Almanac Rugby League – A hard night’s work

COVERING a footy match seems a pretty straightforward task. I remember a Julia Roberts movie where the main male love interest was a sportswriter, depicted in the press box with a beer in hand and not a notebook in sight.

If only it was really like that.

In fact, covering a night match where things don’t go according to schedule for a daily newspaper can be stressful, difficult and – even after 25 years in the gig – mentally challenging. Saturday’s Gold Coast-Parramatta wooden spoon play-off actually led to me to believe I’ve “gone soft” since leaving full-time employment at the dailies because, to be brutally honest, I struggled.

For the 18,265 fans at Skilled Park, the night was about Parramatta avoiding the spoon and Preston Campbell doing a marathon two-hour farewell lap of honour. For me, it was about a media conference starting more than a half an hour late, missing a deadline and trying to minimise the mistakes in my copy that resulted.

For the uninitiated, there are editions of the paper the day after a night game that feature not even a score from the match, others that have just descriptive and no quotes, and later editions where coaches and players are quoted from the sheds. Often, one reporter has to fill that hole in the paper himself, edition after edition.

So, during the game you do what is called “running copy”, filing descriptive at halftime and then again at fulltime. This means – to tell the complete truth – you cannot watch big chunks of the game you are there to cover. And it can be a nightmare if matches are decided on the bell – you are writing about stuff as it happens and the risk of making errors is high.

Luckily, with the Eels winning 32-12, that was not going to be an issue on Saturday.

I sent someone a text saying that I would like to write: “Parramatta didn’t just hand Gold Coast the wooden spoon last night – they shoved it up their arses”. It was a joke – but the more I thought about it, the more I thought I could get away with a tame variation of that line.

And so, if you live in parts of Australia, what you would have read over your breakfast the next day in the Sun-Herald was: Parramatta didn’t just hand Gold Coast the wooden spoon last night. They took the mythical utensil and did something rude and excruciatingly painful with it.”

Sorry about that.

The problems arose after the match. With the presentation to Campbell and other departing Gold Coasters, both teams were on the field until well after 9.30. Then, for some reason, the Eels decided to have their end-of-season speeches right there, in the dressing rooms. Stephen Kearney and Nathan Hindmarsh did not emerge until after 10. My final story (known in the trade as a ‘replace’) was due at 10.40.

After all that waiting around, the Eels actually said very little. The good lines were from Gold Coast’s Luke Bailey, who said: “It’s hard to look a bloke in the eye who’s done so much for the game and toss up shit like that”.

“They (Campbell and departing Anthony Laffranchi) deserved a lot better. We didn’t front up. I am disgusted with myself and the team. “

Great stuff. Except by now it’s 10.25 and I have 15 minutes to write 550 words. The deal I cut with my sports editor is that I will file whatever is on my screen at 10.40 and then keep writing a “proper” replace for the final edition, which will probably be read in Surry Hills and not much further afield.

The problem with this plan is that there’s no time to properly proof-read. The modem dongle isn’t working so I write until 10.38 and then reboot the computer so it will. I get up to roughly 400 words but they include the following stuff-ups:

·         Says Parramatta’s last wooden spoon was in 1973. It was 1972;

·         Says it was Preston Campbell’s 266th game. It was his 267th;

·         Says it was 32-0 after eight minutes. It was 48.

The good thing about writing a third story, aside from correcting the mistakes, was I got to see Preston finally return from his lap of honour – at 11.09pm. My colleagues actually got some quotes from him on the other side of the field but I never had time for that. They even witnessed him signing a wooden spoon.

But as I left the ground at 11.30, it was an empty feeling knowing I had expended so much energy but had ultimately fallen short, making mistakes that I could not correct. I knew exactly how Luke Bailey was feeling.

Steve Mascord

About Nick Tedeschi

Nick Tedeschi was the chief rugby league writer at Punting Ace for five years after a career in politics and bookmaking. He has written freelance for a number of organisations including Back Page Lead, Crikey and Betfair and now runs his own website. He writes an annual NRL betting preview and is a diehard Canterbury fan who lists Craig Polla-Mounter, David Stagg, Tony Grimaldi and Daryl Halligan as his favourite players.


  1. Excellent description of what it’s like to be a game reporter, though you’ve taken all the romance out. Though some nights are tough, hitting the deadlines with your best stuff is a rush. And real craft. And perhaps you go back far enough to remember the days of dictating live game stories to the copy desk maybe 15 or 20 minutes before deadline, armed with just your wits and a notebook. Making that copy sing is about as good as it gets.

  2. david butler says

    What an interesting article. Answers a lot of questions. Steve hasn’t begun to talk about the difficulties of dealing with super egos and remaining nice. League writers will get a lot more respect from me after reading that.

  3. Steve is of the old school…you won’t get much on the record of those egos!

  4. Greg Mallory says

    Good insight into the journalist’s difficult job. I was in the press box in Townsville a few years back covering a schoolboy game & was beside Steve. I was astounded the way he wrote stuff down as it was happening. I can see how you could miss something vital.

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