When a top football manager apologises publicly for an inappropriate comment to a reporter it creates a bit of a stir.
When the reporter in question is a respected female journalist the ripples are even greater. The 24-hour sports/news media love an ISSUE as it gives us something to discuss beyond dodgy tackles and flat back fours.
Was Moyes being sexist when he said to Vicki Sparks that she might expect a slap if she asked similar questions again? When I heard the comments on the radio it sounded to me like it was a thinly veiled remark designed to warn her about her future questions, and yes, sexist in tone.
When I saw it on TV it came over as even more ‘out of order’, with him later referring to her as a ‘girl’.
He certainly wasn’t amused by her legitimate question about whether the presence of Sunderland owner Ellis Smart had put extra pressure on him while his club resides at the bottom of the Premier League.
Cue the radio phone-ins, the social media storm going into overdrive.
Plus ca change.
Thick and thin skins
Luckily the listening public of Merseyside, where I cut my broadcasting teeth back in the 80s and 90s, were seldom subjected to my attempts to interview the local football managers.
But I do know from others – all men – who do the football reporter job full-time, that you need to develop a pretty thick skin quickly to survive in an environment where quite often the person being interviewed does not want to be there and regards your presence as one of life’s necessary evils.
Some managers can be charming, aggressive and robotic within minutes and only face the media after the match because, well, it’s their job. They have to. Except when they take their ball home like Sir Alex Ferguson did to the BBC after a Panorama programme about his son greatly upset him.
Yet during my 20+ years as a manager at the BBC I occasionally heard news reporters and phone-in callers taking sports journalists to task for not giving X manager “a hard time”. “Why didn’t you ask him this? Why didn’t you ask him that?”
But unless you’ve been at the sharp end of a manager invading your space with the veins protruding from his neck as he stares into your eyes with a glare that would crush a walnut, hold off on your criticism – at least for some of the time.
You see quite a few can ‘dish it out’ but can’t ‘take it’.
I recall stories about the late BBC Radio Merseyside reporter Bob Azurdia being taken to task by Bill Shankly many moons ago in a very public place with other reporters present.
“I’ve been asked some stupid questions in my time”, said Shanks, with impeccable comic timing… “and they’ve all been asked by you, Bob Azurdia”. Ouch.
The following week it was all forgotten no doubt and some other poor bugger got the sharp end of the great man’s wit.
Shankly was a master of the quote – barbed or otherwise – but this was of course in the days long before 24/7 media or media consultants coaching clients on interview technique.
Shankly certainly didn’t need media coaching but some managers and players certainly do.
Media coaching, boss?
The point of coaching or teaching in any sphere surely is that a person has to want to learn to be coached before he or she can be helped to come up with strategies and techniques to avoid the kind of situation which David Moyes now finds himself in.
If The Boss can take constructive criticism, great. I wonder how many top managers fall into that category? Answers on a postage stamp please.
As if it wasn’t bad enough being bottom of the Premier League and his team favourites for relegation, Moyes is now being accused of making sexist, aggressive comments with at least one Fleet St journalist saying that he should be sacked.
Remember, he made a stupid remark and he apologised.
What I find strange is that although I imagine he always does his match preparation about the opposition team before Sunderland take to the field, a man of his experience and intelligence should also know to do his prep before the microphone charge immediately after a match.
And there’s not much time to do it – maybe a few minutes at most.
Indeed, it’s the time when you’re probably at your most wound-up – particularly if your team has just lost. You need a moment to try to think what you’re going to say and try not to lose your rag and appear to lose control and open yourself to accusations of bullying.
It’s easy when you’re winning and people aren’t calling for you to lose your job.
You can teach people this stuff – providing they want to learn and they trust you.
If they take it on board the chances of such media cock-ups are reduced but not eradicated.
Because we all screw up badly some times – reporters and managers.
Mick Ord is a former managing editor of BBC Radio Merseyside who now has his own media training consultancy