Pressing Matters With Neil Ashton
This week Pressing Matters speaks to Neil Ashton, football news correspondent at the Daily Mail, football presenter with Al Jazeera and most recently, host of Sky’s Sunday Supplement. Neil is an ardent Crystal Palace fan.
1. Why journalism and why Crystal Palace?
I realised when I was about 10 or 11 that I would not be good enough to play professionally (yes, even for Palace). Writing about football was the next best thing.
One day I took myself off to Fleet Street, at a time when all the big newspaper groups still operated there, and was hooked by the smell of newsprint and the dynamic environment.
When I was a paper boy I memorised intros from the late, great Brian Woolnough and others, such as Alex Montgomery and John Sadler, and dreamed of emulating their achievements.
As for Palace, my family had ties with Malcolm Allison. When we moved to the south, Big Mal was Palace manager. We attached ourselves to the club and have been going to the Coliseum ever since.
Malcolm would come to family parties at our house and given that I was only three or four at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the calibre of women he would bring with him.
2. How do you think your profession is viewed by the general public?
At times with a lot of cynicism, and at others with a lot of respect. I am all for raising standards and improving best practice, especially my own.
In terms of the industry as a whole, the remarkable investigative work behind the Jimmy Savile case illustrates the importance of journalism.
In terms of sports journalism, consider Walsh and Kimmage in their pursuit of the truth about Lance Armstrong. Nearly 15 years after they started, they are within a millimetre. They should be honoured by (Buckingham) Palace for that.
3. You are doing quite a lot of media work now – how does it compare to writing and which do you prefer?
I didn’t consider television or radio when I was younger, but it has become essential for every modern print journalist.
Football reporters, including myself, aren’t challenged enough on TV or radio. As reporters we have the ability to temporarily disrupt peoples’ lives by writing about their behaviour and if I am going to take the TV or radio dollar, I expect a few jabs in the ribs from time to time.
The Sunday Supplement is great fun and provokes a lot of debate among supporters – we are inundated with tweets during the show.
4. You were a journalist at the News of the World when it ceased to be – what kind of ramifications did that whole episode have on your industry and on you personally?
Ok, so I dreamed of being the main man on a top football newspaper since I was 10 or 11. Within 15 months of accepting the job the actions of others took it away.
It probably took me about six to nine months before it stopped dominating my thoughts. Maybe in March/April 2012 I began to come to terms with it, but the grieving process probably went on until the summer.
Everything I believed in and stood up for as a journalist: ethics, standards, principles and morals was ripped away from me by the unforgivable behaviour of others.
I’ve made mistakes in my career, plenty. But hacking peoples’ phones wasn’t an innocent or genuine error of judgment by people at the paper, it was an industry specifically created to cope with the demands of the News of the World. That’s shocking.
5. There seems to be a pack mentality when it comes to angles on certain stories (John Terry for example) – many journalists seem to be afraid to voice an opinion which differs from the usual suspects – do you think that’s a fair comment?
I’m probably not the best person to ask as I usually work alone and have an opinion based on my own experiences or values.
6. Which individuals from your profession do you personally admire and enjoy reading?
I love the poise of Paul Hayward’s pen, he’s a fabulous writer. Martin Samuel’s work is always thoroughly researched and his column always comes at you with a thought-provoking angle.
Rory Smith’s match reports at The Times are superb, as are Sam Wallace’s in the Independent. Both have the unique ability to skilfully take me on a journey to their match, or back to a game I was at the previous night.
7. What’s the most difficult thing about your job?
I don’t recommend this feeling to anyone, but the realisation that I’ve got a story wrong. It’s always a shock to the system, but it’s always a bloody good reminder that this job can never be cracked.
I’m with Maria Sharapova and the Sun’s Mark Irwin (@deathirwin) on this one – I don’t need to know what people have had for breakfast.
I mainly use it to respond to people who want to get in touch, although I occasionally dip my toe into the water.
I don’t appreciate waking up in the morning to people calling me, to borrow Ashley’s phrase, ‘a ****’ or often much worse. People don’t walk past each other in the street and say that to people they don’t know, so what right do they have on twitter?
9. In the last decade, football journalism has changed drastically – sport is being “reported” on in a far more sensationalist manner and I believe that that is to its detriment – is there no place for serious sports journalism in this country anymore?
With the digital revolution – mobile phones, laptops, blackberries, texts and emails on the move – I actually suspect reporting is more accurate now than ever.
10. Although many Chelsea fans would concede that John Terry does not exactly do himself any favours, do you think the national vilification is justified and what part do you think journalists played in making him public enemy number one? The press also seem loathe to let this subject go – what will it take for them to move on do you think?
John brought about his own downfall. I remember when he was a 20 year old young professional, insisting he paid for a rather expensive lunch for his family and friends, and myself, in a nice hotel near the training ground. A small and perhaps inconsequential gesture, but it demonstrated awareness and maturity for a young man.
He had everything then. In ten years’ time I worry he may have nothing.
To move on will take an apology, but he has consistently denied insulting Anton Ferdinand and continues to do so. After the FA Commission he announced that he was ‘disappointed’.
What is often forgotten is that Terry claimed he had heard Anton Ferdinand make the allegation of a racial insult at Loftus Road and then put him through two ordeals (Magistrates Court and FA regulatory commission) in an attempt to convince the authorities he was innocent.
11. What is your opinion on the way that the FA handle disciplinary matters? Do you think it’s consistent/fair?
There will always be flaws, but they are a well-intentioned body.
12. Following on from this – do you think Alex Ferguson’s standing in the game and United’s ongoing success has afforded them a much more sympathetic press over the years compared to some of the other prominent clubs?
Not especially. He banned me for writing something that was not only accurate, but had been taken to the club for an official comment.
As a person I find it difficult to have any respect for him at all, but I won’t argue with his managerial achievements.
Posted by Trizia