Date – Friday August 25 2017
Time – 11.00 a.m.
Venue – Burnley F.C. Barnfield Training Complex
An opportunity to attend a Premier league Press Conference and thanks to Chris Darwen, I am on my way! I have the email confirmation in my hand and I am part of a select group who will be given the opportunity to meet Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager.
I have never been to a media event of this type in my life before so I have no idea what to expect. It feels like I am entering a secret Masonic society where there are unspoken procedures and rituals that I am unaware of. I feel I will be denounced as an outsider.
In such situations preparation is everything. I have undertaken meticulous research on Burnley F.C. and I have prepared a set of questions that I hope will gain me acceptance into this inner circle as a footballing expert.
Burnley is about an hour’s drive from my home so I set off at 9.15 to allow plenty of time to be there for the 11.00 start. I leave the M65 at 10.05 and then make the mistake of relying on my SATNAV for the final 1.5 miles of the journey. I am on the A671 Padiham road and it keeps telling me to turn right, but there is no right turn! Except, maybe there is. I spot a track between two pillars by what looks like a gatehouse. I go for it. I trundle along a mud track for about 50 yards and then the path ends. I give up on technology.
Fortunately, a delivery driver has just pulled in behind me. I ask him for directions and after a brief conversation about how often this happens to people, I am on my way!
Burnley have spent nearly 10 million pounds on their new Barnfield training complex and it is situated in idyllic surroundings nestling alongside Gawthorpe Hall a National Trust property. I drive slowly along a bucolic, peaceful, country road with buggies, cyclists, horse riders and walkers for company and then I make a left turn into the car park. I double check that I have everything I need, pens, pencil, notepad, voice recorder, fully charged mobile and then gather my proofs of identity for what is sure to be a rigorous security procedure.
Except it isn’t. I walk straight into the media room and head towards the important looking gentleman standing by the desk. I introduce myself, show my passport and looking totally bemused he responds by explaining that he is one of the cameramen and advises me to sit down. I look around, where should I sit? Does each journalist have their own preferred pew? I scan the room and plump for a chair in the middle section. The media room has capacity for about forty guests but at the moment I can only count about ten.
In my previous career, I have attended many courses where you arrive, check the delegate list for names you recognise and then try to seek them out via their name tags. Unfortunately, I am at a serious disadvantage here, there is no delegate list and nobody is wearing any form of identification. Even worse, they all seem to know each other well. I decide to walk around and try to join one of their conversations.
One group are frantically checking their watches. They need to be at another press conference at Liverpool F.C. at noon. It is now 11 and no sign of Sean. I proffer an opinion as I explain that I have just travelled from Liverpool and it took me well over an hour, this is not what they wanted to hear. Another group are discussing whether or not they can make their 1.30 appointment at the Manchester United F.C. media event and are frantically checking their phones for traffic updates. I suddenly realise that apparently, I am one of the few people who actually want to be here. I decide to assume a world weary look to help me blend in with my new found friends.
I hear two figures in the corner talking about Sigurdsson’s goal for Everton last night. As an Everton fan, I venture an opinion that it was the best ever goal I have seen an Everton player score. I am now with a group of Premier league cameramen whose job it is to film these events. One of them has not seen the goal. He is in luck; I have it as my screensaver and play it to him, probably more times than he wished to see. I am starting to really enjoy myself.
Then, just after 11, Darren Bentley, the Burnley media manager makes an entrance. He is, after me, by far the best-dressed person there. Everybody wants to know where Sean is. He picks up his mobile and addresses Sean as “Gaffer”. Gaffer is running a little late due to traffic but will be there by 11.15. This news does not go down well. Somebody asks if any of the players will be attending. Darren says that none are available this morning. A weary sigh is audible. So it looks like just the Gaffer for today. However, this creates another dilemma; do I address the manager as Sean or as Gaffer? What is the protocol? I‘ll see what the others do.
The conversations start off again. A group of seasoned journalists are comparing their experiences of press conferences. They get quite heated when the topic of Manchester City F.C arises. It appears they have a massive dislike of Pep and how he treats them. They all agree that Pep thinks he knows it all, treats them with contempt, never answers their questions and is extremely uncooperative. They all agree that Pellegrini was far more approachable. It looks like the Pep gig is one to avoid.
Every person in the room is male so I am actually quite pleased when a female journalist chooses to enter this bastion of masculinity. She heads towards her colleagues. Burnley are due to play Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday and quickly an animated discussion about whether Sean Dyche has ever played there ensues. They Google this on their phones and seem convinced that Sean would have played at Wembley in 1995 in a play-off final for Chesterfield against Bury. Everybody seems really pleased with this nugget of information and they plan to ask Sean for his memories of this later. The bait has been laid.
The doors burst open, everyone looks around in anticipation. It is not Sean, rather an angry dishevelled bearded journalist complaining that he has just been told Sean will not be here until 11.45. The news does not go down well. I take in the settings. I had wondered about the appropriate dress code for today, apart from one person in a smart shirt and formal trousers, everyone is wearing jeans and tee shirts. There is definitely a divide between the under and over 40-year-old journalists. The younger ones are tapping frantically away on their laptops, the older ones stand around talking and more reassuringly all appear to own last decade’s Nokia type mobiles. I am reassured that my smartphone can hold its own in such company.
Darren re-emerges with the news that Sean is here! Everyone swiftly moves to take up their seats. Darren quickly checks if anybody from the Sunday papers is present, three hands go up, Darren is reassured. Sean enters the room wearing his Burnley training top, shorts and socks. He looks to me to be in better physical condition than some players I have watched this season. He exudes the confidence of a manager who knows that his full-time employment is under no immediate threat.
I have to take a photograph of Sean but what is the procedure here? Fortunately, I spot a real cameraman with a real camera snapping away and I synchronise my taking pictures of Sean with him so as not to draw too much attention to myself. I sit down and pray that security do not ask me to leave.
I quickly set my voice recorder and also my voice app on my phone as a back- up. Maybe this was a bad move; the laptop appears to be the machine of choice here. Note to self, buy a decent portable laptop. However, I am a product of my generation so I take out my reporter’s notepad and start scribbling furiously. I feel the glare of contemptuous eyeballs.
Sean seems in an extremely relaxed mood and apologizes for his late arrival. The pair behind me have now given up on the chance of making Liverpool by 12. The questions start. I thought that journalists would say which paper they were with before speaking but it seems Sean knows them all, except me, so no need for such formalities. The smart journalist in the shirt and trousers obviously heads the pecking order. He fires questions about the disturbances at Blackburn, the effectiveness of the stewarding and the result.
Sean answers calmly, he is justifiably concerned about the lack of protection afforded to his players but does not want to make a huge issue of it. He was very impressed with the performance of his new signing Chris Wood as well. But it is Sean’s voice that intrigues me. Here in the room, his voice sounds remarkably unremarkable, without those deep stringent gravelly tones that he uses on television. I am impressed; he really must shout himself hoarse on match days.
Two of the press pack give each other a knowing conspiratorial glance. One of them, as previously planned, now asks Sean for his thoughts on the trip to Wembley to play Tottenham. Does Sean have any memories of playing there? Indeed he does. He played for Chesterfield in 1990 in the League Two play-off final against Cambridge United and they lost to a Dion Dublin goal. It was the first play-off final to be held at Wembley. Sean is enjoying this, he reflects on having been to Wembley as an academy player to watch Nottingham Forest in the League Cup Final at the start of his playing career and as a young boy growing up in Kettering, he recalled travelling with their supporters to Wembley to watch them play in the F.A. Trophy final against Stafford Rangers in 1980.
This is fascinating stuff but the two journalists are clearly aware that this isn’t quite going to their pre-planned line of questioning. One of them asks Sean directly; “What are your memories of playing at Wembley for Chesterfield in the 1995 playoff final?” Sean, in his best dead pan manner, bats this one away, “I didn’t play in that one”. Apparently, he had injured his tendon three weeks before. Google may be your friend but it still does not have all the footballing facts at your fingertips. I smile to myself; there is no substitute for thorough research.
Someone then asks if Sean will arrange for the Burnley players to walk on the Wembley pitch the day before to familiarise themselves with it? Sean clearly does not think this will be necessary. He makes the reasonable point that with stadia the size of Old Trafford and the Emirates that his players are quite used to playing in big stadiums already. He is too kind to point out the obvious flaw in this idea, the Rugby League Cup final is being held at Wembley the day before! Should I mention this obvious difficulty? No – I hold back, this is not on my list of prepared questions. In fact, I start to become concerned as I realise that the majority of my pre-planned questions have already been asked.
I am still waiting for my opportunity as the conversation turns to ex-Burnley player Kieran Trippier who Tottenham bought in June 2015. Sean rates him highly and makes an intelligent point that most young players these days have to go on loan to another team before they can even think about a career as a Premier league footballer.
I still don’t know how this system works, nobody seems to raise their hands to ask a question, there seems to be some pre-arranged rota that I am clearly not part of. Just as the conference seems to be getting into full swing, suddenly it is over. Darren Bentley stands up, takes charge and says “I take it there are no more questions?” He clearly wants to wrap this up now.
I take a deep breath and in an attempt to sound authoritative start speaking, “Darren, Paul Mc Parlan from the Falbros Media Group here, I have some questions”. I hear a clearly audible groan from the people behind me. It reminded me of the times when I was at staff meetings and some annoying person would ask a question to delay everyone’s departure. Today I am that person.
I ask Sean whether or not he felt the media gave Burnley sufficient credit for their win at Chelsea. He responded by replying that he didn’t really need the media to tell him what a good performance it was. Before Darren can intervene; I go for a second question. I ask about the League Cup draw that has paired Burnley at home to Leeds United. Sean responds that he is looking forward to the tie, although he is not sure if it is a derby match or what it should be called. There is a moment for pause and then Darren shows why he is the man who earns the big bucks and suggests the Roses Derby and everyone seems happy with that.
Then after just over 20 minutes, the conference is over. Sean is whisked away to other media obligations and the reporters leave the room as quickly as possible. They have all clearly got somewhere more important to be and I guess that in their dreams they see themselves as better than this; they should be regulars at the Nou Camp.
I approach Darren and thank him for the opportunity. He shakes my hand and asks if I enjoyed it. Well, yes, I did, I loved every second of the whole experience and would jump at the chance to do this again and my advice to any budding journalist out there would be that if you have the chance to attend one of these press conferences, then go for it!