What happens on tour … life on road as digital sports journalist
In an era of global interest in English football, it’s becoming more and more common to see pre-season friendlies played further and further away from ‘home.’ That’s meant long-distance trips for many regional sports journalists before the season kicks off. Here, sports writers and reporters from Reach, the largest regional publisher in the UK, share their stories from going on tour to Germany, Spain, Australia, China and all points inbetween….
Dominic Shaw, Teesside Live — Germany
As a trusted news-source and the go-to destination for Middlesbrough fans, it’s imperative we’re aware of what the supporters want and provide that coverage.
As a fan, pre-season and the summer is among the most intriguing and fascinating stages of the year, particularly this year at Boro following the appointment of Jonathan Woodgate.
At every club in pre-season there are questions to be answered: What do the new signings look like? Are any youngsters ready to break through? How is the new manager setting up his team?
Come the start of the season answers to these questions are easily accessible but in the summer that’s not always the case, particularly for a club like Boro that aren’t necessarily on the national radar.
In Germany for Middlesbrough’s friendly at Heidenheim, Teesside Live were the only UK publication there.
That not only means we can make the most of exclusive access to the manager and players post-match, but it again demonstrates to the supporters that we’re the go-to number one provider of Boro news, analysis and opinion.
It’s probably worth pointing out that one German reporter at the game who covers Heidenheim was amazed and hugely impressed that a UK reporter had made the trip for the game.
Our web traffic over the course of the weekend, from live coverage of the game, to numerous follow-up news lines and analysis pieces, showed that it was a worthwhile trip and was greatly appreciated by supporters.
Beren Cross, LeedsLive — Australia
We followed the Whites over to Australia in mid-July. It was a phenomenal experience to say the least. While the financial expense has to be considered in this day and age, the payback, in the long term will certainly make it all worth it.
It mattered being there because of the message it sent our readership and the club’s fans. This was a huge statement of intent from a website which barely existed 18 months ago. With no other member of the regional media flying out there, we stood head and shoulders above the competition.
As a direct result, our social media reach exploded, with followers and likes spiking across personal and brand accounts. We delivered exclusives on a daily basis and by the end of the week we had seen a definite change in the tide across our readers.
As a side note, it was important to be there for our relationship with the club, which, as we know in this industry, is arguably the most important aspect of the job in this day and age. Being there, making that financial commitment was acknowledged by the club and, moving forward, should pay dividends.
Samuel Luckhurst, Manchester Evening News — Australia, Singapore & China
Travelling to parts of the world you would ordinarily never consider visiting is the biggest perk of the job. It is a privilege to embrace different cultures and particularly essential to provide coverage from abroad now more than ever, given the fraught and fractious political climate in the United Kingdom.
If you do not have a presence on tour your credibility plummets. Covering a tour reiterates the ‘paper’s dedication to its readership, both local and global. The MEN is a local ‘paper with a worldwide following and is the biggest and best platform to provide insight, analysis and colour from United’s pre-season tours.
We’ve been in a room with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, had face-time with Luke Shaw, attended every United press conference and asked questions with the intention of informing our readers.
You can gauge an outlet’s dedication to United coverage by a tour and the MEN’s is peerless.
Ashley Preece, BirminghamLive — Minnesota, USA
Four thousand miles away from Villa Park was a massive gathering of die-hard Aston Villa supporters. It was a claret and blue takeover in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, the destination for Villa’s summer training camp.
From ex-pats to US-based super fans to AVFC holidaymakers, hundreds joined as one for their unconditional love of Aston Villa.
Brit’s Pub, not far from the players’ hotel, was the hub for everyone to meet.
People who haven’t seen friends in 20-plus years met up, strangers were chatting about Dean Smith and his promotion-winning side while Smith himself even popped in for a pint, such was the camaraderie between club and supporters.
The atmosphere was incredible to be a part of and, being told of the jaw-dropping lengths fans go to watch Villa was, well, truly sobering. It’s clear Villa matter but, more so than ever, fans matter, no matter where they are in the world.
Charlotte Duncker, MEN — China and Japan
With limited access during the season going on pre-season tour gives the opportunity for a level of access which would never usually be possible.
During City’s tour of Asia we have already had seven player interviews and close access to training.
Being on the tour allows to build better relationships with the club and helps to provide exclusive content which otherwise would not have been possible.
Little bits of information picked up and things observed help to set the tone for the rest of the season. Something which would not have been possible by just covering the tour in the office.
Lee Ryder, ChronicleLive — China
Going to China was a success story for the Chronicle.
We left without a manager being confirmed but we were right at the centre of a developing story with close access to key officials at the club who we wouldn’t have been able to get hold of back home.
We had open access to training and the players and staff at the team hotel in Nanjing and Shanghai.
When Steve Bruce arrived we were able to report direct from scene and his first Press conference.
I was able to file 69 pieces of written content in seven days, a video diary each day, training shots and pics and player pieces to camera.
That doesn’t include match reports, two live match blogs and four live press conference blogs.
We also had scores of Chinese and Far East-based Chronicle readers eager to talk to us (pic included)
This week I have a video review of China planned and what Newcastle got out of the tour financially and in terms of spreading the brand.
There’s also another nine or 10 interviews to transcribe this week.
Throw into that we’ve been able to sit down and talk on and off the record with Steve Bruce we have been able to get in an advantageous position before a Premier League ball has even been kicked.
Jonty Colman, Hull Live — Marbella, Spain
I went to Marbella to cover Hull City’s week-long training camp in Spain, where they played friendlies against Leyton Orient and Lincoln Red Imps.
It was important to be there in person for a number of reasons.
In both friendlies, they fielded a trialist in Ryan Tafazolli so by being there, I was able to report on who he was and report back on how he had performing.
City also completed the signing of Tom Eaves whilst I was there, so I was able to pick head coach Grant McCann’s brains on the issue.
For me, it was also a first chance to get to meet the new manager and discuss with him a number of news-worthy and current topics including transfers, Kamil Grosicki’s unexplained absence and the future of his star assets. Without being in Spain, this simply would not have been possible and fans were keen to engage and wanted to learn about all of the major news from their Spanish training camp.
Simon Bajkowski, Manchester Evening News — China and Japan
The pre-season tour can set the tone of the club for the next 12 months as ideas formed in the summer grow in significance
There is always better access to the players and the manager on tour, and the alien surroundings of the tour always throw up unpredictable stories.
City’s China leg started in chaos when their plane could not fly on successive days and ended in disagreement when a local journalist took exception to the lack of access he had been given and wrote a scathing editorial for Chinese media. The club then flew to Hong Kong on the night that violence broke out amid ongoing protests in the country, and the locals used the occasion of the match to stage a unique protest.
Covering the tour gives an insight into the squad and club that simply cannot be matched.
Rob Guest, Football London — Japan
I had the honour of covering Chelsea on their pre-season tour of Japan for the games against Kawasaki Frontale and Barcelona. It was a great experience to be there following the Blues, especially after the recent announcement of Frank Lampard as head coach. T
hree reporters from the British national newspapers made the trip over to Tokyo and that gave me the chance to offer a different insight into the tour as the others were mainly doing quotes pieces and match reports.
We gave the fans in-depth coverage of the training sessions which proved to be huge hits, while we also gave our readers the opportunity to follow both matches via our live blog and different articles dissecting the performances.
Given the low numbers covering Chelsea out in Japan, it proved why it was so important for football.london to be there to give the fans exactly what they want on their club.
Steven Chicken, ExaminerLive — Austria
Town made the now-familiar trip to Austria in July, returning to the Kirchberg in Tirol area they have visited each summer since 2016. After the disastrous season Town had last year, the priority was as much on building team spirit as fitness and tactics.
Fans have been understandably nervous about the season ahead but getting to go behind the scenes in Austria really helped us to put the genuine positive mood in the training camp across to our readers.
Clubs can do all the PR they like to that effect on their websites and social media, but it carries much more weight coming from a more objective media.
I only started at the Examiner in April, so as the only journalist out there it was an invaluable chance to spend a bit of time with people at the club in a more relaxed environment and build up that vital relationship of trust.
Sam Inkersole, Football London — China
Touring China was an incredible experience, it was my first time in the Far East and seeing the fanatical supporters out there first hand was something to behold — even I got asked for a photo with a fan which has never happened before.
As it was a Premier League tour for the Asia Trophy. things were heavily regulated but it also meant the players did leave their training/hotel bubble and were forced into the outside world essentially, going to events with local kids to be mentors and coaches for example. Whether that was a help or a hindrance to the pro players, that’s up for debate.
As I was the only journalist there specifically covering West Ham, it gave me a chance to get to know the players a bit better in a far more relaxed environment.
Just seeing them wandering around the hotel and having a chat for example is something that would never happen in England.
For West Ham, it was very much about growing their brand in the Far East and in the same way, it was for football.london. Not just in China but in general, having a presence out there shows we mean serious business when it comes to covering our clubs.
Martin Spinks, StokeonTrentLive — Holland and Germany
It was only a two-night stay but a potentially significant one in the long term.
The trip took in the final day of a training camp in Holland followed by a friendly over the nearby German border against MSV Duisburg the following day.
It was valuable not just for the content, but for the one-to-one time with the manager at the outset of what could be a lengthy stay at Stoke City.
Experience in the past suggests it also helps when players see the local reporter (off duty so to speak), which can break down barriers that might otherwise exist once the season kicks off.