Smelly soup, kebabs, electric chairs, angry stewards and (lots of) waiting around... the not so glamorous side of covering Bolton Wanderers
BEING a football reporter for a local paper can have its ups and downs, and here Marc Iles recalls some of the funny, unusual and more memorable moments he experienced while covering Wanderers over the last 12 months
THIS year I’ve been saved by a chicken kebab, had a stand-up row with a steward in an allotment, sampled the world’s strangest smelling soup and felt like I’d been strapped to an electric chair – yep, covering Wanderers is not just about what ends up in the newspaper.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware I’m in a privileged position. There are Bolton fans who’d give their right arm to travel up and down the country to follow their team and get the inside scoop, and I’m the first to praise those who do so for the love of the club.
But mine is not a glamorous job; in fact I assure you it is far from it.
Hundreds of hours are spent hunched over a laptop churning out copy in the wee hours of the morning, or travelling up and down the (stupid) M6. Many more are spent kicking my heels in the freezing cold outside the tunnel waiting for a quick chat with the manager or a player.
Back in the Premier League days I’ll admit, it was a bit more rock ’n roll. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at the Emirates and seafood platters at Stamford Bridge. That was a life I could certainly get used to.
Outside the top flight life can be a bit more Spartan, and the last year has thrown up a few interesting situations.
So back to that kebab. One of the downsides of the job is the effect it has on your social life. Gone are the Friday or Saturday nights out in town with your mates – these days I struggle to drink on a school night, especially when my two kids guarantee a 5am alarm call.
All the games at Christmas sometimes makes celebrating difficult, but I found a way last New Year’s Eve; and how.
I’d been on a fitness binge for a few months but with a relatively easy trip to Elland Road ahead of me I went overboard. Bad head and all, I met my fellow local journos at the services on the M62 the next day feeling like the world was collapsing in on me.
Thankfully the catering gods had taken my delicate disposition into consideration. For the one and only time at a football ground I was served up the antidote to a night on the booze... a chicken kebab with all the trimmings.
Yes, Lucciano Becchio didn’t help by scoring the only goal, but the game exists as a cautionary tale to me – and hand on heart, I have not reported for duty in a bad state ever since.
Covering Wanderers, I’m lucky to work from the Reebok every other week. In terms of a vantage point to watch the game and the logistics of speaking to players and the manager afterwards, there are few grounds better anywhere in the Football League.
It isn’t always the case elsewhere. You dread certain destinations, and Sunderland’s Stadium of Light is one of them. January’s FA Cup replay meant a midweek trip to the North East. It was helped by the fact we travelled with Phil Brown – outstanding company on any trip – but the press box is ergonomically impossible to work from.
Crystal Palace is another away day I dread.
Like Sunderland, the people at the club are great. I particularly like the in-house radio station where I dropped in for a pre-match chat.
Unfortunately, on a weekend when the cold weather had gripped the country, yours truly left my hat in the studio and spent the rest of the game shivering inside the wind tunnel that is the press box.
That ground also provided me with the worst smelling soup I have ever known.
Wanderers have excelled this season. It’s a running theme among the local press pack that we try to guess the random flavour they will come up with next.
We’ve had truffle and potato, butternut squash, you name it. I don’t want to know what was in the soup at Palace – one of Tomas Brolin’s old boots perhaps.
Parking is important to me at an away ground. Again, I appreciate it is not a luxury fans are afforded, but because you can often be carrying expensive equipment into the ground, having a space somewhere near the stadium is a real must. Any journo who has been chased across Liverpool’s Stanley Park after a night game will back me up on that.
Watford’s Vicarage Road is a peculiar place. Parking spots appear to be granted according to your ability to argue.
In February, after being passed from pillar to post by stewards, my debating skills were good enough to secure a place in a watery ditch next to an allotment – and that with the threat from a man in a neon coat that the vehicle may be clamped by the time I got back.
By November my skills had obviously improved and I got a place a stone’s throw from the ground. Sadly, the press box had been relocated near the corner flag because the main stand had been demolished and I spent the afternoon squinting into the distance whenever play switched to the other side of the ground.
Ipswich feels like the other side of the world, more so when you travel after a Friday night rugby league game at Salford as I did in March. But of all the grounds I’ve been to this year, Portman Road is by far the most welcoming.
Not only are the facilities top notch but within minutes of walking through the door we were greeted by Northern Irish great Bryan Hamilton, a smashing bloke who made us feel extremely welcome.
Another key aspect of an away trip for me is the press box itself. Normally, so long as there is a desk, a plug socket, a decent view and reliable wi-fi I’m a happy bunny, but you’d be amazed how often even the newest grounds fail on at least one of those fronts.
Charlton’s internet connections were up the swanny when I arrived – but the aspect of that trip that I remember most was the giant East German-looking seat/desk contraptions in the press box.
Sitting down and plugging in my netbook I didn’t know whether I was about to watch a game or be consigned to the electric chair.
Pre-season is one of my favourite times. It is all a bit more relaxed and you get a chance to tick off a couple of grounds you may not have visited in the past.
Rotherham United and Carlisle United were numbers 84 and 85 on my checklist – the latter nearly ruined by a ridiculous rain storm prior to kick off.
Carlisle also get a special mention for providing a continuous supply of tea throughout the game.
The only new destination of this season has been Bournemouth, who took my tally to 86. A badly-timed downpour just as I got out of my taxi ensured I was soaked to the skin by the time I got into the ground, and rather ruined what was a good result.
Lastly, I’d like to make a prediction for next year. Obviously, I hope Wanderers can make the top six but I’d also like to see Burnley’s Danny Ings stop scoring.
Sorry Danny – nothing personal – but before the first game of the season you were 50/1 to be the top scorer in the Championship.
I liked the look of those odds and tried to get a bet on for me and my opposite number Suzanne at the Lancashire Telegraph.
For some reason my online account would not let me place the wager and the next day you scored against Wanderers and haven’t stopped scoring since.
If you are still in the hunt for the Golden Boot by the time the Clarets come to the Reebok at the end of January I fully expect to be pelted with a hot pie by the aforementioned journalist.