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ITHICS Fanzine: From Peter Reid to Josh Maja - Reporting on Sunderland hasn’t half changed!

Two prominent figures in the realm of north east football told stories about Sunderland this week which acted as a reminder of just how much sports journalism has changed and evolved over recent years.

Sunderland AFC

The last two Roker Report podcasts have been fascinating for the insight they shed on the way football operated in days of yore and how different it is today.

Last week, Paul Hetherington - late of the Chronicle and The Pink - reminisced about football deals taking place in darkened rooms in hotels in Sheffield. No doubt pints of bitter and cold sandwiches also played a part.

This week Sky Sports’ north east football reporter Keith Downie was the guest, giving us the lowdown on, among other things, the recent Josh Maja bruhaha regarding his agent and the club.

In Paul Hetherington’s day, deals were also done by intermediaries, but it was mates of mates; a different kind of intermediary. For example, Peter Reid was a drinking buddy of Hetherington’s and had just been sacked by Manchester City. Reidy let it be known that he would like the chance to manage Sunderland. Hetherington knew Bob Murray, and when Uncle Bob asked him who he thought should succeed Mick Buxton, Reidy’s name was put forward. A meeting was arranged at a Sheffield hotel and a deal was done.

Nowadays things are much different, as we have all seen with the unhappy denouement of Josh Maja’s time at the club, with the striker’s agent seemingly not content to allow the club to increase the player’s wages seven-fold.

Peter Reid Sunderland AFC

Keith Downie explained that he had a call from the player’s agent, stating that Maja wanted to leave. This was contrary to what the club had been led to believe.

Downie maintained that he and Sky Sports did everything above board by checking the facts, but the situation remains that the agent chose to run to the media with the story before having the courtesy to inform the club.

I’m not naïve to think this didn’t happen in Paul Hetherington’s time.

But then, timelines were slower. Stories didn’t hit the public until the papers hit the streets in the morning, and only once a day. We also didn’t have 24-hour rolling sports news channels desperate for content in his day.

These days a story can hit the streets (so to speak) at any time and can develop almost instantaneously - thus giving little time for negotiations, and the pressure is ramped up immeasurably.

Hetherington also told of the send off given to veteran North East journalist, Bob Cass, where after his funeral a couple of years back, many convened in a Durham pub and the drinking went well on into the night, with Niall Quinn and Peter Reid two of the attendees.

It’s difficult to see that happening with the new breed of journalist and football insider. The drinking culture really is of a bygone era, both in the fields of journalism and football.

Pubs are closing every day and long gone are the three-hour lunch breaks that even I remember as a wet behind the ears scribe in the 1990s. Austerity took its hold when the millennium changed, and has yet to let go.

Scribes are now more likely to be seen running a marathon than downing a pint.

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