The Universe Podcast 3: Ian Herbert, on the ‘Quiet Genius’ of sport.

Hold the front page! The mighty cricketmanwales.com Multinational Media Corporation has diversified. In a good, un-shouty way.

Distinguished sports journo Ian Herbert joins us and we talk sports… journalism…a-and everything. We shuffle through football history from Shankly/Paisley to Fergie to Mourinho, Klopp and Guardiola.

There are nuggets, there is experience, there is a lorryload of humility and integrity – remember that? – and there are points of view. The fella @cricketmanwales sits back and listens because Herbs actually really does know how it is/was at Anfield, Old Trafford, Maine Road/wherever it is that City play at now.

I’ll say nothing more – the man was sparklingly lucid on everything from the hows and whys of writing (and the relative value of sports-journalism) to the impenetrable, infuriating cocoons around people in elite football. Have a listen.

 

 

Okaaaay. Listened back, more than once. Am struck by several things, the first and most significant being how brilliant Herbs was/is.

Yes (he knows) he’s working for a paper many of us regard as the most poisonous rag on the planet but I do still stand by my initial reaction; that he’s a profoundly good man, absolutely committed to grafting, honouring and taking pride in the role of professional journalist. If this makes him sound Old School, then I imagine he’d live with that; however in this case the phrase does not imply any retreat into sentimentality, smugness or that mild brutalism that can come with ‘experience in the trade’. Herbs is more Ronnie Whelan than Sounness, I reckon.

Strikes me Ian Herbert is a thinker and fan and has precious banks of knowledge; some of it about the subject (football, mainly) but much of it about the process, the art of sports-writing – of journalism. Crucially, he also has seemingly limitless, top-end stories.

Those of you who know me through cricketmanwales.com or bowlingatvincent.com will I hope enjoy, as I do, the ironies around me – of all people! – hosting Herbs’s mantra about ‘3 facts per piece’. (I’m the bloke who kinda revels in being described by some respected dramaturg in my distant past as a ‘freewheeling absurdist’ and yup, that’s a fair cop: I get absolutely that the word indulgent may well have been invented with me in mind).

What Ian says about this is brilliant; it’s a key reminder and a warning for anyone who writes anything, arguably. They are actually wise words. Tell us something new – this is where the value is.

I truly heard what Herbs was saying and will genuinely carry it with me but my arguments around this are very different… because I don’t see myself as a journalist. I don’t report on things, I take diabolical liberties with words en route to an honest response to the universe – honest in the sense of being accurate to how I understand it. My writing is a flush of the un-wise, the immediate and the daft-expressionistic – which I know brings us straight back to that indulgence thing. Don’t care: it’s how I see and feel the world so elegant, clipped, economic writing would be a lie.

(All that to offer that mind-blowing contrast suggested in the podcast. Differences and yet still everything shared).

Ian Herbert also rocked it around that whole access-to-the-stars malarkey – how the Prem in particular denies the truth by denying access and discussion. He describes this superbly – go listen again.

Interesting too, how clear he is that journalists do try (inevitably fairly unsuccessfully) to prick the Mourinho/Klopp/Guardiola bubbles. But the clubs are fiefdoms and the journo’s really are herded, gagged and dismissed. (Just me, or did you feel that this almost daily charade might be central to Herbert’s ongoing quandary over which kind of journalism he should be doing? Everywhere else you get a patent love for the game).

Overall, as well as providing a window into Paisley’s socialism and Mourinho’s mania, my guest made me think pret-ty hard about my own ways, views or assumptions; in fact he really has challenged me re that ‘What Is Writing, Really?’ thing. This is healthy.

Our conversation also made me realise that maybe I really am something of an extremist – possibly worse still, an extremist-traditionalist. (I don’t see myself that way but) I’ve drifted from football, love football markedly less because I hate that strikers want to draw a pen or get the centre-back sent off, not smash it the ferkin onion bag. I can’t stand  the deception, the diving, the pretending my face just got absolutely smashed-in when, no… it just didn’t.

Herbs can live with that; or he certainly hasn’t drifted, he certainly isn’t raging angry, because of what he sees as the context – a magnificent Premier League. I, meanwhile, have to think about this.

So where are you, sagacious listeners/readers, on this continuum? Drifted, or in love?

Tell me. It may help.

 

 

 

 

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