course, Catterick's rival from across Stanley Park, Bill Shankly.

Yet during the 1960s, when he led Sheffield Wednesday to second place in the First Division (behind Nicholson's Spurs) and then guided Everton to two League titles, no manager won more points in the top flight than Catterick. He also led Everton to success in the 1966 FA Cup final against Wednesday.

Rob Sawyer, who was born just as Everton were about to win the 1969-70 First Division championship, seeks to set the record straight and give Catterick greater recognition in a well-researched life story. Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great coincides with the 30th anniversary of Catterick's premature death from a heart attack, aged only 65.

The author draws on many insightful interviews and, fascinatingly, a manuscript Catterick began to write in 1963, after his first Everton title, when he had the idea of penning an autobiography not as some exercise in vanity but because he wanted there to be a record of his life. His idea was that it would be published only after his death. It never was but the manuscript remained in the family and Sawyer has been able to reproduce many extracts from it.

In the eyes of some people, as Sawyer writes in his introduction, Catterick could be demanding and ruthless, secretive and introverted; to others he was an erudite visionary, sometimes surprisingly kind and thoughtful.  He was a man of whom opinions varied widely.

Yet it  was the way he was perceived by the media, inevitably, that determined many assessments of his character, and probably explains why Catterick's career attracted only muted acclaim.

Whereas others revelled in having the press hanging on their every word, Catterick disliked being in the spotlight to the extent that, when television began to take a serious interest in the game and the BBC launched Match of the Day in 1964, he wanted their cameras banned, at least from Goodison Park.
Former Everton manager Harry Catterick

He distrusted most journalists, with whom he was often stand-offish and reluctant to open his door, and whom he would sometimes set out deliberately to mislead, as Sawyer relates in a story passed on by Mike Ellis, who covered the Merseyside beat for The Sun during the height of Catterick's reign.

Ellis recalls taking a phone call from Catterick as the transfer deadline approached in March 1967 and was somewhat surprised when the Everton manager offered him a scoop. 'Liverpool are going to sign Howard Kendall from Preston tomorrow,' Catterick said. 'Now you've got that on your own.'

Ellis wrote the story, under the headline 'Shankly swoops for Kendall' only to discover the following lunchtime, as he listened to his car radio, that the promising young half-back had joined Everton.
It was a coup for Catterick, and he wanted to make the most of it, eager for the world to think he had pipped Shankly to one of the country's hottest prospects. In truth, Catterick knew that Preston were unwilling to sell to Liverpool anyway, having already allowed Peter Thompson to move to Anfield.

It was therefore Ellis, not Shankly, who suffered the biggest embarrassment.  "I nearly crashed the car, I was furious," he said. "I drove straight to Bellefield (Everton's training ground) to have it out with 'Catt' and -- surprise, surprise -- he wasn't available."

The story is an indication, too, of Catterick's intense rivalry with Shankly, who would often mock Catterick's demeanour by referring to him as 'Happy Harry', an ironic nod to his seemingly permanent miserable expression, although in a passage in his own manuscript, Catterick insisted that their relationship was misrepresented. "We could never be pals as we were on opposite sides but there was never any animosity as such," he wrote.

Catterick's methods may have been unconventional, his attitude unapologetic, but his team, built around the 'Holy Trinity' of Kendall, Colin Harvey and Alan Ball, played with a wonderful combination of exhilarating skill and steely resolve. They were a great side in a glorious era and this book is a fitting tribute to their manager's achievement in leading them to such success.

Harry Catterick: The Untold Story of a Football Great, by Rob Sawyer, is published by De Coubertin Books.

Buy here from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

De Coubertin is a small publisher based in London yet with a special interest in Merseyside football.  Previous titles include autobiographies by Howard Kendall and Neville Southall, the comprehensively detailed Everton Encyclopedia and the similarly high quality Liverpool Encyclopedia.

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Neville Southall tells the story of his life in football

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Bobby Moore: New biography delves beyond the veneer of England's World Cup superhero

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