In twenty years, things change. When I left the BBC in Nottingham in March 2020, my job was almost completely different to when I joined in August 1999. That’s inevitable.
The fundamentals were the same – talking on the radio, finding stories, interviewing managers, editing audio etc.
But by 2020, so much had changed – dealing with clubs became very different, social media was an all-consuming beast that needed to be fed, players and managers were ridiculously careful about what they said for fear of upsetting someone, and the BBC had changed too.
Put simply, doing the job was much more difficult than it had been, and it wasn’t as much fun. As I mentioned previously, I don’t want you to think it wasn’t enjoyable – because it was.
I was still ridiculously lucky to do what I did, but relationships had changed – relationships with clubs, managers, and colleagues.
Sport had become different, and that’s when I decided I wanted to do something different. Maybe I’d simply done the job for too long.
Ever since I first visited Sydney, I’d wanted to live there – and I got the opportunity to do it.
It was a huge decision, but I didn’t want to get to the age of 70 and think ‘I wish I’d tried it,’ so I write this blog from the beautiful Australian city.
I remember my first couple of journeys up to Nottingham (from deepest, darkest Essex) having got the job.
Before my start date, there was an event that I had been invited to. It was a ‘getting to know you’ meal with David Platt, for Midlands sports journalists.
If memory serves, it was just outside the city, and I arrived to see a table with twenty-odd journalists sitting around a table – before Platt walked in to hold court. It blew my mind.
You have to appreciate where I’d come from. I’d been commentating on Southend United – who by then were back in League Two, after a six season dalliance in the Championship.
There was certainly no national spotlight on the Blues – and while I’d got to know and work with plenty of Southend managers in my time there (Ronnie Whelan, Peter Taylor, Alvin Martin etc), none of them had the profile that Platt did.
In many ways, he was the golden boy of English football. I remember a conversation with the Chief Executive at Southend – a Yorkshireman called John Adams.
He could be a tricky customer to work with, and was often pretty forthright with his views. His son Chris played cricket for Sussex, and went on to play for England too.
We used to have lengthy conversations on the phone, where he’d chat a lot more than I would.
But I will always remember telling him that I was leaving BBC Essex to move to Nottingham – he seemed genuinely pleased for me.
Shortly afterwards, Forest appointed Platt. I was watching on from afar, knowing that I had the job to move to once I’d worked my notice period in Essex.
The Reds had been linked with Martin O’Neill, and he looked (from a distance) certain to take the job – twenty years before he did, of course.
But I remember being quite pleased with the appointment of Platt – it was high-profile, and he was highly rated.
In terms of profile and kudos, it was like Frank Lampard going to Derby, though – as it turned out – far less successful.
But Adams hit the nail on the head pretty early in one of our conversations – calling it a ‘ridiculous appointment’.
“What you need to get out of the Championship is an experienced man. Someone who knows the division inside out. What they need is Dave Bassett, but they’ve sacked him,” Adams said.
My enthusiasm bubble had been burst. But, as it turned out, he was dead right.
I found Platt a bit odd, if I’m honest. Only in the second of his two seasons at the club did he seem to treat me as a human being.
At that stage, there were two radio stations covering Forest – BBC Radio Nottingham and Century, the latter having given up their exclusive commentary rights a few months after I’d joined.
Platt seemed to get on with Darren Fletcher, Century’s main man, much better than me.
I once remember asking the bog-standard, end of interview question before a match.
“Finally David, any injuries this week? How are you shaping up?”
Nothing controversial or certainly not challenging.
“What’s it got to do with you?” Platt replied.
He seemed to find it funny, anyway.
For me, and this is talking in hindsight, bearing in mind what I felt before I moved to Nottingham, that was the big mistake Forest made – the decision to appoint Platt.
Had they taken Adams’ advice and gone for someone with experience, they’d probably have gone straight back up within a couple of years, and the following two decades of struggle to get out of the Championship (and League One) wouldn’t have happened.
It was also quite a difficult time for me – having moved to a new city, covering new clubs. What I needed were managers I got along with. Platt wasn’t one of those.
That was in contrast to Sam Allardyce, who was the Notts County manager when I arrived in Nottingham.
Notts were toward the top of League One at the time, and Allardyce was being linked with the vacant job at Bolton, his old club.
I mentioned earlier that things changed over the twenty years, and here’s another example.
I rang Allardyce early in the week to arrange a time to go down to Meadow Lane to interview him ahead of the game. That doesn’t happen now.
But it was a useful time to have a chat, build a relationship, find out if anything was happening etc.
When I got down to Meadow Lane, Allardyce said he was ready to do the interview, but that “I shouldn’t ask him about the Bolton job.”
He’s quite an intimidating guy, but I knew somehow I’d have to ask him about it, I’d have to find a way of referencing it – I wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise.
Imagine me getting back to the office and them asking “what did he say about the Bolton job?” and me replying with “I didn’t ask him!!”
The interview was underway, and pretty dull to be honest. We talked about last week’s result, the strengths of this week’s opposition, despite them being towards the bottom of the table – bland stuff.
But then he dropped in “we can’t afford to let this speculation about Bolton affect us.”
Almost immediately, you could see the annoyance at himself in his own eyes. He’d given me an ‘in.’
I could then follow up with “is there a danger that it could etc etc?”
And to be fair to Allardyce, he realised what he’d done and went on to answer the questions about Bolton in a very straight-forward way.
The first part of the interview was never used, and I’d got my story. He wasn’t annoyed afterwards, both of us had respect for each other.
In hindsight, maybe he was dropping it in ‘by mistake’ because he did want to be asked about it.
You’re far more cynical than me! But within a few short days, Allardyce had left Notts for the North West.
That was the last time I spoke to Allardyce (and I’d not had that many dealings with him beforehand, having only arrived in Nottingham in August), but I always look at him with admiration because of the way he treated me back then.
It’s not hard to treat people respectfully, is it?
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