Interview

Interview with Iain Macintosh

As a little Christmas present from myself to you good people out there, I present to you an interview with journalist, author, podcaster and Football Manager legend that is Iain Macintosh. He is the mastermind behind “The Heidenheim Cronicles”. And your can hear his dulcet tones on the wonderful Three Up Front podcast.

Iain was kind enough to take some of his time to answer some questions.

First of all Iain congratulations on the recent NOPA award for best contributor to a blog or podcast, how does it feel to be chosen by an esteemed panel to receive this award?

I’m genuinely touched. I’ve never won an award for anything in my life, so it’s a lovely moment indeed. However, all credit should go to the guys at In Bed With Maradona. They’ve created a fantastic site, drawing together a superb selection of writers from around the world. They’re warm, wise and witty men, and they’re all surprisingly affectionate lovers.

2010 also saw you nominated for a Soccerlens award for Best Football Journalist, how much has the explosion of social media and football blogging helped journalists like yourself increase your audience?

For me, it’s been extraordinary. I’ve spent four years as The New Paper’s man in the UK, dutifully filing match reports from press boxes up and down the country, but it’s only been in the last couple of months that anyone in England has read anything I’ve written.

Twitter allows me to take the occasional article from TNP, reach out to my keyboard and humbly place it in front of thousands of readers based, not just in my own country, but all over the world. They, in turn, are then allowed to reach out to their keyboards and type, “Your a dick, Macintosh.” This is what makes the world such a wonderful place.

What do you think the future holds for the world of blogging and journalism, will the lines become blurred, or do you envision there will always be a divide?

I think we’re heading into the second age of blogging now. After years of individuality, there is a growing tendency for people to come together, appearing on each others sites, or joining together to form supersites, like those affectionate lovers at In Bed With Maradona. If this trend continues, there’s a strong chance that the larger blogging communities will become something of a talent pool for traditional media, College Football to the NFL, if you will.

Make no mistake, the two industries are very different. Bloggers can freestyle. Journalists cannot. They don’t get to choose their own word counts, deadlines, style or schedule. In some cases, they don’t even get to pick their own point of view. Nevertheless, the blogging community is rich in raw talent, talent that can be honed for the traditional media and I’m not the only one who has noticed. I know that an increasing number of editors are looking at blogs, firstly as evidence of basic journalistic skills, but mainly to see who wants it the most. Dozens of graduates are scrapping for every job.

A well qualified blogger who has, without payment or inducement, gone out and written consistently readable features for a blog viewed by tens of thousands of people every day will ALWAYS have a leg up on the competition. There may also, and I’m sorry for banging on, be increased opportunities for specialised writers. Michael Cox at Zonal Marking is already widely published and it can only be a matter of time before someone snaps up Swiss Ramble. There’s even an argument for blog-based local reporting, given the savage cuts by the corporations who own our local papers. How long before bloggers become the new stringers? It’s a very interesting time.

With the number of people writing about football increasing every day, many will have ambitions to go into journalism. What path did you follow to be where you are today? And do you have any advice for new breed of writers?

God, that’s a long story. Do you like a long story? Settle down then. I followed a bad path. I chose to study a thoroughly useless ‘journalism’ degree on the basis that I’d pulled on the open day. It was a sort of ‘throw some shit against the wall and see if it sticks’ kind of syllabus which was more focused on Derrida and Post-Modern Structuralism than it was on Cudlipp and How Not To Get Sued For Libel.

Needless to say, I learned more about writing from my friends than I did from the lecturers and I left three months before the end having spent most of the two and half years drunk. I bear no malice to anyone at the college. I knew on day one that it was the wrong course. It’s just that there was a really pretty girl sat next to me and she’d smiled and it was Freshers Week, and, well, you know how it is.

Anyway, I wasn’t a complete tool. Probably just 98%. The other 2% hit upon a magnificent idea. Why not start applying for all the journalism jobs in the Media Guardian (oh, but these were simpler times!) in January, rather than waiting until the summer when all the other graduates were on the sniff? By March, having filed numerous trial features, I had final interviews lined up with Match, Official Playstation Magazine and a little-known business news website by the name of Clipserver. Two declined my advances. You’ll never guess who offered me a job.

On my first day at Clipserver, the Swedish fashion site Boo.com went under. The newspapers, as @DKDickson would have it, went batshit mental. This was Book of Revelations stuff for the young internet tycoons. The piles of cash that had been thrown at anything in lower case type suddenly disappeared and a dark cloud settled over London’s Trendy Hoxton. Plucky Clipserver lasted 18 months before being devoured by a larger rival, who swiftly made me redundant.

I spent my payoff cheque on a last ditch gamble, funding freelance stints at a variety of magazines, including World Soccer. It was to no avail. All those jobs had vanished. And I had to pay rent. It was here that I did something I‘m not particularly proud of and I don‘t expect you to understand. All I can say is that I was young and I needed the cash. So yeah, I sold black bin bags. Over the phone. To Indian restaurants in Bristol. One week, the manager, who I can only assume is in prison now, said that there was a prize for the person with the best weekly sales figures. I won. She gave me a bag of Werther’s Originals.

All through these dark times, I wrote. I wrote about anything, in any style. I entered writing competitions (winning none of them), I wrote scripts, short stories, attempted novels, gave up on novels, went back to scripts. Anything that would keep my brain ticking over. And then finally, at 25, things started to turn around. I landed a job at The Independent, but only in their Syndication department. Swallowing the frustration of being a four digit extension away from the sports desk, I immersed myself in the newspapers and sold stories instead of writing them.

At 27, I took a similar job at Icons, selling interviews with footballers. Icons was a small, close-knit team and everyone helped everyone. I was hired as a salesman, not as a writer, so I kept my ambitions on the backburner. In fact, I enjoyed my role so much that they almost passed out of memory. After a year, and with the office short-staffed, I offered to help out with some light-hearted sidebars for the Irish Examiner. The sports editor liked them and asked for more. I became the person for the off-the-wall commissions. Then, hoping to impress a prospective client, I spent my Saturday morning writing a particularly nasty column about Ashley Cole. The client hated it.

On Monday, The New Paper’s sports editor emailed asking if we had, “anything aside from interviews.” I sent him my attack on Cole and, 10 minutes later, he offered me a weekly column, with all of the money going to Icons, obviously. The column was well received and, at the end of the season, at the age of 29, I was offered a full time position as UK Sports Correspondent, the role that I hold today. So, not your traditional route.

What can we all take from that? If you are going to go to University, choose your course wisely. It is as important, perhaps even more important, than the ratio of women to men. Or indeed men to women. You will get laid wherever you go. Read that prospectus carefully and ask a better question at the open day than, “Does the student bar stay open late?”

Write and write and write and write. It’s the only way you’ll ever improve. When you’re done writing, read it out aloud, preferably in front of people. Don’t want to? Then it’s not good enough. Write and write and write and write. Now read it out. Good? I don’t believe you. Now write and write and write and wri- you get the point. Read as well, drown yourself in good stuff. If you’re online, there’s no excuse not to be sucking up the Guardian and the Telegraph’s free output like a fat kid with a thickshake. Reading makes you better.

Don’t give up. Unless you’re irredeemably shit, of course. Then you’re wasting everybody’s time. However, if no-one close and well-meaning has tenderly told you as much to spare you further heartbreak, then keep plugging away. Have a read of my exhaustive and self-absorbed back story. I was 29 when I got this job. You’ve got loads of time yet. Well, you’ve got significantly less time since this answer started, but that’s my fault. Sorry.

Moving on to the beautiful game. What teams have you enjoyed watching this year?

I was really enjoying Newcastle’s football this season, but I still feel a little queasy about them after the sacking of Chris Hughton. Sunderland are always good to watch as well, they work hard and they’re usually good for a late goal, not necessarily a positive thing in my profession, mind. Tottenham have been the most fun though. The way they roared back into that game against Arsenal was astonishing.

…and what teams have you felt let down by over the last twelve months?

I don’t really feel let down by anyone, but I do wish Liverpool would show a bit more enthusiasm on the road. They’re a completely different side at Anfield. I’m also desperate for Arsenal to click into gear and prove what I’ve been writing for the past three and a half seasons. That they are a fine team who have exactly the right ideology for modern football and that rampant success is only a matter of time. If they don’t win something soon, I’m going to look really, really silly.

You’ve recently moved from London to the North-East how does the atmosphere at St James’ Park compare to the much criticised Emirates Stadium?

The Arsenal fans get a lot of stick, but it’s important to note a few things. Firstly, that there is a loud section over in one of the corners where most of the singers are. Unfortunately, as the rest of the stadium is subdued, they always sound like the away fans. Secondly, when you move stadium, you break up generations of unspoken relationships. The singers are scattered like marbles on a supermarket floor.

And that’s the third thing. Highbury held 34,000. Even though everyone at the 60,000 capacity Emirates insists that they never booed Eboue and that they were fixtures at Highbury, it’s clear that on both counts almost half are lying. But, in answer to the question, yeah, St James Park is much, much more atmospheric

….and from your time reporting at matches, which stadiums stand out for the best atmosphere?

I always like a trip to White Hart Lane. The football is excellent, the atmosphere is awesome and the pressbox is right behind the bench, so you can hear Harry Redknapp yelping in frustration like a whipped dog. He’s surprisingly shrill, you know. There’s something about that place, especially at night. The noise doesn‘t seem to want to leave the stadium and, given the neighbourhood, that‘s quite understandable. There’s a supernatural feeling to the Lane on a good night, like you know you’re a part of something bigger, something pre-ordained. They’ll never get that back when they leave.

Apart from the wonderful Football Fables you’ve also written four books in the “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About” series, are there any more books planned in the series, or is there a brand new venture in the works?

Thank you very much for calling it wonderful. Most people call it ‘the hard to find’ Football Fables, which is silly really. There’s fucking thousands of them in the publisher’s basement. I have no plans to write any more books of that style, I’m afraid. I would have loved to have added an NFL book to the EYEWTKA roster because I’m fascinated by that game, but I’ve been told the market isn’t big enough. As for a brand new venture, there is something in the pipeline, but I want to do it in my own time at my own pace and get it perfect. So don’t expect to see it any time soon.

You could maybe write a book on how to win a World Cup bid. What are your thoughts on England not winning the 2018 bid, is there anything the bid team could have done differently?

I’m not hugely put out by the Russian win. There are issues, but at least it’s a nation with both a footballing past and a future. You can see the benefits that the World Cup will have, the fans it will energise and the effect it will have on the growth of the game. If they could stop shooting journalists, I’m sure we’ll all get along just fine. Actually, given the reputation of the press here in the UK, the Russians might make more friends by simply shooting more journalists.

In 2022 the World Cup will be held in Qatar, little Macintosh Jnr (congratulations) will be 11 years old by then. What are your thoughts on the tournament and will the Macintosh family be making the trip over for the tournament?

Wiser men than me have already held court on this. For my part, I’ll say only that I’m surprised that an organisation so keen on preaching the virtues of inclusion has given its flagship competition to a nation which imprisons people for falling in love.

Thanks for the congratulations, but I reckon the odds of me getting a press pass for that tournament lengthened considerably about 21 words ago.

Now I have some questions posed to me by the good people over on twitter, tread carefully!


What are your predictions for 2011 – serious & spoof (John Sinnott – BBC Sport)

I’m such a bad gambler, there’s very little difference between the two. I think England will have three managers in 2011. Capello until he leaves without fanfare, Redknapp until the 10% of the media that doesn’t worship him, crucifies him and then someone else for the long haul. Who will that be? Surely there’ll be no-one in Big Sam’s way this time? This is his moment.

United will win the title by virtue of being less bad than anyone else, West Ham and Wigan will give me two correct pre-season relegation shouts, while if I scribble out ‘pool’ and felt-tip in ‘burn’, I could probably get away with all three.

In a low-lit bunker, 500 metres under Eastlands, a highly paid lawyer will devise a scheme for circumventing UEFA’s financial fair play regulations, inventing the world’s first £100m egg and cress sandwich, which will be purchased by Sheikh Mansour on the first day of every season.

The funny thing is, I’m more confident of that last one than any of the others…

As Southend United fan, have you ever seen a harder player than Paul Clark (Swiss Ramble)

He was just before my time at Roots Hall, though I have heard the legends in the Spread Eagle. However, someone very scary once told me that the true definition of hard is someone who is prepared to go further than the other guy. Hard is taking a man’s eye out with a spoon. If that’s the case, then I fear Alan McCormack may be the hardest player Southend have ever had. He was, and probably still is, a diminutive Irishman who specialised in brutal retribution and negative reinforcement. He had no discernible sense of humour, a memory like a wife and blazing eyes. I fear he could do horrible, horrible things to you with household objects.

How did your job with “The New Paper” in Singapore come about? Did you have a connections there or was it a random appointment? (Joshua Liptak)

That’s all up above, but thanks for asking. I feel less guilty for clattering on for so long now.

What made you start the Heidenheim and Woodlands chronicles, was it planned or just a release for your Football Manager frustrations? (Jamie CutteridgeAlso wants to know why you don’t follow him on twitter?)

I’d seen people doing it on the internet and was fascinated, but I read a few and it was mostly a list of transfers with some dialogue thrown in at key moments. I always wondered what it would be like to take it further. That said, I didn’t intend to be the one to test the theory. I just got bored during an international week. I genuinely didn’t think people would be interested. I thought it would be niche, so niche that only I would read it. To say I was overwhelmed by the response is something of an understatement. And I thought I did follow you? This happens a lot, I’ll rectify it.

Have you ever been to Heidenheim? And what would you say to Dieter Jarosch if you ever met him? (Jack Lang – Snap Kaka Pop)

I’m afraid not. I’m not even sure if I’m allowed now. There are several thousand inhabitants of this planet to whom the word Heidenheim will always be synonymous with gruesome, gruesome failure. I’m sure it’s lovely though. I’d say sorry to Dieter. I’m sure he’s a decent player. He was just a useless titbag for me.

What has been your greatest ever achievement on Football Manager? (Ben Shave – cahiers du sport)

Not playing it for three months. Though that’s probably my greatest ever achievement OFF Football Manager, isn’t it? I started a game of FM07 unemployed and took Norwich over at Xmas. They were bottom of the second. I saved them, rebuilt them and took them up. Then I spent four hours retooling the club for the Premier League. I had new coaches, new routines, tactics for every eventuality, fast-tracked youngsters, specialised reserves, a fully armed squad fighting fit and able. Four games into the season, Spurs came in for me and I was out of Norwich like a fucking cannonball. Best decision I’d ever made. Won the title two seasons later. The same year Norwich went back down. Felt a bit guilty about that.

Are you surprised by the lack of game time given to Javier Mascherano at Barecelona? And when you are going to get off your arse and write “Football Fables 2”? (Scott Johnston – thefootyblog.net)

Not really, I’ve never liked the obnoxious bollock. I see his purpose in this life, but I’m not a fan. Football Fables 2 is never going to happen, I’m afraid. The original sold well, it made its money and it got me another book deal, but it didn’t shift the kind of numbers that would have allowed me to do a sequel. A shame, I enjoyed writing that book a lot.

Barcelona are a truly exceptional side but I still believe Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan of 88-90 were better, what’s your take on the current swathe of opinion (such as Sid Lowe) that cites the current Barca team as the best ever? (David Hartick – I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky)

I hate trying to judge between teams of two different eras. There’s so much to take into account. For me, the best teams are the ones who lift you up by the balls and demand that you pay attention. They’re the ones who blow you away with their audacity and smash preconceptions to pieces like cheap crockery. On that reassuringly narrow criteria, Keegan’s Newcastle are the greatest, most life-affirming team ever. But yeah, this Barcelona lot are pretty decent too, I guess.

If you could spend the rest of your life watching any football league, which one would it be? (Gary Andrews – twofootedtackle)

Always English. I know, I know. I’m well aware of the many, many problems, but I’ve been watching it since I was little and I‘m waaaay to addicted to stop now. Spanish football is beautiful, German football is fun, but I’ll always go English first.

What do you think journalists can learn about their audience from social media and how it effects their output? (Andy Coyle – STV)

Loads. You can get a feel for the mood on any issue and it’s not always what you might expect. Football fans are not to be pigeon-holed according to their club. Some Liverpool fans, brace yourself, are not sentimental! And in answer to the old question, quite a lot of Chelsea fans were stood in Stamford Bridge when they were shit actually, and they wouldn’t mind being back there now.

It’s dangerous to make lazy judgements. Though there are a few people on Twitter who, in the past, would be sending green crayoned letters to their local newspapers, I’ve found the majority of football fans to be measured and sensible. It’s dangerous to rely too much on Twitter, after all, no-one goes running to their laptop to announce that they’re ‘quite content‘, but generally it’s a useful journalistic tool and it may even save future generations of hacks from that most loathsome of tasks, the local shopping centre vox pop.

If you had been selected for the Falmouth Town first team back in the day would you have preferred that to being a writer? (Andy Hudson – Ganninaway) – he also mentions an alleyway in Soho???

If four goalkeepers had been injured, I would have played in the 1998-99 FA Cup preliminary rounds. Assuming that I’d actually turned up to more than two training sessions, obviously. Joining a football club and being a student were two incompatible lifestyle choices and something had to give. In the end, to quote Paul Calf, I wanted to concentrate on smoking. I think I made the right decision. Writing doesn’t pay as much, but it lasts longer and I hardly ever have to put up with 40,000 people gathering at my place of work to call me the C-word. As for this alleyway stuff, I’m not sure what he means. I have 17 alleyway themed anecdotes and I’m not telling 15 of them.

The DataCo licence required to report from the press box at EPL matches – is notoriously difficult to obtain. Do you have one and if not how easy are press passes to come by? (Danny Last – European Football Weekends)

I’ve had one for the last four seasons and, yes, they are phenomenally difficult to obtain. If Hercules was alive now and one of his 12 tasks was to get into a Premier League press box, his book would have a very different ending. The licence runs from the Premier League down to League Two, though I have heard that the smaller clubs tend to make a few more allowances. Being nice to your local non-league club is probably the best way forward for any aspiring hack though.

With your role at The New Paper in Singapore, how often do you get to go out there (if at all)? (Gav Stone – Les Rosbifs)

I went out there once when I got the job and again the following year, but not since then. It’s a fascinating place. The people are unbelievably friendly and are obsessed by two things. Football and food. There’s a silly preconception that everyone runs around with Beckham shirts, but the fans I met knew their clubs inside out, stayed up until the small hours to watch them and argued fiercely in their defence. They know their stuff.

Tell us a joke! (Ethan Dean-Richards – Surreal Football)

A duck walks into a pub and stares at the barman.
“You alright, mate?” asks the barman.

“Got any cheese toasties?” asks the duck, gruffly.

“Er…let’s see. We’ve got sausage rolls, ham and egg buns and a selection of crisps, but no, I’m afraid we don’t sell cheese toasties.” says the barman.

“Fair enough,” says the duck and he walks out. The next day the duck returns. “Got any cheese toasties?” he asks.

“No,” says the barman firmly. “Still no cheese toasties. We don’t sell them.”

“Fair enough,” says the duck and he walks out. The next day the duck returns. “Got any cheese toasties?” he asks.

“No!” shouts the barman. “We don’t have any fucking cheese toasties! We never had any cheese toasties. If you come in here tomorrow asking for cheese toasties, I’m going to nail your fucking beak to the bar! Now fuck off!”

“Fair enough,” says the duck and he walks out. The next day the duck returns. “Got any nails?” he asks.

“Erm…no,” says the barman.

“Got any cheese toasties?”

Thanks to Iain for answering everyones questions. You can read more of Iain’s work at his fantastic website.

Happy Holidays everyone!


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