Vox In The Box: Matt Stanger, new editor of The Set Pieces

Welcome to The Set Pieces, Matt. Sorry about the mess. How do you feel about your new role?

Hello Iain. Firstly, can we please make it clear this was your idea and I’m not lying on a chaise longue in the office telling you to ‘take this down’?

I’m very excited about the role, it’s a great time to be joining The Set Pieces. The site is well established thanks to you, there are lots of big plans for 2016, and the drinks globe is full. What more could I ask for?

It’s traditional at this point to ask about your background in the industry. So how did you get started?

I think like most football writers, it was a rather circuitous route into the industry. I used to live in Edinburgh where I edited a magazine called The Pavement aimed at providing support for homeless people. As part of that role I volunteered at the Homeless World Cup in Brazil, and that was my first real experience of writing about football in any shape or form.

I kept it up when I returned to Scotland, doing bits for local papers and blogs, and then I guess I got my break when I went to Argentina and Colombia to cover the Copa America and Under-20 World Cup in 2011. I wrote for a few different sites but mainly Football365, who offered me a job in Leeds shortly after I got back.

I was doing my NCTJs at the time and remember the course tutors weren’t particularly pleased that I was distracted by my new role, but you have to take the opportunity when it arrives and nothing beats the experience of working under an editor and writing every day.

Who would you say are your influences in journalism?

I’ve always tried to take something from everyone I’ve worked with. I spent the last year with a great group of people at JOE, which has broadened my outlook and taught me a lot about the many and varied tools that are now at an editor’s disposal.

Sarah Winterburn at Football365 (whose Vox in the Box you can read here) has obviously been a big influence, not only on my writing and how to run a website, but also in gaining an invaluble perspective at the start of my career that there are lots of different ways to cover the game.

I very much enjoyed working with Nick Miller and Daniel Storey, who are both excellent writers, while Alex Dunn and Adam Bate on the Sky Sports features team always had constructive comments to offer – something we’re probably short of in this industry. I have a lot of admiration for Adam, he’s one of the finest football writers around.

Elsewhere, I’ve met a lot of journalists at Premier League matches and at the World Cup in 2014, and all have been enormously helpful if ever I’ve had any questions or been sitting around looking lost.

What’s that, Iain? Oh yes, of course you’ve been a big influence too.

Okay, let’s get to the important stuff. We’ve had a lot of questions about the Championship Manager 01/02 series. Can you confirm that it will continue or is this it for Everton?

Yes, it will continue. I’m not going to be Roy Hodgson at Liverpool and start pissing people off from day one. It’s great to see how many readers enjoy the series, but what I would say is that I’d like more input from them – what should the next CM challenge be, for example?

In general, I’d like to hear a lot more from the readers. What else would you like to see on The Set Pieces? If you have a story to tell or something you want to get off your chest, we’ve got a letters page.

If you’ve been to a match that isn’t already plastered over every site on the internet, let us know what was great about it and send in your photos and videos. If you’ve been to any sort of football event, exhibiton, paid a visit to the National Football Museum (where I used to work and was eventually let go because I spent every shift trying to trump Mark Lawrenson’s high score on the Penalty Striker simulator), or anything else connected to the game that’s of interest, then get in touch here, here and here.

What are your plans for the site, now you’re at the wheel?

Firstly, the quality storytelling we’ve always been committed to will remain the central part of the site. There has been some fantastic writing on The Set Pieces over the past 18 months and I’m looking forward to commissioning more during my editorship.

I’d like us to dive deeper into global football culture and I want our readers to think of us as more than just a website. Quality storytelling starts and ends with words on a page, but between that there are myriad ways to illustrate the great features on The Set Pieces and what we and our writers get up to in order to put those stories together.

I always had two rules for assessing freelance pitches; 1) If you can do it without leaving the house, I’m probably not going to be interested 2) Don’t you dare send me 1,000 words telling me where Wayne Rooney should play. What are your golden guidelines?

As you said at the outset, there are a lot of excellent journalists out there with bags of experience and brilliant access covering the top Premier League storylines. So if you want to write about The Best League In The World (TM) then you have to a) be pretty damn good, and b) need an angle no one else has thought of (that isn’t contrary or forced).

That isn’t to say we don’t want Premier League pitches, but it’s always preferred if there’s a reason why you should be writing the piece. We’ve heard plenty on Jamie Vardy’s meteoric rise by now, Marcus Rashford’s early days at Fletcher Moss and Rickie Lambert’s beginnings in the beetroot factory, but when those stories were first told they were genuinely interesting – and there are a million more of equal intrigue that any freelancer can tap into by speaking to the right people and asking the right questions.

I don’t necessarily agree with your first point – a phone and the internet can get you a long way these days – but ideally I’d like to hear from people who want to tell the full story. Perhaps you’ve lined up a great interview, or want to cover a lower league club doing good in the local community; can you write a fascinating piece and add to the article with photos, video and audio of the subject?

I’m a big fan of mobile journalism and adding multimedia elements to strong written storytelling. As an aside, if anyone is interested there’s actually a MoJo meet-up on Monday, April 18th with places still available. I’ll be there and up for a pint and a chat after (this isn’t a call for help).

Lastly, I think it’s also good to only pitch one idea (your best one, hopefully). An email listing six or seven potential pieces looks a bit like shit being thrown against a wall.

What are you most looking forward to in this role?

Never having to talk about myself again.

Vox In The Box: Matt Stanger, new editor of The Set Pieces
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