Unsung Heroes part 3 – Press Pass(age)

Every day we pick up a newspaper or scan the internet for reports of games that have just taken place.  Do you ever stop to wonder who the dedicated few are that file these reports?  At the top of the tree these journalists get paid fortunes, have huge expense accounts and can get away with writing any old crap just to fill some column inches.  But at the lower levels of football people take on the roles of press officer and programme editor for the love of the game and their club.

Let me introduce you to one such saint.  Dave Clayton is the Press Officer and Programme Editor for Tamworth FC, last season promoted to the Blue Square Premier, and recipient of the prestigous TBIR “Nicest person in football” award, joining the likes of Mick Harford, Ryan Storrie and Kenny Pavey.  We caught up with Dave recently on the ski slopes of the world famous Snow Dome which overlooks the best named ground in England – The Lamb, home to Tamworth FC.

Thanks for agreeing to go “on the piste” with us Dave.  So how long have you been doing the job as Press Officer and Programme Editor?
I’ve been involved in the Tamworth match programme for longer than I care to remember but this is the first year I’ve had ‘total control’ of it. I started submitting things for inclusion about 10 years ago and then took on the role of Press Officer a few seasons later. Being a small club, staff wise, these two roles (which are both voluntary roles I do in my spare time) go hand in hand as far as I’m concerned and at the moment they both fit in almost perfectly around all of the others things going on in my life such as family, work and everything else!

I assume you are a Tamworth fan if you have been involved for 10 years but do you follow anyone else?
I used to go to watch Aston Villa occasionally with my Dad as a kid but never really felt any affinity to them. Then, in 1989, we started going down to Tamworth regularly, home game only first and then we started travelling away and I’ve not been interested in anyone else since and have only missed a handful of games since, other than when I went to Uni.

How did you originally get the job(s)?
It happened purely by being in the right place at the right time I suppose. I walked into the clubhouse on a quiet evening with the knowledge that there was a ‘vacancy’ but with no intention of expressing an interest for it, but the subject inevitably came up and before I could get a word out I was involved in the programme. It was pretty much the same with the Press Officer’s job.

What preparations do you need to do before a game? / Talk us through your typical matchday?
For the programme it’s a real labour of love but doesn’t actually take that long to put together as well as the contributors who are all either staff at the Lamb or fans I’ve got a couple of great contacts who regularly supply me with articles (looking at me as I blush).   In this electronic age, getting things from a number of sources is very easy so it’s just a case of deciding what goes where and finding pictures and bits and bobs to fill the remaining gaps! It’s surprisingly easy if you work to a format and try and stick to it.

For Press Officer on a matchday it’s, again, all about routine. Although I’m regularly contacted by the club secretary and other members of full time staff at the club about official things that are being announced which need to go onto the official website, a matchday is literally same old same old with regard to what I actually do and it’s all second nature now. For a Saturday home game I get to the Lamb about lunchtime, before the gates open and set up and check the PA for the ‘Stadium Announcer’ then fire the old PC up in the office and set the team sheet out for the game. After a couple of mugs of coffee and a trip to the tea hut for some lunch the match secretary arrives around 2pm with the team sheets and I put them on the computer, print them off and distribute them to the board room, sponsors lounge and then the visiting press before taking up my post in the stand.

During the game I put a match report together which goes onto our official site and then once the game is over we all go round to the changing rooms to speak to the managers before firing off respective reports to whichever agency (newspaper / website etc.) has requested them.  After the game, and this is where having a young son comes in handy, we’ll go home and have some dinner and once he’s given me his report of the game to company I upload photos to the site and update the stats etc before settling down to relax. It’s obviously not exactly the same after every game but it’s very similar!

For away games I usually go on the supporters coach to the match, take up my position in the away press box about 2pm and then it’s exactly the same as a home game before jumping on the coach home.  The only difference with an away match is that my son sometimes comes along and he stands on the terraces with his grandad singing with the rest of the fans! Whether he’ll continue supporting Tamworth when he’s older is anyone’s guess and he won’t be forced to but at the moment he loves the banter and is at that age where he can easily get away with giving it back so I’d like to think he will.

Who has been the best / worst person you have interviewed?
I used to do live match reports for the local radio station but they don’t cover the games anymore. During that time I’d speak to no end of players and managers after matches, but strangely none really stand out except Johan Boskamp at Stoke City when we held them to a goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium in the FA Cup. I was sat there in amongst loads of professional journalists (of which I am not!) knowing I was the only one who really knew a lot about the club he’d just played – it was a totally misplaced superiority complex but he did answer one of my questions! The FA Cup games where we get to play one of the big boys in the league always brings out the kid in me as I know it’s a rare opportunity to see how the other half live and i try and get immersed in the press area atmosphere as I know it’ll be back to The Lamb for the next match!.

I enjoyed the experience at Villa Park in the FA Trophy Final too and although we lost the game I got to do a presentation on the pitch before the game and a mate and I did live coverage from the press box on local radio – so the whole day will live with me forever. After the game the interviews were great with Burscough manager Shaun Teale and his jubilant side. I can’t really remember what our lads said though!

Being totally honest I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed anyone who hasn’t responded to questions. It’s all about how you ask the questions really. I try to be as unbiased as possible with opposition managers and players and clue myself up on their recent form and if we’ve won lost or drawn they will be feeling the same as we would if the boot was on the other foot. There’s no point in making enemies or asking difficult questions at this level of football. I will say though that Nigel Clough while he was at Burton was a great bloke to talk to and Paul Fairclough while he was at Barnet was a true gent.

How have footballers changed over the time you have been involved with the club?
When I started watching Tamworth I was a young lad of 15 and we used to go into the clubhouse after a game and all the players would be in there. Even up until we first went into the Conference it was the pretty much same. I also remember travelling to away games many times on the players coach to fill the space and make sure the club made some cash against the cost of travelling to games. They would also train at The Lamb on a Thursday night so you could be sure if you were in the clubhouse most of them would pop in for a drink and a chat afterwards.

All that’s changed now with training being done during ‘office hours’ on somewhere other than the pitch and so there’s less or probably no interaction between the fans and players during the week. They do still come into the clubhouse after a home game though which is good and the fans appreciate it.

On the field, generally, I think the standard has increased but that’s gone hand in hand with our progressions up the pyramid. However, with the availability of football 24/7 on the TV and media in general the darker side of the game can be seen with diving, play acting and abuse of officials etc. creeping in, but I think it was probably always there anyway, it’s just that there’s more opportunity to see everyone else doing it now. It is a spectator sport after all!!

What's not to like about football in August?

Could Tamworth make the step up to Football League Two?
I think most fans have come to realize that our club’s ideal position at the current time is better than Conference North but not up with the big boys of the Conference Premier if there was a league in the middle then we’d be ideally suited to it – our final position of  16th last season sums that up perfectly.  The fan base and the backing of local companies isn’t quite big enough for the higher echelons of the pyramid but seemed to do us alright for the league below.

I recently became a shareholder and was privy to the company accounts for the first time this season. And it’s scary! The amounts of money that are required to keep a club of our size afloat are massive and it’s a shame that with a town the size of Tamworth we can’t attract more local businesses in to back us and help the club progress. Gary Mills has put a team together on a shoe string budget and we’re doing better than most expected but it could be so much better if the money was there. That’s not knocking the current board or directors or sponsors or fans as everyone backs the club in whatever way they can but a bit of a helping hand would definitely go a long way to helping the club progress in the Conference.

Our ground is also an issue. The current Chairman has been trying to get a deal struck with the council and landowners around the town for many years but there’s so little land available for development that it’s been really hard. It would take a few million to do The Lamb up to what is needed for League football and I don’t think that it is that readily available so unfortunately if we did go up and got a period of grace to improve facilities to the required standard then we’d struggle to stay there unless some serious money came in.

What did you expect from last season?
I expected a relegation battle with a bottom seven finish, but we started the season superbly and only needed another half dozen wins out of the second half of the campaign to stay up. It definitely outstripped most people’s expectations while also lifting them artificially high and so now that we’ve reach a sort of plateau of win one lose one there is invariably some disappointment which should be really be replaced by a sense of realism about what we have and can achieve (see previous answer for reasons!).

How would you have coped (or did you cope) in days before mobiles and the internet?
Luckily when I started doing my bit for the club mobiles were just becoming the norm and so I’ve never experienced football without them but I’ve since talked to many reporters who used to hike to a nearby phone box to file reports through after games!  I recently got my first PDA which allows me to do almost everything I can do on a PC or laptop and although it won’t replace the laptop (the keyboard is too small to type quickly for a start!) it makes you wonder where it will all stop.

When I started watching Tamworth the only information we ever got was from the local newspapers, once a week. The Sports Editor at the time had a great way of reporting games and news about the club and I think that’s what got me into that side of things if only in a subliminal way. I used to love reading the reports of the games, especially if I’d been there too. It showed me that there’s not always one angle to look at things from and that being honest is the best policy, although you do have to be slightly biased when writing for the local paper as the people reading it are invariably fans and you want them to come down and watch the club, not put them off.

Tamworth 2 Grays 1

Following the club for so long and at so many levels you must have been to hundreds of grounds – what’s your favourite?
I’ve been to about 150 different grounds over 20 years following Tamworth and another hundred or so ‘hopping’ when the time allows. I don’t really have a favourite but I used to love going to Newport’s Somerton Park just because of the size of it and I also loved the old Midland league days when we would visit quaint grounds around the Birmingham area such as Dudley Town’s Round Oak ground complete with the bowling green adjacent to the pitch. I often wish I’d started watching Tamworth about 4 years earlier as I missed out on so many grounds we’ll probably never ever go back to.

I now enjoy going to new grounds far more than returning to ones I’ve been to before to see how other clubs have set themselves up using their own ideas on ground improvements. Although it’s less obvious with league grounds there’s definitely no blue print for a perfect football ground so even the small ones such as those in the lower leagues in the pyramid are just as interesting as the big ones. I’ve not been to the new Wembley but did go to the old one with Tamworth, but I’d already been there on school trips so knew what to expect, although it didn’t detract from the day! The biggest league ground I’ve been to watch a competitive match at is Old Trafford but strangely I actually preferred seeing the outside of the ground and watching the fans go in rather than the size and ‘splendour’ of the inside. I think the experience of visiting games is what it’s all about rather than the actual ground themselves. I do have a few hundred photos and badges from all the places I’ve visited!

What is the best thing about your job?
Being an unpaid role, and it sounds corny, it’s the act of doing something that other people appreciate. I’ve been on the Supporters Club Committee for many years as well as doing a club role in various guises and even if just once a season someone comes to you and says “well done” or “good job” it makes it all worthwhile.

And the worst?
There’s not much bad about doing what I do for the club although I do sometimes wish I could spend a game or two back on the terraces with nothing to do. I manage to do this in the FA Cup a few years ago when we played Burton Albion because I got to the game later than I normally would and the press benches were full so I took my pad into the away end had a couple of beers with my friends and did an ‘old school’ report before returning to the press area for the post match interviews.

And there we left it with Dave heading off down the slopes and over the moguls confirming what a great job he has in football.  So if you are ever in the area I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Lamb.  We went earlier in the season (see our report here) and enjoyed a real proper day of football and fan banter.  Sure it’s not the The Emirates but who really wants to watch their football in a library these days?

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