WHETHER it’s age or the work I do, I’ve become less emotionally attached to the football I watch as time has progressed.
Being paid to sit in football stadiums and report on matches is a privilege. It’s the best part of the job because, for all of the talk in all of the press conferences, this is the time when the reality is uncovered.
Though it is dangerous to form conclusions based purely on outcomes, when the referee blows the final whistle it acts as a moment of reckoning: for the supporters, for the players, for the managers, for the owners. From there, it is within all interested parties to help change the outlook if they deem it necessary.
I have grown to sympathise with the officials, indeed, because as a reporter your role is comparable in the sense that you are not just watching where the ball lands but looking around at everything else as well.
At grounds where there are monitors (this does not apply universally), we have the benefit of replays and while referees do not, as a reporter there is a demand to make an almost instant interpretation on what has happened, ultimately judging what it all means. Often, it will upset someone.
Factual accuracy is paramount. You are conscious of writing to a standard that will entertain people and keep them reading until the end. With print deadlines getting earlier at many newspapers, you are under pressure to deliver sometimes before games are even finished, otherwise the phone will start ringing and conversations will set you back further.
You begin to care about Wi-Fi connections to an unhealthy level. Last week, I learned that Old Trafford is almost as bad as Bloomfield Road — where I once had to file from a nearby casino hotel.
When Liverpool were beaten by Manchester United at Anfield in January, for different reasons, I sent my copy via The Albert — the closest pub to the Kop.
From the jukebox, Neil Diamond was singing Sweet Caroline and sitting next to me was a supporter who had seemingly been there all day. He was determined to engage in full discussion.
Particularly on evening fixtures, the press box collectively prays for no late goals and plenty of early ones.
Turnarounds where one team is losing only to end up prevailing in improbable circumstances that involve injury time and controversy are cursed.
When Liverpool scored in the fifth minute against Augsburg recently, I celebrated — not because Liverpool had scored — but because it subsequently meant there would be no extra time.
Extra time on a Thursday night spells real problems for the reporter.
I remember covering a match on the final day of the Championship season. Hull City were playing Cardiff City and Hull were guaranteed promotion if they won.
A draw would leave Watford with an opportunity to jump above them but only if they beat Leeds United at Vicarage Road.
Hull were leading 2-1 and in injury time were awarded a penalty, which was missed. Cardiff — already promoted — promptly went up the other end of the pitch and equalised.
This let in Watford who were on their way to the Premier League before an injury to their goalkeeper delayed the conclusion by 20 minutes in which time Leeds scored twice.
Hull were going up. Then they were not. Then they were going up again. Then they were not again. But finally, when the score came through from Watford 200 miles away, the joy was Hull’s
The experience taught me more in half an hour than an entire season of routine results. Five different intros were written. It was to be either a glorious occasion or a desperate one, but nothing in between because the entire effort of the campaign seemed to reduce to that moment.
For the people of Hull, it was an emotional event and to reflect that, you have to open yourself up a bit and allow yourself to feel the occasion: to recognise it. But you also have to be ruthless, offering balance to the narrative of the afternoon.
I had also been hungover from the night before. That was my fault.
I started writing for the Crosby Herald when I was 16 or 17 years old, covering the fortunes of Marine Football Club across the hinterlands of the Northern Premier League.
I had been a Marine supporter and because of cutbacks and my interest in writing, unpaid work presented an opportunity that suited the few involved.
For the old Pink Echo, I delivered my first report verbally — standing near to an outside toilet — to a copywriter waiting in the Old Hall Street offices. That was all the way from Alfreton Town in Derbyshire, where Marine had been drubbed by a 4-0 scoreline.
For three seasons, I followed Marine home and away. Gradually, I ceased being a supporter and rather more, an observer who hoped Marine might win but was prepared to write objectively if it wasn’t going so well.
Emotionally, writing about football forces you to withdraw. But that is not at the expense of passion: getting to the root of establishing what makes something so successful or otherwise.
From watching and listening to what people say, I have learned that maybe there is only one universal rule in football: the clubs that are guided with the greatest consistency off the pitch are reliably the ones who perform the most consistently on it.
Though each match should always be judged on its own merits, it is impossible — and unwise — not to connect the dots, setting it in context of the time: the form of the teams: who is influencing the biggest decisions at each of the clubs and why it matters.
Yet there can only be one winner of each league in every season and finishing lower than expected does not necessarily mean that absolutely everything is wrong about your club.
Though what happens affects a lot more people, covering Liverpool has posed similar challenges to Marine because of the processes involved.
Dig deep enough and the gory details are exposed in front of you.