Press box etiquette

Sulley Muntari fires Pompey into the FA Cup semi-final
Sulley Muntari fires Pompey into the FA Cup semi-final
Ewan McGregor  as Renton in Trainspotting - the gender neutral toilets Zella has visited are almost as grubby

ZELLA COMPTON: Men – just aim it in the right direction and we’ll all be happy!

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The date: Saturday, March 8, 2008. The venue: Old Trafford. The time: 2.35pm.

Pompey fans are in delirium as Manchester United are sent packing in the FA Cup quarter-final, the dream of glory in the famous, old trophy palpable for the first time for star and crescent followers.

And all around them are depressed and downtrodden United fans shocked and disconsolate at their team’s Cup exit, the dreams of a treble leaving the stadium with them.

Amid it all, however, are a group of people immune to the emotion all around them as they feverishly go about their business.

The press box. An island of objectivity in a sea of match-day passion. Except for two very unprofessional journalists on this occasion.

Okay, I admit it. I was one of them – and my sports desk colleague Steve Wilson was the other.

We thought we had maintained a sense of exterior calm as a hurricane of feverish excitement swirled within.

But some stealth thumping of the underside of our desks had been detected.

Either that or the veins popping from my neck as my complexion turned a maroon hue was noted.

‘Okay lads, come back when you’ve won the Champions League,’ came the nasal Mancunian brogue of a home fan as he leaned towards our seats from the fans’ section (we were surprised he was from Manchester, too).

It was a fair cop. We’d been outed and our journalistic credentials brought into question.

See, that’s one of the difficulties of being on the Pompey beat and having an innate passion for the club.

On one hand it’s feeling what the fans feel, which drives the best of your work. You sharply feel the same joy, anger, pain, highs and lows.

But, on the other, you have to temper those emotions with a clinical objectivity and impartiality that has to permeate all journalists’ work.

It’s a schizophrenic existence and a tricky line to tread.

A Pompey-following history isn’t a pre-requisite for facing these conundrums.

It’s oft-voiced that spending time in the royal blue sphere soon consumes you, whatever your background.

The press box, however, is not the place for uncouth behaviour.

Oh no, not without incurring looks of disdain from your peers for your conduct – just ask the Oxford reporter who flung his arms aloft in celebration at a goal on the opening day.

Of course it’s a challenge at times. Being sat alongside (Pompey/Gosport/Bognor follower) Steve Bone covering Pompey’s 4-0 win over Bolton in 2003 proved a professional test which comes to mind.

After years of being served up, shall we say, perspiration over inspiration, Harry Redknapp’s men were delivering football from another galaxy.

Teddy Sheringham had just completed his hat-trick and put his side 4-0 up – and then Amdy Faye, of all people, nearly smashed one in from the half-way line.

The full-time whistle went and Pompey went top of the Premier League. It all got a little emotional.

It was like that moment when your feelings creep up on you when watching a tearjerker on the sofa.

You dare not look at the missus (who is not Steve Bone, incidentally).

Within seconds, though, the reality of delivering a report for a fast-approaching deadline brings you back down to earth with a bump, while all around you are going nuts.

Those pressures are often not realised by those outside of the world of journalism.

Take then Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren deciding he would watch an England game with the press at the Riverside, after his side had played Pompey.

He was roundly ignored by journos feverishly firing reports out for Sunday newspapers before slipping away.

Late Pompey goals present a professional v personal conflict, too.

Of course, anyone with any kind of inkling for the Blues wants the best result possible for them.

Delight at injury-time goals turning defeats into draws and draws into wins have to be contained, though, when it means a Sports Mail or report needs a complete rewrite.

Increasingly infrequent trips to matches in a personal capacity tend to be very different experiences to the pre-journalist days. Perhaps it’s all the years of abiding by the press box code. Maybe it’s the freedom for a pre-match beverage or 10 but the decibel levels seemed to have been cranked up from years gone by when a fan in the stand. A hazy Uefa Cup jaunt to Guimaraes comes immediately to mind.

The trade-off is being a journalist on a match day and delivering the stories to Pompey fans is a privileged position – and will always be treated as such.

Etiquette will be adhered to and, as much as a person like me is capable, decorum applied when on duty.

But those who sit around the press box in the South Stand may just spot a little table thump or two, if there is a final-day celebration against Plymouth on May 3.