“OW VICKERS, why was there no interview in the Gazette with young Seb Hines?” It’s a fair question but not neccessarily one I wanted to answer when I was packing the bags in Asda and the lass at the till, noticeably twitchy that I was stopping to talk, was shotting the fruit and veg down with the no-frills speed and determination of a last ditch Hull attack.
In short it was because the club were “protecting” him from the media scrum lest some unscrupulous hack put undue pressure on to reveal state secrets by asking him any trick questions about whether he was chuffed to bits to have scored on his debut.
Not that the media were after him. Not the national lads anyway. The tabloids have next to no interest in some unknown teenager getting one of seven goals. They have to sell a story to their editor in London and he doesn’t give a monkeys about that. Seb Who? We haven’t even got a head shot! He wants names he has heard of. He wants West Ham transfer target Mark Viduka.
I asked for Hines though, although I’m not sure I constitute a media scrum. I was on post-match tunnel duty and that’s how it works, you ask for players. The club press office people ask who you want to talk to and you give them a list of options, with descending second and third choices like a proportional representation voting slip. You don’t always get who you want, especially after a defeat. Some skulk off, others brush past arranging exciting lives on their phones, some are in the changies for hours getting rub downs, bruises treated or eating nutritionally balanced snacks. Sometimes, like with PR, you get the best possible compromise.
So I asked for Hines, another one off the production line – the 16th Academy lad in the first team in 16 years – and he’s scored on his first senior start so you would think that was a good news story for Boro. And you would think that he would be delighted to gush enthusiastically at length about his moment of glory if only so his proud Mam and Dad could whack it in the scrapbook along with his England cuttings.
But no. Seb Hines was not available for interview. Boro have long had an unofficial policy of protecting the youngsters, one of the scientific advances brought by Steve McClaren from Old Trafford. You can see a logic to it: partly it is about psychology and the need to keep impressionable young lads’ feet on the ground, to prevent them thinking they are Juninho after one game; and partly it is about protecting media virgins from naively saying something that could come back and bite them in the bum later, and that’s fair enough.
But come on. This is the Gazette. Hines could be here for 15 years and go on to become a club legend. We are hardly going to “stitch him up” after his first game, manipulating him to slam Southgate, blast the club and eyeing a move to Madrid. We just want to share in his glee, revel in the success of the youth policy and introduce him to his newly adoring Boro public. We want to build a good relationship with him, not ruin it.
And it is not as if he is a stranger to the Gazette. He has long been on our radar. We have been bigging him up since he arrived at the club as a 15 year old. He had a two page spread in the paper just two months ago as part of Phil Tallentire’s excellent in-depth series on Boro’s Home Grown Heroes. and gave a very mature and articulate account of himself.
For me, ‘protecting’ players like Hines from the local media is a misguided policy. The club’s focus on the Academy is laudable, it is the key to the long term aim of a self-sustaining community-based club that puts the emphasis on a new culture of locally recruited talent. So surely every sign of success on that front should be hammered home in the Gazette at every opportunity as the club try to turn a tide of public opinion that is increasingly disillusioned with expensively imported fly-by-night mercenaries with no passion for or identity with the club?
These stories are branding gold-dust and should be exploited to the full. They play very well with the Teesside public if only because the youngsters speak the same language – and in the same accent – as the people who pay to watch them. The kids are symbolic of the bond between community and club and are remarkably eloquent advocates for Boro when they do speak. For all the multi-lingual media savvy in the dressing room, was there any more powerful motivational moment last season than Lee Cattermole’s moist eyes against first Arsenal then Aston Villa?
That talent, passion and potential produced within the club can help inspire supporters and bring hope for a future untainted by the excesses of money in the game. It can help reshape the club. Local lad makes good is the dream and Boro are a club where those dreams are coming true. It is a quality that should be nurtured by the club and publicised.
The youngsters don’t need to be thrown to the wolves, as maybe Stewy Downing was when he stepped from the benevolent questioning of the Gazette and the Echo into the full frontal attack of the media rat pack with England. The youngsters can be mentored and given basic media training. They can be broken-in gently in controlled conditions. They can be accompanied by a spion-doctor. But to hide them away them away is to miss a golden opportunity.
My second choice on the tunnel Q & A wish list was Mark Viduka but again he was not doing any interviews, presumably to damp down the rising speculation over his contract situation.
So through the wonders of the PR single transferable vote I got Jonathan Woodgate, who is always a good one, a frank talker who knows what the press want and gives them it, within reason. He told me that Boro were poor at the back, would get beat if they played like that in the Premiership and then hinted darkly at what the club needed to do to make him stay at the Riverside as he said they “needed to buy players if they want to keep players.” That was great, but I still had room in my notebook for Seb Hines as well.