Tuesday, 25 November 2014

GOING ALL OUT ON ANGUISH IN EINDHOVEN

I spend most of what is laughably called my career sitting in a room on my own. Occasionally I get to go and spend time with other sports writers. This is always a treat. Because sportswriters are good company: they like talking,have an endless supply of funny stories, untoward gossip and cynical jokes. Probably the happiest time of my life was the three weeks I spent at the 1998 World Cup. Just thinking of it makes me laugh out loud at nothing in particular. Any road, this is about sort of watching Middlesbrough v Sevilla in the Uefa Cup Final.


   

I am sitting in the media centre at the Philips Stadion, Eindhoven. It is 22.10 local time and the place is deserted except for me, a couple of Cockney picture editors and the Dutch waiter. High up in a corner above the door a big TV screen is showing pictures of the game that is going on 50 yards away. Middlesbrough are trailing 1-0 to Sevilla. A free-kick from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink flies a few inches over the bar. The picture editor sitting next to me groans. “Jesus,” he says, “We don’t want extra time. Be a bloody nightmare.” He glances across at the Dutch waiter.
The Dutch waiter has white hair and a handlebar moustache. He has a key chain attached to his belt. The key opens a big fridge that stands against the same wall as the TV set. It is filled with bottles of Carlsberg. All day long journalists and photographers have been pulling on the door of the fridge trying to get at the beer inside. They have made imploring motions to the waiter indicating the advanced stages of dehydration but he has remained impassive. The fridge will stay locked until the final whistle. Then the waiter with the handlebar moustache will open it and quickly jump aside to avoid being crushed in the rush for free lager.
Images are popping up constantly on the screen of the picture editor’s computer, sent by wi-fi from photographers at pitch-side to be cropped and sorted and shipped out to the desks in London. “Tell the boys they’re going big on Boro anguish,” the picture editor growls down his mobile.

Within seconds the screen is reverberating with computerised thunks of incoming mail – Boro fans with their heads in their hands, chins sunk, faces glum. Steve McClaren biting his nails. “Oh nice,” the picture editor says. He selects a few, works on them, presses send. Picks up his mobile. “Got some lovely Boro anguish, for you, Jonno. Should be with you now. Speak later.”

Viduka’s shot is saved. The picture editor groans again. It’s all getting a bit tense. He has spent half an hour working on Boro anguish but if a goal goes in he will have to chuck it all out and start on Boro hope, or possibly Boro elation.

When Sevilla’s second goes in he punches the air, then turns to me apologetically because he knows I am a Boro fan. “No offence, mate,” he says. None taken. I am only in here because I am writing a colour piece and I have to file it midway through the second half. I am attending the greatest match in my club’s history and I am watching it on TV. But why complain? I got here free, sat in the ground for the first 45 minutes and got paid. And compared to this guy my working day is a doddle. Deadlines are flying towards him through cyberspace like a virtual meteor storm. He can’t be doing with uncertainty. He’d like results to be pre- arranged even more than the chairmen of the G‑14.

“Are there no sandwiches?” he asks the waiter. “There is still the buffet,” the waiter replies. “Oh, yeah the buffet,” the picture editor says scornfully. The buffet has been the cause of much caustic mirth during the evening. It offers hungry pressmen a selection of chicken satay, prawn crackers and sauerkraut. “What’s the vegetarian option?” a man from Five Live asks. “Cabbage and fucking crisps,” comes the reply.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, there’s the accommodation. Eindhoven has so few hotels that many of the reporters are staying in Düsseldorf. The official press party that came out with the team, meanwhile, have been housed at the local Centre Parc, a kind of eco-Butlins. “I’ve been woken up at six every morning by kids running past my window screaming because they’ve seen the big waterslide,” a reporter from one of the tabloids says. “Apparently it’s half-term in Holland,” somebody adds, yawning.


After the final whistle, when the fridge is open and the waiter is rushing about collecting empties, and Boro anguish is flying into and out of the picture editor’s computer as fast as he can process it, the tabloid man from the Centre Parc comes scurrying in with a happy smile. “Loved it when that fourth goal went in,” he says and he gives me a consoling pat because we have known each other for many a year and he is a nice guy. “McClaren’s first game in charge of Boro against Arsenal ends in a 4-0 defeat and now his last game with them ends the same way. It’s my opening par, isn’t it?”

Down the end of the room the Spanish press pack are hugging one another and yelping. The guy opposite us is dabbing the tears from his eyes, his colleague is blowing his nose, his shoulders shaking with convulsive sobs. When he catches sight of them the tabloid reporter affects disgust. “Fuck’s that about?” he says. If Boro had won maybe I'd have reacted the same way, but I don't think so. This is the media centre. It is not a place for emotion. You have to keep things in perspective here. After all, as the poet has written: “And when that last great scorer comes to mark against your name/It matters not who won, or lost/But whether you met your deadline.”


 

 

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