Instant Improver

How to make it as a football writer

With over thirty years’ experience, thousands of column inches under his belt and a Yoda-like knowledge of the beautiful game, Mike Calvin is a deservedly award-winning football writer. And to mark the launch of Lifesapitch.co.uk, the football site with expert columnists which include Calvin himself, we asked him to share his trade secrets.

Keep it personal

“Always humanise your writing. My introductions are always based around the lines of – I go into the pub after a game and meet my mate and what’s the first thing I should tell him? I always have that though in my mind when I’m writing, I’m writing for someone I’d meet down the pub. You need to relate to readers on a personal level.

Stick to your guns

Have the courage of your convictions when you write. Footballers actually respond well to this even if they don’t agree. I wrote an open letter to Frank Lampard a couple of years ago that said his contract demands were obscene. He called me up and it began as a row but it became a lot deeper. We had a chat for an hour and found we both had a lot in common, such as both wanting to do right for our families.

Never reveal your sources

“Never sacrifice your reputation by betraying confidences. If anyone says to me ‘Mike, I’ll tell you what’s going on but it’s off the record’ then that to me is holy rite. People do betray those confidences because it gets them a juicy story for a day but that’s never going to work. Football, frankly, is a very small world and player A will talk to Coach B who talks to manager C. Word get around.”

Use deadline pressure to your advantage

All good sports writers are adrenaline junkies. And because of this my live writing is my strongest asset. The Mirror will send me to the major game on a Saturday, and if it’s a 5.15pm kick off I’ll have to do a comment piece 20 minutes before the end, and the capacity to look like an idiot is colossal, yet it propels me to pen better stuff.

Good writing is good speaking

If you read a piece out loud and it sounds right, then it’s written right. No matter what it looks like on screen, if it sounds daft it will read daft. And write. Just write. Write anything. You have to find your own style and your own voice, you don’t want to be as homogenised as some of the sportsmen you’re writing about.

Don’t be a quitter

“It is an insanely popular career and the first line of every letter I write back to people asking for advice is ‘I’m going to do everything I possibly can to put you off, but I know that if you’re worth anything you’ll ignore me anyway’. You have to be really persistent.”

(Image: Rex Features)

Calvin writes a daily blog for Lifesapitch.co.uk and his book Family : Life, Death and Football is in shops now.

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