Football writing: Somewhere along the line, I lost my smile

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Those of you with eyes will have noticed that I haven’t posted as much on social media Twitter recently. Part of the reason is covering the transfer window over the summer takes a lot out of you. Couple that with the World Cup and, well, it felt like I spent two months glued to a screen watching or writing about football. The immediate response from some will be to say, “What a thing to complain about! You were getting paid!” And, well, that’s true. However it doesn’t mean that you enjoy the job any more, only that there’s a silver lining to all the time you’ve invested in it.

Football writers – and I’ll extend this to journalists as well – are afraid of saying they’re tired of watching the sport they cover for a living. To criticise the amount of football on show, most of which needs to be covered, is taboo. And when most people traditionally take a break from football, in the summer, the industry goes into overdrive. If you complain then you’re viewed as ungrateful for being in such a privileged position. But it’s perfectly acceptable to love and hate the same role at times.

Take your favourite computer game. Perhaps one you’ve completed several times over. Or, in the modern climate, the one you have lots of cool skins for. Now imagine playing that game every day, every week, every month without a significant break. At first it sounds ideal but after a year or two it suddenly loses its appeal. You begin to resent the mechanics. When you make mistakes or don’t feel up to it, just keep going, there is no rest bite. It just carries on and on and on. Then tell me if you still have the same passion you did for that game before you started.

Football is exactly the same for me right now. It was my escape route from the general drains of life. For two hours I was able to disconnect from whatever was bothering me and concentrate on Tottenham doing their best to make me realise that however bad things might be, they could make it even worse. But watching six or seven matches per week isn’t a two-hour break, it’s 12 or 14. Over a two day period, that’s a considerable amount of time. You know, assuming you sleep.

It’s also a sport which can considerably hamper your social interaction with people outside of your inner circle. Now that doesn’t have to be the case, I know. Plenty travel around the country covering matches in person and as they do this, they meet regular faces in the press box and develop friendships. However due to personal circumstances that hasn’t really been a viable option for me.

I don’t live in the centre of Spain so there are no easy links to Madrid and Barcelona, which are the only two cities people want covered. Unless your employer is covering your travel costs, it’s an expensive gig. Those who do go far and wide to cover matches I tip my hat off to. They are probably either single (without children), so don’t need to deal with someone demanding more of their time, or they have a very understanding partner. Either way, it’s genuinely admirable. This due to the fact the weekend is traditionally when everyone, especially those with children, spend time together. It’s a huge sacrifice. And no, I’m not saying other lines of work don’t involve sacrifice but rather going to watch football matches is equally as damaging to the people closest to you.

There are times when I could have made more of an effort and perhaps rightly or wrongly put work ahead of my family. If you want to get ahead in life you need to give it everything you’ve got and then also possess a ruthlessness to take opportunities away from others. In the end, once you reach the top of the pile, you’ve essentially become a medieval king. You’re alone fighting off every challenger, unable to trust most of those around you, and then you ask yourself: was it worth it?

Now the work ethic aspect has never been an issue for me. In fact, I like to work. Weird, isn’t it? Yet that ruthlessness trait just isn’t something I’ve got, I can’t be greedy. There are certain people who are making an insane amount of money in this industry – each case different, so I’ll try not to generalise – whilst others are getting by on scraps.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I went through a separation – to make it clear, football wasn’t the reason why that relationship didn’t work out – and you begin to take stock of what is truly important. Football allowed me to spend a huge amount of time with my children. Every other day they’re with me. This means I’m able to take a greater role in their young lives, offer advice, watch films together and even help them with their homework – up to a point. It’s like being on ‘Are You Smarter Than a 10-Year-Old?’, I’m struggling, folks.

If a job allows you the freedom, to a degree, to not miss the important moments in your children’s lives then you’d be mad not to appreciate it. I’ll be forever grateful to JD (just in case he doesn’t want me to name him). The same goes for DA, who basically took a punt, but I’d like to think it paid off in both cases.

To go back to that analogy of the haves and have nots, I guess I was on the more fortunate side. However unlike some, I offered advice and helped wherever I could. There was no shutting the door in the face of people who wanted to get paid to write. If someone wanted the name/email of an editor or a head of sport, I kindly passed on the information. “Can you share/RT my latest article?” Sure, why not? If someone was kind enough to give me a chance, surely the right thing is to reciprocate.

The problem with being a nice person is, as in life, people take advantage of that kind nature. More and more is wanted and expected for free.

And I’m not here waiting for a handout from a person at the top, or at least someone nearer the top than myself. Covering football has to be worth it and you need to put the effort in. If you are able to do the job for nothing or minimal fees, then fair play to you. Gain that experience, learn from the good and the bad as you climb each rung of the ladder. Only in my case it needs to be worth the time I’d be giving up with those who currently need me the most.

I don’t believe in fate, a predetermined path, but there is some truth to the concept of making your own luck. You need to put yourself in a position to get noticed. If you hide away, doing nothing unique, then how is anyone supposed to remember your name? Blend into the crowd or step out from it.

Right now, I’m happy to blend in with everybody else.

I’ll end with a quote from the legendary wordsmith Shawn Michaels:

I know that over the last several months I’ve lost a lot of things and one of them has been my smile. And I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot to everybody else, but it means a lot to me. So I have to go back and fix myself, and take care of myself, and I have to go back and I have to find my smile because somewhere along the line I lost it and I don’t care if it’s unpopular and I don’t care if people want to make fun of me because I’m an emotional guy. But this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and over the last year* I got to do it and whether you like me or not, I just want to tell you that, last year* was the most wonderful year of my life.”

*three years

And just like HBK, I’ll be back. Smiling.

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