Monday, March 30, 2009

Pun intended

More reliable than an internet connection
The glamorous life of the international football journalist? Not quite. As Christopher Davies shows in Behind the Back Page: Adventures of Sports Writer there are drawbacks. True you get to see the best games (in theory) and talk to the superstars (not always a pleasure) but along the way you have to deal with internet connections, airports, bad hotels and boredom.

It is, in short, just a job.

But it’s a job that Davies has done for a long time and – if never reaching the hallowed upper echelons of the football scribe – has done well.

Unfortunately the full flavour of that career is not quite captured here as the book takes the form of a diary covering his last days on the Daily Telegraph.

There’s still plenty of time for reminiscing – and Davies is cute enough to realise that a Brian Clough or Jack Charlton anecdote always goes down well – but the day to day stuff can leave you feeling that Davies’ career deserved to be defined by more than his last two international tournaments.

The Superbowl entries – Davies is a long time chronicler of American sport’s big event – offer an interesting perspective on the annual jamboree. Depressingly, of course, in these times of security, media control and mega bucks the journalists experience of major events is similar whatever the sport.

The most startling thing about the book is just how eager Davies is to share his love of puns. Playing on words, dredging through his joke book, this humour is emblazoned on every page. At times it’s genuinely funny. At other times what works at the bar doesn’t always work on the page. That means it can be an occasionally wearing experience rather than the laugh out loud hoot that is obviously intended.

That aside there is plenty here to keep the football fan going and the 2002 World Cup chapters offer an interesting sideways look at how big events – think Roy Keane, Mick McCarthy, a room full of players and mouthful of inventive swearing – which may captivate or appal the fan are simply another headache to be negotiated on the way to a deadline for the media pack.

There have been better sports books, there are better books on journalism and there are funnier books. But it remains a pleasure to read a book by a veteran foot soldier of the trade, somebody who – despite the grumpy old man fa├žade – clearly remains in love with both sport and his job.