Five things I’ve learnt about… football writing

January 29th, 2010 by Dave Leave a reply »

Have you been watching the Africa Cup of Nations?

It’s pretty decent. Standard isn’t too great – but you can’t knock it for excitement. The first game saw Mali turn around a four goal deficit with just minutes to go. Incredible.

The competition marked my debut as a sports reporter. As in proper, real life match reports. Here’s one – Egypt 3-1 Nigeria – and here’s another – Ivory Coast 2-3 Algeria (AET).

It’s been a difficult exercise, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not slightly relieved knowing that now the semi-finals are out of the way, my Cup of Nations stint is over.

But it’s certainly been valuable. Here’s the five things I’ll be taking with me…whi

(picture by Oluniyi David Ajao on Flickr)

1. It’s a lot harder when it’s not your team

“A beautifully whipped cross from in-form winger Courtney Pitt found Scott Rendell in the box, who gladly slotted past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1,” reads a line from a match report I wrote while at university.

Anyone who enjoys football can write a match report. But knowing about your own team is one thing – writing about another is completely different. Take that example above. The fact I knew it was Courtney’s cross was because I recognised the pint-sized, shiny-headed man straight away. Also because I knew, instinctively, that Courtney was always on that wing. And the cynic in me could even say that the fact it was a good cross meant it had to be him – nobody else in our squad could whip a ball like that. Still can’t.

And Scott Rendell? Of course it was Scott Rendell! You can spot that barnet a mile off.

But this is all knowledge I’ve gathered through years of following, programme-reading and website-scouring about the mighty U’s.

When your covering an international tournament, there’s simply no time to do this. Instead, you spend your time wondering who scored, and where the assist came from. You don’t know if the player hit it with his weaker foot, or if he’s been playing well for his club recently, or even if his name is spelt correctly on the team sheet – more often than not, African football is victim to some rather suspect administration issues, making the whole endeavour and awful lot trickier.

2. Notes are everything

We did our reporting with the help of Eurosport who have been covering the tournament live. Thanks Eurosport.

So the usual plan is to watch closely, scribble down everything that’s happened, and then collate it together somehow at the end. If you’re good, you’ll figure out some way of joining up themes, spotting consistently good players, seeing where tactics have had the game won and lost. That seems easy – but trust me it isn’t. Again, it’s easy to spot when someone like Steven Gerrard plays well – you almost expect it – but Zambia’s centre-back? Less simple to spot.

3. Multitask to victory

Ahhh, the life of a football reporter. You sit there, watch football and then write about it. Couldn’t be easier.

Only problem is, you see that photo gallery over there? That needed to be made too. Not to mention previews for the next day’s games. Throw in a bit of subbing and other assorted jobs and suddenly it’s a little more difficult to focus on the game.

Never again will I moan about seeing a report which feels a little rushed.

4. Time is of the essence

Somewhat naively I assumed I’d be able to take time over my reports. You know, sculpt out something beautiful. Something a little like Stuart Hall – and fill my match report with twisting verse which gives the beautiful game the respect it deserves.


It’s all about speed.

At the BBC, they call it the four-par match report. The whole game in four measly but significant paragraphs. It’s strict – one extra letter can throw it all out – and once it’s done it’ll zoom off to various destinations: mobile, Ceefax, Red Button… everywhere.

Eventually, like the website, the full version will appear. Usually about ten minutes or so later. A little more time, granted, but still tough – especially if you want to make sense.

But again the four-par report is important. In a lot of places – Ceefax being the main one – they’ll only get that version of the report, and so everything that’s important has to be in there. It’s tough – but strangely rewarding. Particularly when it’s a thriller. Here’s my four par from Ivory Coast v Algeria:

Algeria knocked out pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast in a thrilling Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final.

Algeria’s Karim Matmour cancelled out Salomon Kalou’s opener before Kader Keita’s 89th-minute screamer looked to have put the Elephants through.

But substitute Madjid Bougherra rescued Algeria with a last-gasp header to force the contest into extra time.

Hameur Bouazza then took advantage of disastrous defending to send Algeria into the semi-finals.

5. Football writing is fun… lose your newsy restraints

If you’re writing a football report it’s highly likely you’re a football fan. And obviously, if you’re reading one you will be too.

So that provides a bond you just don’t get with news writing. A bond that says that both writer and reader love something very much.

Make use of that – if a player exhibits sublime skill, for example, you know that football fans the world over will be gushing about it just as much as you are.

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