The other night, in the middle of a touchline ban, Arsene Wenger faced a dilemma and the potential of having insult added to inconvenience. Normally when managers are banished to the stands they watch from the directors’ box but at Chelsea the poshest seats are right across the field from the dressing rooms. That would have meant a yomp at half-time, losing valuable minutes from his team talk, when he would have been highly conspicuous in his trademark long grey quilted gown – and even before Antonio Conte sneered at him for being “old”, the Arsenal boss would have faced considerable abuse from the successors of the Stamford Bridge skinhead cognoscenti.
So Wegner sat in the pressbox. Squeezed his stick-insect frame into one of the pews reserved for what he wryly terms the “specialists”. This was hugely fascinating for these hacks. So much so that the “colour writers” – the journos freed up from the ebb and flow to sprinkle literary, or if the mood takes them, prog-rock references on to their copy – waxed lyrical about watching Wenger, watching the game.
This got me thinking: what if the Texaco Cup was revived – a fond wish of this column – and the blackballed professor had to plonk himself in one of our pressboxes. How would he get on?
Imagine if you can glamorous English opposition rocking up at the Indodrill Stadium, home to Alloa Athletic, with its fine views of the Ochils behind one goal and a KFC at the other end. The pressbox is located behind glass which would insulate the esteemed visitor from all game noise, adding a surreal layer to a match-day experience already boasting the outre delights of the Waspburger (black pudding potato scone, bacon). But I won’t hear a bad word said against Alloa’s pressbox. On my first visit, with kick-off fast approaching, the wifi had gone kaput. Maybe you’re surprised the Clackmannanshire pleasuredome has any at all but I’ll never forget the random act of kindness of a computer-shop owner firmly ensconced in hospitality who gave up his warm white wine in the John White Suite to nip across town for the whojummyflip which would reconnect we trained observers to the worldwide web and our increasingly agitated editors.
Tannadice is another ground with a glass-fronted press gantry, this one having been constructed by the fair hand of Jim McLean, but a bigger challenge for the press and their occasional guests lies further along Sandeman Street. Dens Park’s main stand may be an Archibald Leitch but you wouldn’t be allowed to sell some of these seats at full price in this increasingly litigious age. If match-day scribes don’t get there by midday for a 3pm kickoff they will find pillars blocking their view of the goalmouths. The local reporters commandeer the most favourable vantage points and that’s only right and proper: they’ve got to watch Dundee every week.
At Pittodrie the writing bureaux are situated in one long row running down to Merkland Road which is a bit frustrating if all the goals in a 5-5 draw are scored at Joe Harper’s Beach End (and happy 70th birthday for the other day, Joey). Still, these are the demands of the job. We get in for free, after all. The best that old Cathkin Park could offer Arthur Montford was a commentary position close to a corner flag. He peered through pre-Clean Air Act stoor to describe the action and bring joy to Scotsport’s Sunday afternoon constituency.
Rangers offer the gentlemen and ladies of the press the front row of the upper tier of their Leitch stand and maybe this is as good as it gets for my profession. Celtic Park’s pressbox is a tight squeeze, especially on those big match nights in which the club take such special pride, and the tabletops, being of fairly basic construction, have been known to crack under the strain of newspapers dispatching three-man battalions to the game, all of them wearing what Billy Connolly terms “fat coats”.
This can happen at the grandest of colosseums, though, and at Dumbarton’s ground, this week known as the Your Radio 103FM Stadium, a colleague was hard at work trying to fit a Joseph Conrad quote or a Bob Dylan profundity into his report when his desk crumbled, sending the laptop crashing to the floor. Already operating without wifi – no slightly squiffy computer whizzes could have helped on this occasion – he battled heroically to the final whistle and wasn’t any later than usual in filing his copy.
The great Arsene at the Rock? “Sights we’d like to see,” as Mad magazine used to say. At least there he’d be assured of being in the right stand because the stadium is a one-sided delight.
Further treats await inside: vouchers for the press corps to be exchanged for half-time pies. If you’re lucky you’ll have a flat surface upon which to dine, and to contemplate life’s inner meaning.
Everyone’s a journalist these days, of course, and can have the dignity of print, on the internut at least, bestowed on their most juvenile or most poisonous rants – but you need to be a properly accredited one to get into the pressbox at Ross County where, wonderfully, there’s a choice of pie filling. Last time I was in Dingwall I asked for larks’ tongues in aspic (that’s your prog-rock reference right there).
At Tynecastle when Hearts dropped into the Championship the club had greater concerns than the hacks’ bellies. The pies disappeared and we were offered a plate of biscuits instead, as if we were attendees at a particularly hard-up wake, which wasn’t far from the truth. There were rumours that the Jam Tarts official who unpeeled the cellophane on the Jammy Dodgers replaced it later so the biscuits could be brought out again for the next game, but I for one never believed them.
Hearts survived, rose again, built a handsome stand and brought back the pies. The new pressbox might be so close to the pitch that, when it rains, some reporters have requested mechanical wipers for their screens but I’m looking forward to my first working visit to the completely born-again Tynie for Sunday’s Scottish Cup derby. If Arsene Wenger fancies coming along I’ll budge up.