IF SIX days with the Swindon Town squad in northern Italy has taught me anything, it is that Barney Ronay got it wrong.
‘Barney who?’ I hear you cry.
Mr Ronay is a journalist with The Observer, who in an article last year wrote a sentence which has stuck firmly in my mind ever since.
He was summing up a Twitter exchange between Michael Owen and writer Oliver Holt, whose frank to-and-fro of opinion revolved around the interaction of players and the press.
In summarising their discussion, Ronay concluded that the pair had decided that “the relationship between newspapers and footballers is deadlocked in a cycle of mistrust and animosity.”
Maybe at the top of the sport that is right. I wouldn’t know, being as I am towards the bottom of the English professional game and in the embryonic years of my career.
From where I’m standing, however, and with almost a week of experiences on tour to go by, the relationship between Swindon’s footballers and journalists ain’t bad at all.
Answering questions just a handful of minutes after completing a set of four 800m, six 600m and a further four 600m runs must be about as appealing as an ice bath on the top of Everest – but these guys have been courteous and talkative whenever called on, not that they are obliged to be. I'd barely be able to gasp a word after that kind of torture.
And away from formal interviews, they’ve been more than happy to sit and chat and get to know us.
Whether it’s Tommy Miller darting over on his way to lunch to see if we’d caught a good picture of his stunning left-footed volley in training (needless to say we had), Simon Ferry asking whether I’d popped THAT question to my girlfriend yet or Jay McEveley casting what I’ll call an envious eye over my new phone – not sure why, mind, it’s been causing me hassle all week – the Town squad have been nothing but friendly every step of the way.
Footballers get idolised, it’s a natural process in their line of work, and sometimes it’s forgotten that they’re little different to the next person.
Out here we’ve had the chance to chat to them in an environment that is alien to us all and it’s been a pleasure to do so away from our respective professional spheres back at home.
In an industry which has become so heavily regulated that players can become excessively cautious around the press, in a world where newspapers are made out as devils and demons (rightly and wrongly), the last seven days have shown to me how writers and footballers would have co-existed several decades ago.
There’s no animosity, there’s no distrust – and that can only be to everyone’s benefit.