In the latest of quick-fire interviews with Irish football journalists, Ben Blake talks about turning up at the wrong venue for a press conference, ghostwriting a manager’s column, and witnessing greatness.
Q&A by Ben Blake (The42.ie)
How did you get started in your current job?
I took my first steps into journalism when a work experience placement with the Irish Daily Star led to a weekend job covering schoolboy games for their junior football pullout, Target. After secondary school, I studied arts in UCD and would spend much of my time in the office of the college newspaper, College Tribune, where I started as a reporter before going on to become sports editor.
From there I picked up part-time work as a sub-editor with the Star on Sunday, which helped provide me with invaluable experience while also doing three years in Ballyfermot College to complete their DCU-accredited degree in Media Production Management.
Some freelance work with the Tallaght Echo followed during my first couple of months after college before I landed an internship with TheScore.ie (now The42.ie). When the six months were up there I was asked to stay on as a freelancer and have since been made full-time staff.
Can you remember the first big event that you covered?
It seems insignificant now but I recall feeling extremely nervous when I was sent out to Dublin Airport to interview Ireland fans who were going over to support Sunderland for Roy Keane’s first game in charge. It was an early start, around 6am, to catch the fans before they departed, but I was pleased that it led to a two-page spread in the newspaper the next day with my byline attached.
What has been your most memorable match?
It wasn’t exactly the most important game for those involved, but the Republic of Ireland’s friendly with Bosnia-Herzegovina at Aviva Stadium was particularly memorable, simply for the fact that it was the first senior international that I covered. Everyone was in party mood as Ireland were preparing for Euro 2012 and the atmosphere was fantastic on a beautiful afternoon. Little did we know what lay ahead in Poland.
Do you have a particular career highlight?
Covering the FAI Cup final has become something of an annual highlight in recent years. The 2012 final between Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic was another cracker with Derry edging it after extra-time in what was a fine advert for the domestic game in Ireland. Covering that final was a real treat.
And what about a lowlight?
Although it was a joy to watch players like Marco Reus and Bastian Schweinsteiger in action, covering the 6-1 defeat for Ireland by Germany in October 2012 was a very humbling experience.
What has been your worst work-related disaster?
Turning up at the wrong venue for a press conference. It was a valuable lesson to make sure that I always double, and even triple, check what former Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni often referred to as the ‘little details’. Thankfully, I haven’t repeated that error…yet.
Who has been the best manager to deal with?
Funnily enough I’d have to agree with my colleague Stephen Doyle and say Pete Mahon. During my time at UCD, I was the ghostwriter for his column in the College Tribune and no matter how badly UCD had performed he would always make time for a chat. He was never one for hiding how he felt, which made for great reading, but also got him in trouble a couple of times.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
There are many to choose from. Top of the list would be the perception, that many friends have, of my job simply being ‘paid to watch football’. The role of a football journalist involves (slightly) more work than many people believe, but there is rarely a day that I don’t remind myself how lucky I am to work in such an entertaining industry doing something that I love.
Any advice for someone coming into football reporting?
It hasn’t always come naturally to me but networking and establishing good relationships with colleagues, PR people, club staff, players and managers from early on in your career is vital and will stand you in good stead.
What changes do you see happening to your profession in the future?
Technology is moving so fast and as someone who has worked in print media and now digital media I have seen how the changes have occurred. For example, fans now want to be able to read about football instantly, so that requires doing additional work, like updating social media platforms with information, breaking news, video clips etc. The way that people consume their news has changed, so that in turn means that journalism must evolve with it.