When I was presenting, there was a lot of focus on the post-match interview. I knew it was something that was important to get right.
This was especially the case when things were not going well on the pitch for Forest. At times, it seemed to me that some fans looked forward to the interview as much as the match.
I remember when Mark Warburton was the manager, I woke up on a Saturday morning to a few tweets from fans who wanted me to lambast Warburton, tear him apart in the post-match chat, and effectively hound him out of the club.
And this was about six hours before the game kicked off! What would have happened had the Reds won that afternoon?
I was also mindful that, as much as some people scream and shout on Twitter, there’d be another section of the audience who liked the manager, thought he was building something and wanted him to stay.
Not everything was as black and white as it appeared on social media. Thank goodness.
I always viewed the post-match interview with the manager as a chance for him to explain what was going on – whether that be about the game, or selection, or other issues off the pitch.
The great American TV interviewer, Larry King, was once asked if he had any tips for interviewers. His reply was genius – “I never learned anything while I was talking.”
It’s a personal thing, but I don’t find that as a listener you get much out of an interview, when two people are just arguing with each other.
You might not agree with the answers, you might think the manager is being devious, but that’s not for me to make a judgment about – that’s for the listener (the fan) to decide.
So I often thought my job was to drill down a bit further – if a manager said something, and it was interesting – find out more about why he said it, what he meant by it, and what he didn’t say.
And I don’t think it was ever my job to hound a manager out of his, whatever people said on Twitter. There were those that thought I was too polite or nice to managers (being too nice is a criticism I can take, to be honest!).
But, whoever the manager was, I felt it was right to be respectful to them. You could ask tricky questions, and still be respectful. From my experience, if there was one person who felt worse than the fans about what had just happened in a game, it was the manager.
Nine times out of ten, I’d start the interview with a half-volley outside off stump – to give the manager a chance to say what they wanted about the game.
I found pretty early on that a manager will answer that first question how they want – no matter what the first question is! So, let’s get on with it, and then we can move on.
The nightmare scenario for me would often be when a manager felt his side had played quite well, when the commentary team and I felt they hadn’t.
Often, this came away from home, where a manager knew that the number of Forest fans there had been lower than a match at The City Ground, so if they came out and said his team had played well, there wouldn’t be the number of people there to disagree.
But it became more and more difficult in the interview, if the manager felt his side had performed well – the basis for many of the questions is undermined.
Dealing with non-British managers brought its’ own challenge. As I mentioned above, sometimes you want to drill down a bit into what they’ve said. But if the manager didn’t understand the nuances you were talking about, that made it very tricky.
And sometimes, if a non-British manager said something that made your ears prick up, it would often be a mis-understanding of the language rather than them being particularly outspoken.
Some managers seemed to delight in the post-match interview, and are very good at them – I always thought that Billy Davies (in his first spell) was the master.
Getting him to say anything he didn’t want to was very difficult, he had his message (which he’d often repeat again and again after the game!), and he understood what buttons he needed to press with fans in an interview after the match.
Stuart Pearce was very similar, though it felt less ‘scripted’ than with Billy – he seemed to talk with a freedom, was very honest about what he’d seen and would answer any question in a direct manner.
Joe Kinnear, as I’ve touched on before, was a joy to interview as a journalist because you never knew what you were going to get. But you’d definitely get a headline or two.
But, I must be honest, I often found interviewing the likes of Phillipe Montanier, Sabri Lamouchi and Aitor Karanka frustrating. It’s absolutely not their fault, but it was difficult to go into the detail I wanted to because they weren’t speaking in their first language.
And they might well have felt frustrated too, that they couldn’t get their point across in the manner they could if they were speaking in their native tongue.
I can honestly say that every manager seemed to understand the importance of their post-match interview, particularly in tricky times. They realised that they weren’t talking to me – I didn’t matter in these circumstances – but they were talking to the fans.
Supporters would be back in their cars, and hanging on their every word. And most managers realised that and would use it to their benefit. I don’t blame them for that, one little bit.
Often, saying the right thing could buy a manager a bit more time with supporters and it was possible to change the narrative if they were clever about what they said after a game – as I said, Billy Davies was the master at this!
There were times when you were sharing some joy in the post-match interview – and I was keen to help extract some of that emotion when I could. It’s fair to say there weren’t too many of those moments covering Forest – but I’ll always remember the lap of honour after the promotion from League One alongside Colin Calderwood and his squad.
Walking around the City Ground in the sunshine, chatting to those who’d succeeded, made a sharp contrast to much of what we’d been talking about during that season. It was lovely to share in the joy.
What you may not realise, and there’s no reason you should, is that often there was a bit of a ‘scrum’ after a game. I’d be in position to ask questions, and – depending on the importance of the game – there’d be plenty of other journalists huddled around listening.
It was very important in those circumstances to have sharpened your elbows, because at times you’d be buffeted around while trying to ask a question. Not ideal!
These days, you get fewer eye-opening moments in post-match interviews – players and managers are media-trained to within an inch of their lives and will very rarely give you a glimpse into their emotions or say something they didn’t mean to.
More recently, Joe Worrall’s lambasting of some of his colleagues after a home defeat to Wolves, or Aitor Karanka’s moody reflections after winning against Ipswich stick in the mind.
As an interviewer, you don’t know these moments are coming. If memory serves, it was the first time I’d spoken to Joe – so you’re faced with suddenly being at the eye of a storm, and a storm that you didn’t know was coming.
You’re then in a dilemma.
The journalist in you wants to keep pushing, to keep probing, to feast on their unexpected honesty. But, if you make it too obvious, the interviewee is very likely to go back into their shell, clam up and you’ll get nothing more.
With Aitor, after the Ipswich win, it was most unexpected. The likeable Spaniard was very level headed in a post-match interview and didn’t give lots away very often – he would rarely betray his emotion.
But I just got a sense something wasn’t right that night – I can’t quite explain what it was, but he wasn’t himself. So the simple question, “are you OK Aitor, you don’t seem very happy” suddenly brought out the fact that he really wasn’t.
“Are you ok?” is not a question you hear very often in a football interview. But on this occasion, even though I say so myself, it was the right one to ask and brought out a lot more.
Until that point, the question I was most pleased I’d asked was “It’s not just another game though, is it?”
That was before a derby match to Joe Kinnear, who was in a belligerent mood in his chat with every journalist that day. I think if I’d said to him, “Lovely blue sky today Joe?” he’d have said “No, it’s green sky.”
But I’m so glad I picked him up on describing Forest/Derby as “just another game.” It just shows the importance of listening to the answers in an interview, and not simply ploughing through a list of questions.
But the amiable Kinnear kept digging, and it became a factor in his departure from the club.
- “Right club at right time” – Part one of my chat with Robert Earnshaw
- Billy Davies, press conferences, FFP, social media abuse and a Perth beach…
- When things got personal at Forest
- When I couldn’t talk to Billy Davies – the most difficult year of my career!
- Why always Nottingham Forest?
- Making history at Elland Road
- A suit, a shave and the sack
PICS – DAN WESTWELL