Daniel Taylor: ‘Press box ban is just a red herring’

September 18, 2013

On Saturday the chief football writer for the Guardian and author of a highly-praised book about Forest, Daniel Taylor, wrote about how he and his newspaper had been banned from the City Ground press box on a technicality. With questions posed by LTLF Forum members, we hear his side of the story as well as his views on Forest’s prospects this season…

Daniel TaylorHow long have you supported Nottingham Forest and what made you be a Forest fan? Would anything stop you being a Forest fan?

Thirty-odd years now. Local lad, grew up just outside Bingham, then moved to Newark and first job was at the Newark Advertiser. My little lad is just getting into Forest now – and, trust me, that’s a full-time job for me when we live in Manchester. Would I ever stop being a Forest fan? Blimey, is that a serious question? When a football team is engrained in your life, when you have watched them home-and-away all over Europe, I don’t think you can give that up lightly. No, I’ll be there at Burnley. I’ll still be coming down to the City Ground.

How do you expect Forest to do this season?

I said at the start of the season I thought Forest, QPR and Wigan would be the three teams that are promoted. Billy has got everything he wants now – power, control, financial backing. The players are on huge promotion bonuses. Everything is pretty much in place. It’s true we could have done with a striker in the transfer window but I still think this is the first season Billy has no excuses as such. I saw on LTLF’s Twitter feed recently a thread about him being the best manager since Brian Clough. Come on! Frank Clark got us to third in the Prem, the last English team left in Europe in 1995, with a side as exciting as anything BC put out! Billy’s good. He’s been very good at times. Keeping us up that time was still his best achievement, I think. He’s also been flawed at other times. Let’s just hope it all clicks this season. It’s been a long old wait.

Which of the current players do you feel would be able to compete in the Premiership if we are promoted in the coming seasons?

It’s difficult. Not many, I must be honest. Andy Reid can look brilliant sometimes and I think he would be OK but, for whatever reason, he hasn’t got a great record in the Prem, has he? We all used to think Michael Dawson would be an England centre-half for five to ten years. But he doesn’t really get a sniff and Spurs were trying to sell him a couple of seasons ago. The difference between the two leagues is huge. A football scout told me recently that Chris Cohen wasn’t good enough for the top level. Not quick enough, he said. Only small margins, but not quite right. Yet he’s obviously one of our best players and a really valuable member of the team. All about opinions, I suppose. Wilson, for example, has shown for Celtic he can play in the Champions League. But it’s fair to say there would have to be some extensive transfer business.

Do you envisage FFP being a problem for Nottingham Forest in the future? Particularly if the club doesn’t get promoted this season?

It depends how seriously the people enforcing it take the rules. If they take them seriously, it could be a problem. I’m not absolutely certain that will be the case, but there aren’t many other clubs who are spending so freely.

How is Nottingham Forest perceived, in general, amongst main steam media outlets like the Guardian? Big club? Irrelevant? Don’t you wish your paper covered more football played outside of the Premier League?

I do wish that the nationals covered more non-Prem stuff but there is a reason why. We can tell how many clicks, for example, we get on Football League stories and it’s way below what we get for stories about Spanish, German football and barely a speck compared to what the Prem clubs get. I’m interested, you’re interested, I’m frustrated by it, you’re frustrated by it, but the bottom line is the FL is way down the list of what the public in general want to read about and we have the stats to back that up. For that reason, it’s sad to say Forest don’t get a huge amount of national coverage. However, I certainly think they are an attractive choice, ahead of Derby and Leicester, but behind Leeds.

What, in your opinion, is driving this apparent campaign by Forest to restrict media access to a minimum?

Bloody hell. I see, soften me up with the soft questions first then come in hard.

I think anyone can see that Jim Price (and Billy) have a major issue with the media and are punishing people they perceive as being ‘in’ with the last regime. The fact a lot of those people were not actually ‘in’ with the last regime and – in my case – often critical of them doesn’t seem to sway their thinking. I don’t know the Nottingham journalists very well but, Christ almighty, they’re a fairly harmless, innocuous bunch. It’s all very weird but, from what I hear, all the attempts by the Nottingham Post and Radio Nottingham to have conciliatory talks with Price have been met with a brick wall. What the issue is with Sky, Talksport, etc, I really don’t know. Until recently, I hadn’t made it my business to know.

What has changed from the previous regime?

Different people involved – Jim Price is now in control of the media side of things and has no background in football or the media. No one at Forest has any real media background. Don’t get me wrong though, I think Forest have needed help in this area for many years. All the serious clubs have large PR departments, with comms directors, etc. Why not Forest? It doesn’t make sense to me. And it’s self-defeating. Never mind the PR side of it, I spoke to a director from a big London club earlier and she was explaining how having bad relations with the local paper and radio also has other effects, puts off local sponsors, corporates, etc.

Do you think you’re really banned simply for asking for a press pass and not publishing a match report?

Of course it’s not about that. This is the bottom line: the whole thing is a red herring. Debating it actually feels a bit futile because the truth – and I think anyone of reasonable intelligence can see this – is that it is nothing to do with a Wolves match, in a half-empty pressbox, six months ago.

However, I do feel something needs explaining. You see, going to football – whether people like it or not – is my work. It might sound like ‘work’. People might not like seeing their hobby described as ‘work’. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work! But I go to football grounds all the time and, very often, I am not writing a match report. I am a columnist and feature writer. So I go, I meet people, I broaden my contacts book, my observations on players, etc. I get anecdotes. I attend press conferences and, if there is the chance to get a quiet word with a manager afterwards, perhaps swap numbers. That is a good day’s work!

And, presumably, if I am asked to write a piece about the demise of Wolves, or Forest in the play-offs, would you not imagine I am supposed to have an informed opinion? Can you understand I am supposed to have made it my business to see these clubs and be informative and clued-up? Or that I might, hypothetically, be able to ring the Wolves/Forest managers? This, you see, is what a journalist does. If people think, ‘but you didn’t send in eight paragraphs to your paper’, all they are doing is showing they know nothing about the business I’m in, the mechanics and details of how it works. Just like I don’t understand theirs, I would imagine. The difference is, with my role being fairly public, a lot of people think they understand what I do.

I know I’m going on, but I’ll give you one example: When I first moved up to Manchester, City were in the third division and had largely been forgotten about. I regularly used to go to their matches in the pressbox and not write the match report. I got to know people. I had the manager’s number, the players’ numbers and when they got promoted it was very useful. It’s simple basic journalism, it has been for years and, if it wasn’t, then I would never have been able to write Deep into the Forest or so many stories about NFFC over the years.

Can you tell us what rule it was that you allegedly broke which forced the club to ban your newspaper?

I can’t tell you, no. They say it was because I didn’t do the match report (I did actually send match updates to the Guardian website, for our rolling Saturday afternoon coverage). I’m going to Old Trafford tonight. The press box will be full of people who are not writing on the spot.

No other football columnist/journalist has ever found his/her paper banned for going to a match. No one else will be, either. Price doesn’t like me as he includes me among the Nottingham press pack (ie I know too much about what happened last time). I already knew that.

In the future we will pay to get in the stand and will cover matches from there. But it does get on my tits – and, listen, 90% of fans tweeting me have been great, intelligent and clued-up, and can see it for what it really is – that others start saying I was on a ‘jolly-up.’ It’s my work! My mates, as you can imagine, are finding it all very amusing. I was living on tomato-sandwich sandwiches one week in 1995 so I could afford to get to Munich. I’ve paid my way all right. And now, as a journalist, there is an area of the ground where I sit. 91 clubs know it works. 92 used to.

And i can’t stress this enough: it is all irrelevant anyway. it is not about the Wolves match.

Do you not think it’s all a bit petty?

Of course I do. I think everyone does.

The remark about Fawaz in his pyjamas has been the subject of debate on fan forums, some suggesting that the PJs were insensitively misidentified Asian clothing. Can you elaborate on this and set the record straight?

I wasn’t aware of that. It came from the manager at the time and no one has ever said it was inaccurate. When you say people are ‘suggesting’, it sounds – with all due respect – more like someone is plucking that from thin air.

I am aware, however, that some people didn’t like me writing, on February 9, ‘Forest have endured enough, post-Brian Clough, without becoming football’s equivalent of Carry On Kuwait.’ I’m also willing to bet that a lot of the same offended people were also saying exactly the same back then. Some might have been tweeting abuse at Fawaz because of everything that had just happened. I looked, you see, and there were literally hundreds of messages telling him to f*ck off, and worse.

What were they saying in the Southbank or TBI around that time? Was anyone not alarmed? Fawaz was on his fourth different manager in a matter of months. There was the George Boyd fiasco, the stories about cash-flow issues, alleged team interference, the bizarre appointment of a manager nobody else would touch with a stick and then the reasons why he left (with a lot of public sympathy – yes, it was that bad!). It was chaos.

People seem to have selective memories. What was everyone on the LTLF Forum saying at the time? I would imagine it was a mild form of hysteria. And I know what I was saying: ‘Forest have endured enough, post-Brian Clough, without becoming football’s equivalent of Carry On Kuwait.’

Thankfully Fawaz has been brilliant ever since, and long may it continue. But the fact this is brought up just reminds me how long Forest have been out of the Prem and how to many, many people – a whole generation of younger fans – they just don’t understand what it is like in the Prem and the level of media scrutiny. Can you imagine if the Glazer family went through four managers in half a season? Or how Billy and Jim Price would react to the scrutiny that, say, Wenger comes under? It would be bedlam.

I’m a football writer – if a club do good things, I will write good things. If the club do things that have Forest fans worried we are becoming Blackburn mark II, I will write accordingly. I know this job well enough to know that some fans only want to read positive things about their club. Well, that’s not how it works, I’m afraid. Or it becomes Pravda.

Do you expect relations between the local media and Nottingham Forest to improve any time in the near future?

I don’t see how it is going to improve. If anything, it is just going to get worse. They’re shunning Talksport, Sky, Radio 5, etc. Forest need someone to come in, gently knock a few heads together and put them straight. The ‘feuds’ that have developed are imaginary. There is no anti-Forest media. There are, however, plenty of us who are pro-Forest, or who have affection for the club because of the BC years. It’s stupid, unnecessary, self-defeating. And the fans want to read about their team, or hear about their team, in the papers, on radio, on television, etc.

The club appears to be aiming for a more direct form of communication to the fans through Forest Player, Twitter and the official website. Do you see this becoming a modern trend and the job of the traditional written sports media becoming void?

We have already gone digital-first at the Guardian and Observer as there is no doubt it is changing. Other papers are following too. So, yes, the traditional sports media (ie newspapers) is moving on. I now effectively work for a website that also is a paper, if that makes sense. But we still get massive numbers and they’re growing all the time. There’s only the BBC who get more for their football coverage than the Guardian worldwide.

Forest have been slow coming round to the idea of social media but at least they have got there. It’s a start and they need to push it more. At the moment, it’s a bit wishy-washy. Their Twitter feed has 66k followers. I’m just one hairy-arsed journalist and – without sound like a dick – I have 110k. So they need to work at it.

The problem with club media, on the whole, is that it is remarkably bland. I mean, have you ever read a match-day programme and thought it was an excellent read? It’s good that Fawaz speaks via Twitter and the website etc. It’s not good, in my opinion, that Billy speaks only to club media, bar contractual stuff, and has made it a bit like Fergie used to want it at Manchester United: the questions he wants. I don’t think any Forest fan can disagree with that either. It used to be interesting hearing his Radio Nottingham interviews, for example. The stuff that goes out on Facebook etc is watery, to say the least.

In a similar theme, with the development of social media and the increasing use of this tool by fellow journalists, agents and club officials, has the way you seek out stories changed?

No. But the way stories are broken now has changed. It used to be a case of waiting until the morning papers and hoping no one else had the same story. Now, for me, it is about getting it out online. That’s a pretty huge change and some journalists don’t like it. But times are changing.

Questions were put to Danial by ‘Porks’. See the forum for your chance to contribute to future interviews with Forest figures.