Is it too much to ask for a sportsperson to speak honestly?
The world needs more people to lift the lid and not stick to the media-training book
Can you imagine the galvanising impact on racing of a Secret Jockey? Photograph: Phil Cole/Getty Images
For a while British soccer’s most compelling and original media voice was The Secret Footballer (TSF); or Dave Kitson as he is also known, possibly. Maybe it is the ex-Stoke City striker, or maybe it isn’t. No one knows for sure who he is. And rarely has the value of such anonymity been better advertised.
Of course the dangers of hiding behind aliases are abundantly evident every second of every day. Not putting your name to an opinion is a failure of good faith that usually robs any author of credibility. But not always.
When TSF started writing columns for the Guardian they weren’t so much a breath of fresh air as a full-tilt hurricane. Able to write, and coming from someone actually playing at the top level in England, they provided an invaluable insight into the shop-floor reality of the game.
This was the real insider deal. And they were obviously authentic. In the same way one looks at the Rolling Stones and recognises how Keith Richards still means it and Jagger doesn’t, the TSF voice was immediately credible.
“There is a lot to say about football which hasn’t been said,” he once explained to Channel 4 News, his voice disguised to sound like Darth Vader with a hangover.
The instant appeal of those initial columns, through to a series of acclaimed books, only emphasises how ravenous the public appetite is for authentic narrative rather than the stodge we’re so often served up.
Such stodge has come into focus recently in Ireland on the back of media bans and no-show sulks. Much of it is embarrassing. All of it is rooted in the urge to control. And if you’re in charge you can see the appeal of the mushroom model – feed plenty shite and keep everyone in the dark.
Counterarguments revolve around more transparency, access, character, everything. It’s tempting to think what’s really needed though is some TSF style anonymity. Because what’s not being said in Irish sport right now is a damn sight more important than what is.
It’s an interesting dichotomy that despite more access to information than ever before we still know as little about inside reality as we ever did.
When Martin O’Neill releases his team the world knows it in seconds, in handy multiplatform packages with the FAI’s stamp and the imprint of their latest commercial party passionately urging us all to hold our breath. Insight into the why of such decisions is still as rare as it ever was.
This instinct to control is mushrooming and the space-filling need for access usually requires media of all sorts to play along.
That leaves yawning gaps for the right sort of anonymity to fill. Someone inside, a player in every sense, someone credible, with the right mix of guts and despair and fed up enough with the PR machine to not give a f**k.
You may call me a dreamer but I cannot believe the only one prepared to gimme some truth is an English soccer player.
There must be somebody brilliantly ornery enough here to call it as it is. Someone prepared to forsake lucrative ghosted columns harking back to “in my time”. Or not settle for the prospect of yet another rote tiptoeing biography.
Surely someone can let the focus on process slip once in a while to string a few words together, maybe show up us parasitic hacks who constantly miss the point, and don’t know what we’re talking about anyway. You come armed with credibility. Show us what’s really happening.
For instance, can you imagine the galvanising impact on racing of a Secret Jockey?
Someone on the inside prepared to buck the omerta, willing to allow us a peep into the tin rather than chanting what it says on it, maybe even give a snappy tutorial on how to give one an “easy” without getting caught, like Eminem’s trailer park girls going round the outside.
Done right it would be a must-read. A lot of haughty, expensive and ultra-sensitive noses could be put out of joint. Most of all though it would be valuable, for everyone, since there’s nothing like a blast of truth to flush out useful change.
The automatic response is that it’ll never happen. Everyone knows everyone in Ireland. And it’s not like even mischievous whistleblowers are appreciated here, probably because the place is so small and everyone’s itching to reach for their solicitor. Which is where the anonymity comes in.
Over the years there have been a few diary efforts in Gaelic games that were plainly the work of hacks scratching their fictional itch. But how wonderful would it be for a genuine Secret Hurler or Footballer to reveal real inter-county life.
What a shake-up it might be to give a true glimpse of these mysterious of these behind-the-scenes, closed-door sessions. Maybe let us all in on all that rehearsed cynicism or the frustration of having pillar of the community fame without any of the compensatory fortune.
Instead of moaning off the record about the requirements of inter-county existence why can’t players act with the courage of their convictions; call out these jargon-spouting coaching generalissimos, show them up for the control-freak spoof-merchants many of them are.
And if Belle De Jour can be a Secret Call Girl surely there’s no copyright issue in a rugby Secret Hooker. That would be interesting wouldn’t it, explaining perhaps how to turn brick-house shaped if protein alone isn’t enough – but freed from having to provide High Court standard proof, M’Lud.
Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be a service. Or that it wouldn’t be compulsive. And refreshing, original and just plain fun. There might even be a book deal in it. Most of all, however, it would acknowledge how there’s a lot to be said that isn’t being said. And that really needs to be said.