Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

France 1, Spain 2. Italy 3, England 0. until Now, That Is

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

France 1, Spain 2. Italy 3, England 0. until Now, That Is

Article excerpt

About two years ago I got a call from a bloke who asked if I'd like to write some football stuff for a brand new sports daily that was about to come out. I said yes, and hung up.

Those calls have been coming since I was in short trousers kicking a ball made out of old pink 'uns across the sands at Rothesay, or was it that beach in Brazil? Anyway, it's one of our oldest football fantasies. No, nothing to do with those dopey games in the Independent and elsewhere. The dream is that someone, one day, will begin a national newspaper devoted entirely to sports.

Why hasn't Britain got one, we who created almost every sport? Yet other countries have. It's one of the mysteries of the modern world, along with why Joe Royle would want to go to Man City and why Bates really wanted shot of Gullit.

There was then silence for two years. I'd even forgotten that this bloke, Bob Harris, had ever rung me. I did meet him, about 20 years ago. He used to cover football for Thomson Newspapers, then I think he went to the Sunday Mirror. I had noticed recently that he was in the money. Well, he must be, having "helped" Kevin Keegan with his latest book. He's also ghosted for Bobby Robson. Big money in football ghosting these days. Fergie has supposedly got a one million advance for his new book. Hugh McIlvanney, who is said to be holding his pen, will do well.

Then blow me, Bob rang today to say all systems are go. A new national sports newspaper, Sport First, will hit the streets, or at least the chip shop queues, on 15 March.

That's a Sunday. Well spotted. They're not producing a daily, not just yet, says Bob. That will come later. The person putting up most of the money is some publisher-printer called Keith Young. He does lots of magazines, from some parliamentary magazine I'd never heard of to the Church Times.

It's been a hard two years, says Bob. Once the national dailies got wind, they started increasing their sports coverage, "even the Financial Times." There are rumours that at least one of the two racing papers, Racing Post and Sporting Life, will soon branch out and cover all sports.

But so far we haven't got one national sports newspaper, yet France has the excellent L'Equipe. Italy has three: Gazzetta dello Sport, Corriere della Sport-Stadio and Tuto. Spain has Marca and AS. Poland has one, so does Hungary. Even Russia, where everything is falling to pieces, including its football, has got a daily sports paper.

I asked my son, who is awfully clever and has lived in both Spain and Italy, why do they have such papers and we don't? Was it, I suggested, to do with Spain and Italy's long-established middle-class following for sport, with high-quality football reporting and analysis, whereas in Britain, until recent times, football was followed by the working man and read by the working man, with very little money? Bollocks, he replied. So rude, this younger generation.

Italy and Spain, he says, didn't have national newspapers the way we have, yet traditionally they have national clubs - in the sense that Juventus is followed all over Italy, and Real Madrid all over Spain. …

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