In this three part series with Mark Douglas, chief sports editor at the Chronicle, he gives us the lowdown regarding his book “Inside the Rafalution“. How has being involved with Newcastle United affected him? What made him write the book? A few minor spoilers could come up, but it won’t ruin a fabulous book on the story of Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United.
– What made you write the book and get so immersed in NUFC, despite being a Bradford fan?
I challenge anyone who has lived in Newcastle, worked with the club, its fans and experienced match days at St James’ Park not to get immersed in the curious, enthralling and beguiling world of Newcastle United.
For a start, I was born in Ryton so I do have some connection to the area. Secondly I’m married to a Northumberland girl and I love the place – always have – so why wouldn’t I get immersed in it when it’s so important to life up here?
I remember before I left Wolverhampton – where I covered Wolves, another of the great English clubs – my former chief sports writer, Martin Swain, warning me that I was jumping out of the frying pan into the fire with a chuckle. He basically meant that however busy and engaging Wolves were, Newcastle was going to be that multiplied by ten. He wasn’t far wrong.
I think Newcastle are so appealing to me because in my heart I love the underdog. United are basically the Boston Redsox, aren’t they? One day that curse is going to end. One day they will win something. I just hope I’m still working for the Chronicle when it happens. Or I’m still young enough to witness it first hand.
I wrote the book because I feel that for as long as Rafa is around they’ll be edging closer to actually do winning something. And the more I started to hear, witness and experience what Rafa was doing at the club, the more I became convinced. Convinced that there was a bigger story going on than we could fit online or in the newspaper. There were so many lovely little things going on that I just felt pulling it all together in a book would be the perfect way to represent the best year since I have been covering Newcastle.
– Rafa must’ve let you in to converse a few times in relation to the book, how different is the club towards media after Rafa’s arrival, compared to before?
When you talk about how the club treats the media you have to be very clear about what you mean. I have been treated with warmth by almost everyone at Newcastle from the moment I started at the Journal in 2008. From the security guards, the tea lady, the press room stewards to the Academy coaches. They’ve all been really friendly. And so have the press team. But from around 2012-15 there was so much mistrust and frustration that it became almost impossible for us to have a functioning relationship with the manager and the hierarchy.
Alan Pardew was a bit of an opportunist when it came to the media. He knew we weren’t flavour of the month in the boardroom so he did what he did: acquiesced with the owner and thought ‘I don’t need them’. Then when the whole ‘media partner’ thing happened, it made Steve McClaren look weak. He was a decent guy and he might have been a decent coach in different circumstances. But he was hamstrung by so many things – not least the fact his farcical unveiling, which made him look weak.
Rafa’s appointment changed everything. For a start he had the power, authority and common sense to basically dictate to the club that they had to start allowing the media to cover the club properly again. Which, incidentally, I think most people at the club wanted to allow us to do anyway.
He’s a dream to work with: polite, clever, engaging and fascinating. He’s very open but sometimes it’s about what he doesn’t say and for a journalist decoding the manager’s message is always interesting. I like him and I think most of the other journalists do. He’s quite clearly a good man and the fact that he treats the club exactly the same way that he did Real Madrid or Liverpool is a measure of the man.
I wouldn’t say he’s without an ego. Every manager has one, but he certainly doesn’t see himself as bigger than Newcastle or that he’s doing them a favour. He has so much respect for the institution and for the things that are important in the city – and I think he sees the Chronicle as one of those. It’s great for us.
The club’s overall attitude to the media has improved. I think as long as Rafa’s happy, that will continue.
– Surely you must feel more attached to NUFC after reporting on the club for so many years, and now writing a book, does it affect your ability to stay objective?
The local newspaper’s role with a club is a simple one: we’re a critical friend.
We want the club to do well. There is a myth surrounding local ‘papers and their local club that bad news sells ‘papers. When we hammer the club, players or the manager it equals clicks and sales. It’s just not true – our best day in terms of sales and hits last season was the day the club won the title. The season before it was when Rafa was appointed. Good news does well.
But we have to be able to criticise too: and we will do that. The trick is not to be a fan when things are going badly because supporters – especially in the days of Twitter – tend to be very harsh in the immediate hours after the defeat. I know I’m like that with Bradford but within a few hours I’ve usually calmed down. So we try to take a breath and report it honestly and truthfully. And when we are hard – as we were in the John Carver era or when we have called for Pardew, McClaren and Mike Ashley to leave – it carries more resonance.
For me, I report on Newcastle as I’d want someone to report on Bradford – tell me something I don’t know. Campaign for things to get better if they’re going badly. Criticise what needs to be critical and promote the good things the club is doing.
– Is there anything in the book that you think NUFC and Rafa would’ve hoped you left out?
Well they won the title and the story is of Rafa’s success, so there’s probably nothing Rafa will be worried about!
There’s definitely things in there that can only be revealed now there’s a bit of water passed under the bridge. Maybe there’s things in there about what happened pre-Rafa that are a bit uncomfortable for those involved….
The book “Inside the Rafalution” is available for £9.99 on Amazon or in Waterstones, the Back Page or WH Smiths Newcastle. You can also get it for £7.99 from reception at Thomson House in Newcastle or from the sportmediashop.com (where you can buy it if you’re overseas).