Football’s Tabloid Tales
by Harry Harris
Know The Score, £16.99
Reviewed by Luke Chapman
From WSC 242 April 2007
Pressured by demanding editors, mistrusted by professionals and loathed by some readers, tabloid football journalists require rhino-thick skins. And skins surely cannot be much more impervious than the hide of ace newshound Harry Harris. So he probably won’t mind the view that his 36th football book is arguably his worst yet. Not enough insight into the sports hack’s trade and too much name‑dropping make this an exemplar of how football is in thrall to the rich and powerful.
Take the entry on Roman Abramovich. It follows an introduction in which Harry’s Express colleagues heap praise on the “Voice of Football”: “When he has a quarry in his sights, there is no escape,” says Bill Bradshaw; for Peter Hill, Harris is “never happier than when he is given the opportunity to expose what goes on in our national game”. So, five pages later, what does Harry say about Abramovich, one of the most controversial figures in sport? “Of course, I penned a detailed account of his first season as owner of Chelsea, and I must say his aides were extremely helpful... I even sent a copy of the manuscript to them to ensure there were no inaccuracies.”
This A-Z trawl through the characters Harris has met during his career provides a welter of boring stories, interspersed with recollections of convivial lunches, topped off with the laughable delusion that practitioners of his craft have a superior footballing expertise; Rob Shepherd, for example, apparently knew “more than most managers”.
The problem for Harris and his kind is what they do actually know has been undermined by the internet. The football hack’s stock in trade – transfers, gossip and scandal – has found a new outlet. Now readers can find inside info first online, often without the club, sponsor and agent influence that hamstrings so much of what passes for a “free” football press these days. By comparison, Hold The Back Page often treads well worn ground or meanders up anecdotal dead ends.
By way of relief, Harris provides an alternative slant on Matt Le Tissier’s easy-going image and reveals some interesting intrigues behind Bobby Robson’s tenure as England manager. Unlike many other football journalists, Harris is neither pro-Venables nor anti-Hoddle and anyone who has crossed Ken Bates deserves respect.
There is some woeful editing. Harris admits an error in labelling the Irish as British, only to commit the same mistake elsewhere, plagiarises himself in his Roy Keane recollections and produces the kind of typos Private Eye laps up, notably the occasion when Bates, instead of giving Harris a commemorative plaque to mark his contribution to press-room bonhomie at Stamford Bridge, gives him “the plague”.
Though Harris is undoubtedly hard-working and has broken many exclusives on important stories, there is a danger in taking all of this too seriously. By asking people to part with a penny shy of £17 for such material in book form, the publishers have contributed to New Football’s many cases of poor value for money.