Pity Wendy Taylor. When she left a perfectly good job and, I’m sure, decent colleagues at Newcastle airport to become head of communications for Newcastle United, she had high hopes of putting her public relations skill to effective use.
“I am looking forward to working closely with all areas of the media; developing and strengthening our relationships off the pitch,” was how she put it. Noble aims.
And here we are, three years on, with the reality of what all that “working closely with all areas of the media” means in practice.
Our Wendy’s chief function at Alan Pardew’s post-derby press conference at the Stadium of Light was to stop anyone from the Evening Chronicle or Journal, or even the Sunday Sun (not that they’d have needed to be there, it being a Sunday), from asking questions.
And why was this fine woman, who once spent a week tackling mountain heights in a 180km Alpine trek in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, reduced to acting – against, I suspect, her natural instincts – like the lickspittle of a tinpot, banana republic dictator? Because the Newcastle chairman Mike Ashley had decreed that it should be so.
One report said Pardew ”banned local newspaper reporters from asking questions about Newcastle’s derby defeat to Sunderland” at the Stadium of Light.
But it was the club, adopting the all-too-familiar ugly, snarling face of corporate football that had informed the city’s own newspapers they were not welcome at press conferences or matches.
The Daily Mirror, part of the same group, Trinity Mirror, said NUFC complained “about their coverage of a fan-organised protest march against owner Mike Ashley. The march, attended by around 500 supporters before the draw against Liverpool, demanded it was ‘time for a change’. The Chronicle carried a front page story the day of the march debating the issues, and also a measured and balanced editorial inside the paper.
“But Newcastle officials are so furious it was given publicity, they have withdraw all cooperation with the local papers who produce up to 50 pages a week of Newcastle United coverage.”
So when the Journal‘s chief sports writer, Mark Douglas, asked Pardew how he he felt Newcastle had played yesterday, the manager made no absurd references to losing the game because of poor throw-in decisions, high winds or the rising price of foodstuffs.
Instead, he began “Sorry..” and was presumably formulating his next words when Wendy stepped in to say Douglas could not ask any questions.
Later Douglas’s Chronicle counterpart, Lee Ryder, asked Pardew what he thought the players’ response would be in their match against Manchester City.
It was the cue for another Wendy Taylor intervention. “You know the situation,” she declared, omitting only to accompany the chorus with the drums of her beloved Sheffield Wednesday.
At least Wendy is, or appears to be, no more than the messenger in this squalid state of affairs. This is certainly as it is seen by at least one the affected sportswriters. When the papers were told of the ban, the club said it was being imposed in a move agreed by Alan Pardew, Joe Kinnear (i/c Not Buying Anyone dept), Lee Charnley (club secretary), John Irving (financial director) and Mike Ashley.
Perhaps Wendy’s next task should be to remind this band of wannabe little Hitlers that they live in a country that is supposed to cherish the freedom of expression. She may wish to add that it had never been her ambition to work as a SupPress Officer.
But then they’d turn on her, too.
This is not an anti-NUFC rant. Ashley is doing what other clubs have occasionally done, too, and the actions of those clubs are just as obscene. People who complain all too readily about the press could usefully remember that local media in particular have to walk a thin tightrope in covering the professional clubs on their patch, relying as they do on viable working relationships while also trying to appear independent to their readers/viewers/listeners.
During the post-Leveson debate, I took to advocating, albeit tongue in cheek, a new system of regulation in which it would become a criminal offence knowingly to lie to the media. Perhaps anticipating such a law, NUFC have found a way round it already.
But that leaves another remedy for this little local difficulty. Every national newspaper, every freelance covering the Toon and every TV and radio station should write to SJP, politely informing Ashley and his loyal henchmen that they will not be turning up for any of poor Wendy’s press conferences or photoshoots as long as this grotesque ban remains in place.
* Needless to say, the pages of Salut! Sunderland are open to Mr Ashley et al should there be any desire to explain this ban or respond to criticism.