Aidan Smith: Terry Butcher, quote-machine

Hibernian manager Terry Butcher. Picture: SNS
Hibernian manager Terry Butcher. Picture: SNS
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I’M not complaining, but you can’t shut the man up. Terry Butcher, in his new job at Hibernian, is a veritable quotes machine.

Every Tuesday he gathers the gentlemen of the press for a natter, enjoying the experience so much that, 48 hours later, he does it all over again. Quite often there hasn’t been a midweek game in between, but Tel just loves to talk.

Contrast this words-blizzard, and the touchy-feely attitude to press relations, with what’s been happening at Newcastle United and Port Vale. Neither has been especially free and easy with the chat. In both cases local newspapers, after publishing stories the clubs didn’t like, have been banned from matches. And that chat which used to be free in every sense, maybe it’ll cost in future. Port Vale tried telling the Sentinel it would only be allowed back if it paid £10,000, the fee the local radio station is charged for live broadcasting rights. Meanwhile, over in Geordieland, what price a one-to-one exclusive with Man U-vanquishing midfielder Yohan Cabaye?

Last week the Evening Chronicle, one of the titles deemed persona non grata at St James’ Park, ran a story that Newcastle were to start seeking payment for interviews. Papers – we’re talking the national press – would be offered different levels of access to players, categorised as gold, silver and bronze. Hacks everywhere – weary veterans of numerous encounters with bored footballers in what are optimistically called media rooms – raised a cynical eyebrow. Newcastle promptly denied the story but it raises some interesting issues. And, who knows, the wheeze may re-surface.

The most pertinent question is this – would the conversation suddenly get interesting? Papers, paying for the privilege, would be entitled to expect it. No more “We’re still behind the gaffer 100 per cent”. Or what usually comes next: “Each of us has to take a long hard look at ourselves over the gaffer losing his job.” Closely followed by: “The new manager has brought back the feelgood factor – the place is buzzing.” Well, we can but hope.

Football talk is drenched in cliches. Every player says the same things, over and over again. They squirm in their chairs, causing their training wear to crackle. They tug at their ears. They stretch out their over-developed, expertly-pampered legs and can’t wait to be in the motor and off down the mall. But we can’t be too hard on them. They are footballers, first and foremost. The chance to play football for a living almost certainly halted their education. And what passes for education subsequently – media training – does them no favours, squashing individuality and leaving a swirling miasma of maybes ayes and maybe naws from which papers are supposed to construct their back pages.

The cash-for-cliches concept might encourage some players to up their game in interviews but many more would feel under pressure to perform, when performing on the pitch is demanding enough. They might well wonder what’s in it for them? Presumably the fees from such a scheme would go to the clubs, not the players. And then there’s the grading system.

Who decides it? The clubs presumably, on the basis of most-valued. But this could cause jealously and bitterness if players who believed themselves to be key members of the team suddenly found themselves in the bronze category with the reserve left-back and the rest. Suddenly they’d learn what the club really thinks of them and, because there has to be a bronze category, they might not like it. And who’s to say the star man will be a star talker? Papers which have forked out for the toppermost access might discover he’s a brilliant buffoon.

Back at Hibs, Terry “Tuesdays-and-Thursdays” Butcher, pictured below, appears to be going for gold. It’s still the honeymoon period and he’s on a charm offensive (and, yes, I’m aware I’ve just used two cliches). But the fans are not used to so many words being expended on their team and the journos on the Easter Road beat are not used to such cheery expansiveness. Pat Fenlon rarely seemed comfortable in their company and, towards the end, was displaying early-stage paranoia about “Hibs cock up” being viewed as a good story. Hibs, being Hibs, might well do this in the Butcher era, but rather than enforce a media blackout he’ll probably go to the other extreme – daily briefings, quality pies and the first topic for discussion: Life’s inner meaning.