On the day I speak to Adam Crafton, journalist and sports writer for The Daily Mail, the wreckage of the plane transporting then-missing-presumed-dead Cardiff City and FC Nantes footballer Emiliano Sala and its pilot, David Ibbotson, had just been discovered. With this ongoing tragic saga, it must have been a strange few weeks to be a sportswriter, with many probably more used to the drama of match reporting or manager sackings and signings, rather than stories concerning life or death.
London-based Adam, however, is no stranger to dealing with the global news stories relating to sport. In 2018 he travelled to South America to follow the aftermath one year on of the plane crash in Columbia that killed 77 people, including players, coaching staff, directors from Chapecoense, a club from a small town in southern Brazil. “It was incredibly difficult,” Adam admitted, “Those that survived almost had a sense of guilt that they survived and that their friends didn’t and will spend they lives wondering what kept them alive and search for a real deep meaning…in the coldest reality they are just very lucky and there’s probably not a great meaning behind it.”
Indeed, as his first foray into publishing attests, the world of football has always been tied up with some of the most seismic historical events since its inception. In his first book ‘From Guernica to Guardiola: How the Spanish Conquered English Football’ Adam turns back the clock to see how the recent transformation of top-flight football led by Man City coach Pep Guardiola and players such as David De Gea and David Silva, can be traced back to 1937, when the Spanish Civil War led to a stream of refugees fleeing their country for the safe haven of England. Through dozens of interviews, Adam spoke to many of the key Spanish figures who came to England to create a portrait of their impact on the English game: “It was good to have the managers and the players involved in it and it’s been well-received so far.” Adam revealed.
“I think the most interesting sporting stories are human stories. When you look at someone like Andy Murray for example…when you know the whole story about him, it makes his sporting achievements impact on you more.
“When I was doing the research for the book, it turned out that the first Spanish players that came over to live were actually just children fleeing civil war…there are fabulous and inspiring refugee stories of these children coming over, often dislocated from their families and being taken in by English people. JLife readers will all know stories of grandparents and great-grandparents who were forced to leave their homes and relied on the generosity of other countries to take them in and make a better life.”
In his book Adam explains how many of these players would eventually return to Spain. One would go onto score Real Madrid’s first goal in the Bernabeu stadium and another would be the first man to conceive of Barcelona’s vaunted La Masia academy that would later launch stars such as Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi Hernandez: “When there was a big debate a couple of years ago about taking in Syrian refugees, I think it was described in parliament as being a ‘modern-day Guernica’, meaning the bombing of Guernica which led to all these children coming over from Spain in the 1930s, and because of that a few of them went on to be very successful footballers.”
As a multibillion-pound industry worldwide, Adam is familiar with media circus that can surround football, shortlisted four times for the SJA Young Sportswriter of the Year award and with a degree in French and Spanish from Cambridge, he has equipped himself to deal with the ups, the downs and the downright ridiculous of the beautiful game, at home and abroad, online and in print. The transfer window, which had closed the week before Adam chatted to me, was a prime example: “For whatever reason, people tend to be hooked on it. The sort of ‘clicks’ we get through on those days are really huge. There’s almost more excitement about who your team is going to sign rather than how they play on the Saturday…our job as an industry is to respond to consumers and readers and this is clearly what they want.”
“I think there’s certainly, perhaps in the last 20 years, a sort of ‘X-Factorification’ of football”, muses Adam, “Footballers now have teams of agents, PR advisors, commercial advisors, and very few of them, for example, will write their own Twitter accounts – on the whole they will be written by their PR expert…that’s why we get so excited when someone comes along with a big personality who sounds different.”
So a typical week during the season, what form does that take for a sportswriter for a national newspaper? “On a Saturday or Sunday I’d be at a game and get there for 1pm to mingle with other journalists and maybe people from the club. I watch the game, do a report and then go to the post-match press conference and file a second report with quotes from the press conference. I then go to what we call the ‘mix zone’ where players walk through and either ignore you or stop and speak to you!
“During the week generally I’ll be working on news, investigations or features…and then Thursdays and Fridays tend to be press conferences.”
The week before, Adam had been assigned to cover the first home match since newly signed to Cardiff City, Sala, went missing: “It was a strange atmosphere and quite sombre. I think sometimes as journalists we become quite desensitised or used to reading about to tragedies or things going wrong, but it was really quite affecting and the tributes were really nice.
“It was one of those games where you felt like Cardiff were never not going to win. There was a tidal wave of emotion carrying the players, the manager and the fans and it all translated into a good win.”
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