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The Darke Side: Awkward Interviews

Ian Darke on combative managerial press conferences

15 April 2020

Sir Alex Ferguson

The reporter at one of those feisty Sir Alex Ferguson press conferences got the best laugh of the day: “Can I ask a question, Sir Alex, or am I banned this week?”

Manchester United’s manager had the grace to smile, knowing that he did indeed rule those gatherings with a rod of iron.

But it is sometimes a journalist’s job to ask awkward questions and step into sensitive issues a club would rather sweep under the carpet.

On one occasion, a reporter made an inquiry about Ryan Giggs, who had suffered a series of hamstring injuries.

Fergie exploded: “Why do you lot always go on about Ryan’s injuries? Leave the lad alone. He’s a terrific player and all you can talk about is his hamstrings.”

Reporter: “Is he in the squad tomorrow?” Ferguson: “No, he’s got a hamstring.” That one brought the house down.

The exchange underlines the sometimes difficult relationship between football clubs and those who chronicle their deeds.

Brian Clough pinned up a particularly damning – though accurate – local paper report of a Nottingham Forest defeat in the dressing room and dragged its author, Duncan Hamilton, in to meet the players.

“This is the bloke who wrote this garbage,” Clough told his team, adding that the reporter would never be welcome at the ground again.

On the eve of the next game, Hamilton’s phone rang. It was Clough.

“Where are you?”

“You told me never to come back.”

“That was last week. Get in here now. Let’s work.”

And so the relationship carried on in similarly weird vein.

Even the affable Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, asked if rival managers had sussed his style, fixed his interrogator with a forced smile and said: “Okay, that’s cool. I can also answer the stupid questions.”

One brave soul questioned Jose Mourinho’s tactics. The response was withering: “You say you work for Real Madrid TV? You shouldn’t.”

The BBC’s combative Pat Murphy once asked the former Leicester boss Nigel Pearson if he had thought of ‘anger management’. Ouch.

Managers like to control the message. Reporters try to tempt them into revealing something a bit more juicy.

Everyone is just doing their job. No need for anyone to be banned this week.

This column first appeared in this season's Pompey v Burton matchday magazine.

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