Welcome to The Set Pieces, Greg. Pull up a pew. How do you feel about your new role?
I’m delighted. I’ve supported The Set Pieces since I was a boy and am ready to give 110% for the fans.
In all seriousness, though, it’s an honour to be the editor of such a high-quality and well-respected title. You and Iain have done a fine job of growing the site in the last few years and it’s a real privilege to be involved at what is a very exciting time for The Set Pieces.
What’s your background in the industry?
I graduated from university in 2014 without really knowing what I wanted to do so, after watching every game of the Brazil World Cup (best summer ever), I went to teach English in Italy for a few months. I had a fair bit of spare time over there, so decided to start writing articles on Serie A and the Italian game, mainly for fun.
I was then lucky enough to get some paid work with FourFourTwo – I think my first piece was on Gianluigi Buffon’s 500th Juventus appearance – and when I came back to England I starting doing some shift work and going to the odd game for Goal.com, while also picking up bits and bobs elsewhere – including with The Set Pieces.
I guess my breakthrough came when I was offered the chance to become The National’s Premier League correspondent in London in 2015. It was a great gig and one which helped me get a foot in the door and actually leave my bedroom to attend matches, press conferences and the like. It was a fantastic opportunity to hone my skills and learn a lot more about how the industry works.
What has supporting Crystal Palace taught you about football?
That there’s no point doing things the easy way when there’s a harder path to follow.
I’ve had a season ticket at Palace for almost 20 years now, and there have been plenty of ups and downs during that time. You always say you wouldn’t change it for the world, but it’s not always easy to maintain that view when your striker’s just spooned another shot over the bar from two yards.
It’s also taught me there’s nothing quite like watching live football, at any level. Whenever I go abroad I always try and catch a game, as much for the cultural experience as anything else.
Who are your greatest influences in sports writing, and are any of them sitting in this room right now?
I haven’t got any formal journalistic qualifications, so it’s mainly been a case of learning as much as I can from the people I’ve worked with. Joe Brewin and Gary Parkinson at FourFourTwo are both brilliant and have been hugely influential in improving my writing and subbing, as well as teaching me about the nuts and bolts of running a successful website. Thomas Woods and Graham Caygill were excellent editors at The National, and Greg Johnson and Sam Lee both went out of their way to provide tips and guidance when I was first starting out.
There are so many other people I admire in the industry and we’d be here all day if I was to list them all, but one name I will mention is Tim Vickery, who I think does a wonderful job of placing football in its social context – which is something The Set Pieces often strives to do.
Are you sure you’re OK, Matt? You really should see someone about that cough.
What sort of pitches are you hoping to receive?
Our readership knows by now that we’re not the type of site to publish pieces on how Alexis Sanchez will fit in at Manchester United. It’s so easy to get caught up in the Premier League bubble these days, and I think The Set Pieces has always offered something different – but equally valuable.
That isn’t to say we’ll never publish articles on the big English clubs, but we’re more interested in stories or ideas that haven’t really been covered elsewhere – and by definition those often have a more global or local focus.
As far as the actual pitch is concerned, I think it’s beneficial to be concise and get the key information across clearly and quickly. It’s also easy to tell when the same email has been sent to 10 different editors from 10 different publications, so it’s probably best to avoid doing that.
What are your golden guidelines for commissioning pieces?
While the strength of the idea is obviously vital, it’s equally important to establish why you’re the best person to write it. Can you speak to people involved, or visit the club(s) at the heart of the story? Are you uniquely positioned to provide fresh insight or look at something from a different angle? If they haven’t done so already, I’d advise any potential contributors to have a read of some of the articles on the site to get a feel for the type of thing we’re after.
As well as standalone pieces I’m also interested in ideas for series that could be divided into, say, six parts – Alex Hess’ Sliding Doors is a good recent example – so that’s another thing for people to consider.