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My first England cap: Some brief thoughts and recollections on joining the Wembley media corps

So, I got the chance to cover England’s opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria at Wembley. As my first game covering the Three Lions as an accredited member of the media, I thought I’d better note down some memories…

Wembley way: My view from my privileged position at the home of football

I never thought I’d get an England call-up at 23.

Okay, so Theo Walcott or Wayne Rooney might not be particularly impressed with my achievement — nor any player to actually get a proper cap for England, for that matter — but when your professional football dream falls apart at the age of 12 and you subsequently try to make the media your career like I have, then your first appearance in the hallowed press zone at Wembley seems like a milestone worthy of some note.

I wouldn’t call it a debut to remember by any means, but I think I got through the 90 minutes with enough nice touches to suggest I might one-day have a future at this level. A nervous start (my wide-eyed fear and hesitancy upon entering the media centre seemed to only convince the security attendants I harboured terrorist intent) eventually subsided into an enjoyable and slightly more self-assured second-half performance, and by the end of it I was… blocked from entering the mixed zone.

So, er, still work to be done then.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience. Wembley, as you would expect, is run like clockwork, with helpful and seemingly endless numbers of staff making sure you don’t get too far off the yellow brick road. One polite lift attendant (believe it) even indulged in small talk with myself and the BBC’s very own ‘expert’ Mark Lawrenson on the way up to the media centre, with the former Liverpool man even opining that “with programmes costing £6, I’m in the wrong game.” The attendant was happy to agree with him, which I can only assume was out of politeness, as spouting inane clichés about football every Saturday evening seems about as a good a ‘game’ as you can be in to me.

But I digress.

The media centre itself is something of a joy to behold, divided as it is into two sections. The first, slightly smaller in size, looks like a high-tech library with its rows of identikit cubicles with ports and wires for every computer accessory known to man.

'Library' area of press centre: Note Martin Samuel (top right) getting his chat on

The second section seems to be where the [pre-match] magic happens for many of the assembled journalists, with it almost full to capacity ahead of kick-off with people eating food (chicken in white wine sauce with rice/ spinach tortellini for vegetarians, food fans) and drinking alarming amounts of alcohol.

It’s probably an indication of my current humble pretentions (and financial circumstances), however, that I was most chuffed to see the endless amount of free bottled water (Buxton — keeping the nationalists happy no doubt) on offer. I helped myself perhaps more than strictly necessary, which led to one humourous encounter, which I will come to later.

Anyway, the free food gave me most opportunity to do some celeb-spotting, with Adrian Chiles (and his shiny grey suit) grabbing my attention initially, along with Andy Townsend and his impressively-sized nose. 3D CAN come soon enough for him.

While the TV guys continued to eat away (I’m increasingly convinced it isn’t the camera that adds ten pounds, it’s the free food beforehand), many of the written press moved back into the library ahead of kick-off, no doubt to prepare their articles and get abreast of the latest team news. It was hear I bumped into Henry Winter, who mumbled an “excuse me” as he subsequently brushed past — which still means he’s said two more direct words to me than any of the 35,697 fans he currently has on Twitter.

So I’ve got that going for me.

From that point to the game is pretty much a haze of gormless expressions and “Oh my God, they are all thinking ‘who let that 15-year-old in here’” thoughts, but once I walked out into the press area a greater sense of calm found me. Finding my seat was easy (mainly because it was pretty near the back, far from the broadsheet bigwigs) and my seat next to a Japanese man with seemingly little-to-no knowledge of English left me feeling slightly better about how out of my depth I was. Only slightly, though.

The first half was a time of pure concentration for me, eager to get down as many notes as possible to make my post-match work a lot easier. That was only disturbed by Jermain Defoe’s early goal, which I must admit — so caught up in the exhilaration of being there — I was halfway to my feet before quickly remembering that there is no cheering in the press box.

Anyone witness to it must have thought I’d had a mild fit. Or I was an idiot. One of the two.

Anyway, half-time came and most of the press scrambled off to get what turned out to be a selection of fast food classics that the general population so infamously have to be extortionate prices for. I, however, had no time to take advantage of such treats (nor eat them with smug satisfaction) as I wanted to make sure all my reports were on track. I barely had time in the final five minutes of the break to head for the toilet (very nice), no doubt the result of all that free water.

Anyway, everything was going fine at my well-chosen corner urinal, until another man walked in and opted to stand right next to me (a curious move, not one I’m convinced follows toilet protocol). This had an obvious and familiar effect on me, and I rather embarrassingly had to wait until he left my shoulder before I could finish my activity. Turning around upon completion, my nemesis turned out to be none other than Lee Dixon.

Lee Dixon gave me stage fright. The bastard.

Spot the error: Not exactly the most ego-boasting of starts...

After that highlight, the second half was another blur, as I scrambled to keep up with England’s increasingly clinical finishing and keep everything on track for submission at the final whistle. Then came the mad dash at the final whistle for the press conference to hear Fabio Capello snub the press corps with quite considerable aplomb (“write whatever you-a want”, or words to that effect) and then an unsuccessful attempt to enter the mixed zone. Apparently my press pass didn’t have the requisite letters on it for such permission. If we’re getting really picky about that, my name wasn’t even spelt correctly. Bet that never happens to Oliver Kay…

Anyway, a return to the library allowed me to fill out some of my post-match report, before an early exit from the stadium to ensure I managed to catch the last train home (which, thanks to the sorry soul who threw themselves on the tracks at Victoria and a subsequent two-mile walk around central London, I cut a lot finer than preferable).

All in all, a good experience, and one I hope to have more of them in future. Who knows, I may even overhaul Peter Shilton one day.

But even if I’m a one-cap wonder, that’s better than none at all…

September 6, 2010 - Posted by | Comment, World Football | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. makes me want to drink alchoholic beverages

    Comment by kaitlin | December 1, 2010 | Reply

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