Mixed fortunes in the mixed zones
With the Champions League and Europa League back in full swing, life in the “mixed zones” of Europe will be hotting up once again. The mixed zone – the post-match scrum for quotes from players as they file to the team bus – is not for the faint hearted.
For a start – and this is not a great base from which to work – most of the players will not want to talk to the scumbag media, whether it is TV, radio or, especially, the dastardly written Press. With huge headphones clamped to their ears, they will troop to the coach with a barely disguised smirk at the heaving mass in front of them.
“Just a quick moment, Wayne?” implore the hacks. “Any chance of a brief chat, Gareth?” And the replies are all too predictable. “Sorry, lads, I’ve got to get on the bus.” Or: “Not just now.” Or, most infuriatingly, a smug blank stare – as if you’d just crawled out of a hole in the ground.
Another favourite trick is when they pretend to be talking on their mobile phone. One international did just that as he exited the dressing-room after an England game and, to his embarrassment and the amusement of everyone else, the phone rang as he held it to his ear. He had, of course, been talking to no one.
Some players, a rare breed though, hold a refreshingly open view and will usually talk whatever the result and even if they have had a personal stinker. Peter Crouch is one of them, the beanpole striker almost always ready to stop and offer a considered opinion. This is vital for the journo needing a “follow-up” story for the next day, when even the most bland of quotes can be turned into a half-decent read.
However, if it’s an evening game and there has been a particularly controversial incident, the quotes might well be needed straight away and not kept back for the follow-up. In which case, it’s a frantic dash back to the Press room to bash out the story and send it through the ether to the sports desk.
Occasionally, again at a night match, there is no time to get back to the relative comfort of the Press room. In many European grounds, they can be quite a way from the mixed zone. I remember being in one particularly crazy post-game “mixer” in Portugal, the match having been laden with mad moments, and – with deadline approaching – having to squat on the floor against a wall, with laptop on my legs, and try to compose a need-it-now quotes piece.
Bodies were flying everywhere, I could hardly hear the instructions from my desk down the phone because of the noise and then I nearly got splattered by one of the team buses as it reversed out of the stadium. Not the calmest of enviroments in which to operate but, hey, that’s the journo’s lot sometimes. That’s what we do.
Now and again, you get the mixer from heaven. The club press officer will gently cajole a player into talking to us reprobates, he gives us a great “line” for the next day … and the job’s a good ‘un. We don’t need anyone else, the rest of the know-nothing superstars can ignore us and we don’t care. If only it were always that easy.
At least the mixer, if it is sensibly controlled and patrolled by club officials, should have some semblance of order. In the good old bad old days, waiting in car parks – often in the wind and rain – was the only way in which to get to a player for his views on the game.
And, believe me, to stand there, cold and drenched, for 45 minutes – only to be told to “Naff off” by some third-rate midfielder – was not a pleasant experience. For all its faults, all hail the mixer!