The Boro Boy Who Helps Shape England Agenda

THE ENGLAND boss is under more intense media scrutiny than any man in the country except the Prime Minister. So said the FA’s Middlesbrough-born spin doctor supreme Adrian Bevington as he ran a very smooth news management operation when the Steve McClaren media circus came to Teesside yesterday.
Counting the column inches and measuring the airtime the respective former right-hand men who have stepped up to the top job get he has a point, although arguably he has sold himself short.

While Gordon Brown has his hands on the levers of power and controls foreign and economic policy, burning interest in the minutae of his decisions is limited to a numerically small high-brow elite. McClaren in contrast is at the heart of a national obsession that provokes emotional turmoil among an opinionated audience of millions and his decisions are dissected on messageboards and in pubs and workplaces across the land with a passion that a White Paper on Private Finance Initiatives in Education never can.
Plus, lurking just below the surface is the unspoken knowledge that all the worst excesses of the tabloid press – the muck-raking, the creative bile, the sustained full-frontal assault, the cartoons of root vegetables – come quickly to the surface where Team England are concerned and Boro boy turned FA Director of Media Bevington knows he could quickly be thrown into the front-line of fire-fighting and damage limitation.
But for now, things are going smoothly. Former Boro boss Steve McClaren, who still lives in Yarm, unveiled his squad for next week’s crunch qualifiers on his own doorstep and the TV cameras, radio mics and press pack were jostling for position and exclusives in the usually genteel surrounds of the Tall Trees Hotel for Friday lunchtime press conference.
You would think that the national hacks would object to being dragged up to the frozen north for what is a routine job but Yarm does down well. “We should do them all up here Adrian,â€? says a scribe. The lobby of Tall Trees is spacious and plush with impressive friezes, marble inglenook fireplaces and wooden paneling that are a Las Vegas version of what regency should be, although the impression of grandeur is spoiled by the incongruous crumpled bohemian shabbiness of the sports scribes’ collective wardrobe.
In the carpark there are outside broadcast vans from Sky, the BBC and ITV. The lobby is full of big name writers from the nationals milling around while upstairs technicians are wiring up monitors, mics and cameras and checking lighting levels and camera angles. Ray Stubbs is sat revising his copious notes from a clipboard.
Bevington, a one time Boro junior press officer who has worked his way up to become one of the most influential men in the game, is charged with keeping it orderly, ensuring that the boss gets his message across and that the media go away satisfied with their sound-bites and quotes and that they produce stories that are broadly supportive.
Like the PM, McClaren was not just unveiling policies – his team – but also delivering a message: the need for unity when the pressure is on at Wembley next week. “We are all in this together,â€? is his mantra for the day. “The coaches, the players, the fans… you guys (the press)… we all want the same thing. To qualify. We all need to pull in the same direction.â€?
It is part manifesto and part statement of the obvious but also part a pre-emptive shot to head off the inevitable jittery backlash if England don’t win the first game of the double-header against Israel comfortably next Saturday.
Of course it isn’t really like the cynical manipulation of spin soap The Thick of It and Bevington isn’t an Alistair Campbell figure working ruthlessly to manipulate the agenda. But he does run a tight ship. He meets and greets, organises the running order and negotiates with the various camps over the coach’s time then with the preparations complete he guides Steve McClaren through a two hour flurry of carefully timed smaller press conferences organised to meet the needs of radically different mediums.
Different mediums maybe, but the same questions over and over again: the Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney injuries, the shock inclusion of Ashley Young, the rehabilitation of David Bentley, the keeper situation and – asked quietly but with a kernal of lurking menace – the possible consequences of defeat and failure to qualify.
And with every asking the responses were broadly the same, came gift-wrapped in a confident smile and the message of unity was tapped out in a series of soundbites. That McClaren, who so often looked uncomfortable in the spotlight at Boro, has had media coaching is clear. He is relaxed, his body language expressive and open, his verbal delivery pitched carefully to emphasis his main points and his gleaming toothy smile is used as punctuation.
And he switches smoothly between the concise answers needed by TV who must edit them down into 30 or 60 second nuggets but which speak directly to the audience and the more comprehensive replies to the written press that are more measured in the knowledge that they will be taken in isolation and filtered through whatever prism their editor demands.
The operation starts swiftly after the squad is officially released at 12 noon. First there is a session in the AR Khan Suite for the TV networks intended to give brief snippets on the squad and the importance of the game. This is done quickly so it can be to edited quickly ready for the lunchtime and early evening news bulletins.
With lights beaming down and four cameras whirring in a confined space it soon gets very hot and clammy in the room but McClaren looks cool as he bats questions aside.
He sits in front of an FA backdrop with his hands resting on a desk, slightly apart but with fingertips together and as he rolls out his bullet points he spreads the digits out in an inclusive gesture to underline and emphasise. As the same phrases echo throughout the day the rhythmic movement of his hands become metronomic and hypnotic.
Seven minutes later the network TV reporters scurry away to start work on edit suites outside while McClaren prepares for a live exclusive with Sky Sports’s David Craig. The desk is cleared away quickly, two chairs are produced and the cameras and lighting moved in closer. Seeing a notebook that could compromise their exclusivity the Sky people ask me to leave but Bevington tells them I have access all areas clearance and I reassure them I won’t steal their quotes.
A rolling news channels gives Sky the luxury of the time to do set-piece interviews and as it will be broadcast uncut to a key section of the England audience it is very important in setting the agenda. Going out so soon after the squad is announced it is content gold dust, a fantastic chance for the boss to explain at length and in his own words his selections, tactics and expectations for the game and also for Sky to get in first with the questions everyone is asking. They get the same answers as everyone else but at least they get them first.
As well as a live head-to-head Sky can cull a string of 30 second snippets from this session that they will use over the coming week to boost their news broadcasts. One snatch about David Beckham is used soon after along with footage of the tackle that crocked the LA Galaxy man, another about Lampard’s crucial role in midfield appears later that evening as news breaks that Chelsea man has a thigh strain.
“Five minutes,â€? says Bevington firmly as Craig negotiates his slot then as that deadline is passed there is some frantic off-camera gesticulation as the FA man first points to his watch then indicates a winding up motion and, with McClaren still addressing the camera, Craig sticks a finger up and mouths “one moreâ€?. At the end Bevington laughs and congratulates him: “You got nine, well done Davidâ€?.
Over the corridor McClaren is ushered into the Charles Amer Suite where watched by a stern portrait of the former Boro chairman 20 journalists from the national press – “we have invited just one each from every national paper plus the Gazette,â€? explains Bevington – fire away with their questions. McClaren and Bevington sit at the head of a rectangle of table with a dozen dictaphones in front of them to face what is a potentially tricky grilling from the big-hitters.
For all the importance of Sky in delivering a big audience and conveying exactly what has been said it is the written press who can most vividly shape public perceptions and can most dramatically transform the political landscape with not just judicious use of the quotes but also adding colour and perspective to support shifting opinions and sometimes editorial directives.
The questioning is dominated by influential broadsheet top dogs Martin Samuel of the Times and Henry Winter of the Telegraph but everyone gets the same quotes.
Samuel lays a trap, asking if Beckham’s transatlantic timetable and injury were related, was his Stateside semi-retirement ‘asking for trouble, but McClaren neatly swerves it. It is asked again and once more is sidestepped. The questions prompt longer, more comprehensive and more considered but at root the same measured answers.
The daily reporters leave to start pounding at laptops in the lobby as the writers from the Sundays take their turn. At this point I am asked to leave. I am a from a daily and it is the unwritten code of the engrained sports reporting caste system that once they get their quotes the dailies leave and give the Sundays, who need more esoteric quotes that are not time sensitive, a free-run. “Sorry about that but my life wouldn’t be worth living,â€? says Bevington but no apology is neccessary. My life wouldn’t be worth living either.
Finally it is back across the corridor for the BBC cameras and a piece with Ray Stubbs for Football Focus. The Beeb have set up in a different part of the room, darker and with foliage as a backdrop, so the footage looks distinct from Sky’s.
The 25 minute interview will be cut immediately down to four or five for Saturday’s show – “I’ll finish about 2.30 in the morning then drive home then tomorrow is the busy day because of Match of the Day,â€? says the editor – but is massively important because it is the only lengthy statement to the nation Steve McClaren will make on terrestrial TV.
It is friendlier in tone than the rest and McClaren visibly relaxes and laughs a few times at
Stubbs’ matey approach but nevertheless the answers, the inclusive message – and despite being out of shot, the hands – remain the same.
“It went well,â€? said Bevington afterwards, and he was right. Everyone got what they wanted. Whether it will go so smoothly if results go badly next week, we will see.


26 thoughts on “The Boro Boy Who Helps Shape England Agenda

  1. “The lobby of Tall Trees is spacious and plush with impressive friezes, marble inglenook fireplaces and wooden paneling that are a Las Vegas version of what regency should be…”
    Sounds like someone’s fishing for a free room with the misses.
    On a more serious note, I appreciate the in depth for those who don’t get to see the inner workings of the press but to change over to England is a shame given how good the Boro are looking, With that in mind, I’ll carry on regardless.
    We played excellently today, totally controlling the play. Signing O’Neil (if he stays fit) will help as it frees up Tuncay. Young Wheater deserved his goal, just surprised it wasn’t an overhead kick.
    We have money to spend in the winter on a striker if needs be (lets partition Mido to shun the African Cup) while I’d still like to see us replace Schwarzer with Sorensen or Jaaskelainen.
    Congratulations to Southgate for playing football which is both exciting and effective and if you keep it up you’ll have proved all the naysayers wrong making success all the sweeter.
    **AV writes: I didn’t just pluck it out of the air. I got an invite to Friday’s England press conference and it was a good opportunity that rarely falls the way of local papers. And it has two Boro angles. I though people would be interested.

  2. We are interested, AV, thanks! A fascinating insight into the world of the media.
    More occasional wider-football articles like this, please!

  3. eye opening stuff again Av but like we know on here when you write stuff thats not boro the readers here arnt interested. that why short sighted boro fans are always surprised by everything that happens and they dont see it coming.
    i’ll link this on usetobeflymetothemoon for you.see if we can drum up some trade.
    **AV writes: Thanks.

  4. I think Boro should employ a ‘Spin Doctor’ to entice the fans back to the Riverside. The 12,100 that missed Saturday’s fare can’t possibly stay away forever.That was some of the most exciting football played at home for a long, long time.
    Sceptics will say “The opposition was poor”. That may have been true, but how may times have we seen a Boro side struggle and lose to a side like that.
    I am warming very much to the new style of football on offer. Luke Young has brought a new found freedom to the right hand side and Gary O’Neil can only re-enforce that when he is back to full fitness.
    When was the last time we started a season, 5 games in and one cup match where 7 different players have scored ?
    Steve Gibson, get your own ‘spin’ working and get the fans back in to witness it for themselves.

  5. AV
    Inside or outside the Riverside Stadium, my words echo the same about McClaren, because it was that goon who lost us the UEFA Cup Final.
    The Carling Cup should have had a sleeping partner, but his tactics extend no further than a Fantasy Draft Board, and that exaggeration is a mild bonus.
    No manager in their right senses would have made the changes which that clown did at half time in the biggest game in our club’s history.
    He handed Seville the cup, because he should have shored up the defence remembering there was 45 minutes play left, and taken complete stock of what players would be needed and when.
    He told Beckham it was all over, then comes out with the best one yet “I did it to waken up his game scenarioâ€?
    You are so meek and weak that you even brought back a Chelsea pensioner to be your future partner.
    How the FA allowed that is beyond me, but not beyond they, because they are very much like you at getting it wrong!!!
    You will never-ever win over the England fans, because your attitude of approach can’t even win over our players.
    Just like the days when you were manager of our club. Now the brushes of tomorrow have swept your cobwebs well away, thank the Lord.
    I support my country at football, but not you, because you have never earned that right and never will.
    The only good point I have to say about you is this.
    I had a fiver on you at 22/1 to get the England mangers job, when your smile looked doomed.
    Clever tactics pay high dividends when you are up front, and people respect you as a person, but you will never taste that luxury of reward.
    I do not like the man AV.

  6. Interesting stuff AV – it would probably have got a bot tasty if Heskey was in the original squad.
    Good performance Saturday by the lads, O’Neill is an excellent signing, things are certainly looking up for the Boro.
    C’Mon Boro

  7. Encouraged by what Southgate is trying to do- fluent,fast football and for one simple reason – the team are fitter,younger and stronger
    Next two home matches one would hope see bigger attendances; Sunderland and Chelsea

  8. AV
    Such invites should always be seen, because the National team belongs to every region and it is extremely important in my eyes that local press also, see the scoreboard first hand.
    At least your pen has a local freedom, which is the best voice to write home about.
    Our team spirit is obviously on a high and isn’t great to see 11 battlers?
    It is also great to pick the Gazette up and read the type of features that the fan’s can cheer about without being inside the ground.
    So well done to the Sports team and a black mark for Match of the Day.
    That was some farce on Saturday evening.
    A mythical competition was shown before the realities of a Premiership league game.
    I think your 27 second prediction is a must bet now.

  9. Good stuff Vic, very interesteing.
    Someone above said why don’t Boro get someone in who knows how to spin in a positive way instead of the amateurs at MFC who can’t seem to get it right and consistently score own goals against the club
    Keep it up mate.

  10. I’m still in shock from the Brummy game fast non stop attacking footie. Unlike what we have witnessed for the last 5 seasons under the excellent mr McClaren, not.
    But yet again it was’nt how good we were it was the Brums had a bad game. Excuse me but they could’nt get near us or the ball.
    I told friends McC would not last too long, wrong style of footie for our fans. Like everyone we like the English style not the slow sidewards and backwards after we get an early goal.
    AV thought you would have said about the game and what the stayaways missed.

  11. Excellent article AV.
    It strikes me that the difference between McClaren and Southgate is that GS is a manager who sees the whole picture, the style of play he wants, the players he needs to buy and a positive attitude.
    Perhaps Mac couldn’t identify the right players to buy, wasn’t brave enough but was a decent coach, just a thought.
    Boro were great against Brum, we’ve bought some good players and Arca and Rocky are a revelation. As was The Boat who has suddenly discovered how to pass! Buying O’Neil has clearly concentrated his mind.

  12. Great column, the best yet, a great insight to all the spin that detracts from football these days. Mac will get it wrong on the field like he so often did for boro.
    Nice to see that the man who got the team to Eindhoven is now getting some credit with the football he is now playing at the boro.
    We must be the worst supported team in the premiership when you look at the population of teesside. The fact that people say they can’t afford it and watch matches on Taliban TV is the same for every club but they don,t get very poor attendances like boro, a shame but Gareth “if you build it they will come”

  13. Peter
    Article from the Times includes
    Middlesbrough estimate that at least 60 pubs on Teesside show their home matches live, and illegally, on Saturday afternoons. They claim this affects attendances more than tickets prices.
    Maybe it is not the same for every club

  14. If its true there are 60 pubs/clubs showing Boro home matches live on ‘Taliban TV’ (I like Peters description!) then maybe there are 50 odd people in each of them watching the match, so that is 3000 people.
    Would they all go to the match if they couldn’t see it on TV? Probably not, maybe 50% would. Prehaps that means Boro are loosing 1500-2000 people a game, which is significant, prehaps not so much from a revenue point of view, but it certainly detracts from the atmosphere in the stadium.
    **AV writes: My impression is that it is far more than 60 pubs – most of the pubs and clubs within striking distance of me seem to have al-jazeera – but that the number who would go to the match if it was unplugged is grossly over-estimated.
    Most of those in my local stopped going long ago for a whole variety of reasons. They were in the pub watching Jeff Stelling long before live matches started and my guess is they will still be there long after they stop.
    I think it is natural for the clubs to look for “the reason” people don’t go and blame thinsg beyond their control but maybe they should be looking closer to home at the things they can control, prices and entertainment

  15. Oops, pressed a wrong button so ignore a part posting – ok, ignore it more than my usual postings.
    Interesting that England have a competent spin doctor. No amount of spin can hide the disatisfaction that swept Boro fans in the latter stages of Mac’s reign and hung over the club once he had left. It was not all Mac’s fault, the club deserve due credit for their part.
    We are now picking up the pieces as Gate tries to rebuild bridges with the fans. I have often stated it isnt just the price of the tickets that has caused fans to desert the club. It does have a large part to play but it is the summation of the bits that make people believe it wasnt value for money to renew.
    Lambs view that it is better to have fans pay at the gate for financial reasons and that they could attract new fans defied belief. His views that we would get the club we could afford should be turned to getting the number of fans MFC deserve.
    Sadly, fans returning isnt like turning on a tap. It may take some time to entice them back and the fact is they may not return in previous numbers. That is when the club will have to bite on the bullet as far as pricing goes and that will irritate those who have bought season tickets.
    Gate appears to be doing a valiant job and deserves better.

  16. I always have a wry smile when the old chestnut of poor attendances arises.
    For many a season at Ayresome Park, I would travel from wherever I was based in the RN to come and watch the Boro.
    For 9 out of the last 10 seasons at the Riverside, I travelled a 600 mile round trip from my home in Hampshire (car, motorcycle or train), and only missed 3 home games in 9 seasons.
    My journey this season is only just short of a 200 mile round trip which is heaven compared with what I used to do.
    When the Riverside was rocking in the early days, there was lots of fans who travelled long distances from around the U.K.
    However, I know this has dwindled rapidly since SM took over the reins, because a lot of fans I used to give lifts or see on the train, no longer travel.
    Whatever reasons people have for staying away, it will only change if the Club can put its own house in order. GS is doing his upmost on the field, but the hierarchy have got to hone their communication and management skills to win back the stay aways.
    In my opinion too much effort is put into the glizy side of upper class hospitality and not enough at ground level for the ‘grass roots’ supporter. Get back to basics Boro and get the public back on-side.

  17. The demand and market is there for dodgy foreign tv because the fans are being over charged in the first place.
    Bring the prices down is the answer. MFC pleading poverty with the fans doesnt wash anymore. Just look at the players car park on match day. About time the club gave soemthing back to the fans after treating us with very little respect over the years.

  18. The reason people have stopped going to the games is simple – No value for money. Appreciate that Southgate is trying to provide entertainment by the signings and style he is trying to play.
    However with a low economy area like ours, charging on average say £19 for an adult ticket is just not realistic. Especially when you look at a top flight game in germany for example is £10.
    Say a family goes to the match, 2 adults, 2 kids, thats already £58 (average £10 kid tickets)No parking around the ground so to park is £5 in one of junk yards around (these go up by 50p a season aswell) a programme is about £3, 2 burgers and chips & a drink just for the kids is £9.60 (£3.30 for burger and chips, £1.50 each for a drink).
    So in total that is £75.60 for a family of 4 to go to just one match. Thats not including the petrol to get there and you wonder why the attendence is low.
    Reduced prices would help, adults for £10 kids under 10 for a quid oaps and 10 – 17 year olds for a fiver for example, im sure the crowds would come back.
    Only problem is that when they do reduce tickets, its unfair on the season ticket holders who, although get slightly reduced rates usually dont get as much a discount as the others. Maybe a refund at end of season for excess paid would draw crowds back to.
    Simple jestures by the club could draw crowds back, for example when a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids) buys season tickets they get the new home shirt free for each of the kids. I think people would buy into this and that could bring in the crowds, especially familys like the club wants as the kids are the future supporters of this team.
    One final thought on this subject, do something about the half time entertainment as its pants. Bring back the school penalty shoot outs and the half time quiz against the opposition fans.
    Btw sky sports are reporting that Mendieta is in the squad for the upcoming reserve game. I hope this is true as at least we will be paying him for doing something. Thinking back to his comments from the other week, he was saying all the right things about wanting to play for team etc (prob just to get bk in public eye for a transfer but as that didnt happen) If this is his attitude, it is the right one and hopefully he can reproduce the form that once made him a £28million man.

  19. AV I suspect you’re right when you say that those watching ‘Taliban TV’ or Jeff Stelling wouldn’t go to a match anyway.
    I’m also sure that if Boro can maintain entertainment levels then the crowds will return, but as Ian said it will be a slow process. I’m optimistic for the future as Boro have played good quality entertaining football in all three home matches so far, and that is with a team that is still gelling.
    If Boro maintain the stylish attacking football then the Riverside will become a place to fear for away teams, something it hasn’t been for a long time.
    For me its great to see all eleven players playing with such commitment, watching Boro has become a joy again. For too long it was nerve biting will we hang on for the win stuff. Lets hope we can sustain it for a season, if we can who knows what can be achieved.
    PS I always said Rocky was a class act!

  20. Mainy
    I think £24 was the price I paid for Blackburn. Take my son and that is £48. 280 mile round trip, I have a diesel so that is 7 gallon at say £4.30 a gallon makes roughly £30. £7 for food, £5 for parking. Programme and fanzine. That is getting close to £100 and my wife and daughter are set loose in the shops. Add in the cost for premium matches and that is serious money.
    How to add to disincentives. Easy, here is just one, travel midweek for Carling cup matches, get home at ridiculous hours the next morning having taken time off work secure in the knowledge that cos you dont have a season ticket you have no chance of a final ticket.
    As I posted earlier price is only a part of the problem, just as closing down satelite TV is only part of the solution.
    The goodwill towards Gate is important, the club ought to keep their mouths shut, support him, look to re-engage the fans and hope for the best.

  21. Oy vey, AV –
    “TV cameras, radio mics and press pack were jostling for position and exclusives in the usually >gentile< surrounds of the Tall Trees Hotel for Friday lunchtime press conference.”
    Gentile? Very appropriate for the Israel game! Perhaps that why SMac chose the venue.
    I don’t mean to start a Holy War but maybe you mean “genteel”? 🙂
    **AV writes: Genteel, schmenteel. I’ve corrected it already.

  22. You pay £5 to park??
    I pay nowt,but walk 10mins…(Bipedal ape)
    Try it.
    You pay £4.80 for burger & chips.
    I eat nowt (Difficult for 90mins. I know!)…try it.

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