Weekly football conversation since 2009, with Graham Sibley, Jan Bilton and Terry Duffelen. Listen on Acast, Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or your podcatcher of choice.

More than meets the i?



If you walked into your local newsagents this morning and had your eyes suitably peeled, chances are you'd have spotted that rarest of beasts – a brand new quality newspaper. Today saw the launch of i, an affordable daily that caters for people too busy or disinterested to ready a bulkier title like The Independent, the parent newspaper from which i was spawned.

Working on the basis that the average attention span of a mature UK adult these days is about two-and-a-half minutes, i aims to bring each of its readers all the news without drowning them in a tidal wave of superfluous information. Something with the lightness of touch and monetary cost as The Sun, but without the tits, you might say.

And so we wonder what this new title might offer the football fan. After all, every newspaper devotes a few pages to the beautiful game, but this being i, you suspect there's some sort of niche angle they might be taking. As it turns out, there isn't one, really. Five of its fifty or so colour-filled pages feature football in some capacity, and it's largely the sort of fare you'd expect to see in any other paper.

The nearest you come to a faddish novelty is the Sport Matrix. This is a grid of around 15 'squares' into which you'll find a topical sporting gobbet no more than two sentences in length. It's the i way of giving you the latest sports headlines on a need-to-know basis, presuming you haven't the wherewithal to look further into any of the stories regardless of their interest.

In today's issue, there were six football stories in the matrix, one of which amounted to no more than goalkeeper Joe Hart telling us that the Man City squad of which he is part is really rather good. Another place in the grid was devoted to a 'Sport on TV' listing that had four events in it, and one of those was 'Live Greyhound Racing' on Sky Sports 1. It's probably best to leave that sort of thing to us, but then again we’re probably biased…

Aside from the Sport Matrix, there were more familiar pieces written with varying levels of insight on current football stories. Sam Wallace told us that Fabio Capello hoped his future English assistant would stay in the job right through to Euro 2012 and beyond, rather than using it as a stepping stone to a big career in club football. All well and good, but Wallace's concern that the FA still hadn't filled the role one month after it intended to was not felt by me or, no doubt, many of my fellow readers.

Nick Harris turned his focus on the recent FIFA World Cup 'cash for votes' scandal. Though we learned that Spain and Qatar were supposedly in cahoots in trying to secure votes for each others' bids, there was little else to be gleaned aside from the ever-present insinuations of corruption among the governing body's ranks.

Of more interest was Damien Spellman's article on Chris Hughton and his pleasingly level-headed treatment of Andy Carroll as an emerging talent in the Premier League. As well as the expected reminder that Carroll has seen more court action than Andy Murray just lately, we were given lots of quotes from the former Spurs defender which will only serve to increase the respect he already commands in the football community.

There was also a detailed match report of the Leeds v Cardiff match for which Simon Hart deserves some credit, plus some throwaway 'news in brief' and an item on Roy Keane's shaky start to his second season in charge at Ipswich. This latter piece by Derek Davis pre-empts Keane's exit at some point in the not-too-distant future and picks out five other former Man United players who have tried their hand at management with mixed results. Three of them – Mark Hughes, Alex McLeish and Steve Bruce – barely need any describing as everyone knows of their current (and recent) history, while the other two – Laurent Blanc and Bryan Robson – are inexperienced and shockingly bad respectively, as managers go. It was the sort of mini-feature that was crying out for a bit of expansion but which, ironically, there isn't any place for in this deliberately pared-down journalistic project.

The one item that did stand out, however, was James Lawton's full page take on the Wayne Rooney affair. Here, finally, was a chance to get one's teeth into a decent article written with gravitas and forthright opinion while avoiding the relentlessly over-the-top emotion shown by fans and writers alike in the last week or so.

Lawton chose as a counterpoint to Rooney's greed Joe Mercer, a former Everton player himself who eventually went on to bring glory to Man City as a manager. Respected In much the same way as his colleague, the late Malcolm Allison,  Mercer kept his achievements in perspective and reflected on his success with dignity at all times. The skill with which Lawton inter-played the character profiles of these two figures made for a genuinely interesting discourse on the way football has changed in the modern era, and for that he must be applauded.

To conclude, however, I'd have to say that i has some work to do if it's to attract football fans in their droves. It can't simply hide behind the excuse that they needn't write in depth about the game because it doesn't reflect the paper's remit. Football articles need to be interesting, incisive, entertaining or all three regardless of the publication they appear in, and so far i hasn't convinced me it will provide them.

It is, of course, early days but with plenty of competing titles vying for shelf space in the paper shops of this land, i would be advised not to rely solely on its football pages if it's to make decent sales in the future.

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