Saturday, 9 April 2011

All the news that's fit to kick

First published in Sons View, 09 April 2011, Dumbarton -v- Peterhead

At around about 5pm this afternoon, a short summary of this afternoon’s crucial match between Dumbarton and Peterhead will appear on the DFC website, as usual. Except that on this occasion it will be live from Southport, rather than the bowels of the Strathclyde Homes Stadium.

That’s because I am going to be missing this extremely crunchy game for the Sons, on account of being at the National Union of Journalists’ annual delegate meeting. At least that means (I hope) that a good wi-fi connection will come with the territory. It doesn’t, I can assure you, at most SFL Second Division Football grounds. Which is why you will sometimes see me swearing at my dongle – the one that fitfully provides mobile broadband, I hasten to add.

This little factoid leads me to reflect about changes in the way football has been reported over the years. The reason I can do at least four paragraphs to sum up a game I haven’t witnessed (don’t worry, someone actually present will be writing the match report!) is that it simply involves producing a quick story out of the BBC news feed, Alan Findlay’s pithy tweets (you can follow those via @Dumbartonfc if you make use of the Twitterverse), and any number of eye-witnesses via mobile phone.

All this would have been (quite literally) unthinkable when I wrote my first live match summary, which I think was around the late 1970s. That was while deputising for a friend at a Brentford game – my usual field was current affairs not sport – and the instrument of choice was a crackly old landline phone into an evening newspaper’s office.

The whole enterprise was incredibly clunky. It meant writing your story out, or relying on shorthand so ropey it might as well have been a report of the Moon Landing, and then relaying it via an analogue transmission that made central London sound like Mars on a bad day. At which point someone else would knock the thing out on a typewriter… and send it through for compositing.

Remarkably, there were far fewer mistakes than in many print outlets these days. Partly because you’d get a call back from an editor if there was something ‘hooky’ about your piece, and partly because it was proofread. In the digital age, such niceties can get, how shall we say, “ironed out” in the immediacy of the moment.

But I reminisce. Dumbarton’s match day media team is actually quite extensive. Other external reporters aside, there’s Alan on Twitter (as mentioned), the expert photographic eye of Donald Fullarton (who’s been taking pictures of the Sons for over five decades, by my calculation), Andy Galloway scribing for the Lennox Herald, and Jim McAllister – in between announcements, assisted by your noble proggie editor acting as ‘spotter’ – producing reports for Sons View. Tommy Hughes sometimes steps in with pics, too. And then there’s me, tapping away at my iPhone’s virtual notepad, so that the first draft of the full match report (minus team lines and photos until later on) can be published online within an hour of the game.

Actually, given optimum conditions, it could be even quicker than that. Minus the opening and closing paragraphs, the report is usually complete as the final whistle blows. That means it is an entirely sequential account – no rewriting or re-arranging with the hindsight, glow or glower of memory. The result my not always be as polished as I’d like, but it keeps the energy of the moment.

First, though, I need to head down to the SHS foyer, find an Internet signal, fire up the computer, write and post the summary, and then continue the match report operation in the back of the Edinburgh Supporters car on the way home. Which can take a little gymnastic ability! Then again, at least you know you’re not going to be getting soaking wet or frozen to death, as the harden hacks of yore often did. Or stand around feeding endless coins into an unyielding handset in a public phone booth. Ah, those were the days!

Anyway, that was then and this is now. Dumbarton need as many points and goals as possible from our game against the Blue Toon, who are looking somewhat doomed to Third Division football next season – and also from the forthcoming trip to Airdrie United. Where we don’t want to end up is needing points to avoid the relegation play-offs from our last three matches with high-flying Ayr, Livingston and Forfar.

Meantime, I’ll be tuning in from a far and keeping my fingers firmly crossed – while not typing or conferring. ’Mon Sons!

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