The doyen of football journalism Brian Glanville, in these very pages no less, recently scoffed at suggestions that he could ever be considered the ‘father’ of the industry. A read of Roger Domeneghetti’s exhaustive new history of football in the media proves him correct beyond doubt.
Football journalism precedes even Glanville by some time. As he himself said, the real father is James Catton, a pint-sized legend of the press box who died in 1936 at the age of 76. But this book doesn’t limit itself to the history of football journalism. The foundations of journalism itself are tirelessly recounted, including profiles of characters like Elizabeth Mallet, who had to pretend to be a man in order to maintain the credibility of the Daily Courant, Britain’s first daily newspaper in 1702. And there are plenty more factoids where that came from.
This is the latest offering from Ockley Books, the little publishing house that increasingly resembles one of those amazing backstreet bookshops that are filled with sleeping cats, thin wisps of pipe smoke and leather-bound treasures that you’d never find anywhere else if you searched for a year.
It’s a charming book, intelligent and spectacularly well researched. Domeneghetti bimbles along happily, hurling out nuggets of knowledge like confetti, stopping occasionally to make donnish jokes, perhaps just to see if you’re still listening. He would have made a lovely teacher.
And yet Domeneghetti’s greatest strength is, perversely, the book’s only slight drawback. He is clearly the sort of chap who responds to every question by saying, “Hang on, I’ll look it up.” Which is no bad thing, for most people at least.
When we first touch on football and television, he tells us about not only John Logie Baird, but Henry Sutton, the Australian inventor whose unheralded work preceded Baird’s developments. When football and the cinema is the focus, we learn about Auguste and Louis Lumière, the French brothers whose Cinématographe machine solved the problems encountered by their predecessor Thomas Edison. There are more dates and facts per square inch of paper here than in any football book outside of a Rothmans’ Football Annual.
All of which is compelling and admirable, and serves to increase the value of Domenghetti’s work. This isn’t simply a history of football media, it’s a history of football, of technology, of society and of the United Kingdom. And if you need another reason to purchase, just think of your improved success rate in the next pub quiz. And yet a casual reader might find it all a little much, a little too dense.
However, if you’re in the media, or want to be in the media, the chances are that you will not be a casual reader and you’ll adore this. A personal highlight, as someone who has struggled with the press box wifi at countless football stadiums, is the section on carrier pigeons. Dig if you will a picture of today’s football journalists desperately trying to tie 800 words to a pigeon’s leg before hurling it into the sky and praying that it won’t be eaten on the way back to the desk. Oh, what a time to be alive.