Beware putting your head into a lion's mouth

It was a brutal demolition act detonated in the company of a braying audience.

Saturday, 15th October 2016, 9:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:59 pm
One-time Pompey boss Steve Cotterill Picture: Robin Jones

Easy prey had stumbled into the path – then how they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Gordon Strachan produced such savagery on former Radio Solent reporter Ian Henderson that it remains the most uncomfortable takedown of a journalist I have ever witnessed.

Often, the source of a manager’s post-match backlash can be traced to an errant word, the wrong look or incorrect tone of voice.

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Yet in August 2003, the Southampton boss employed humiliation in pursuit of raising a cheap chuckle.

James Beattie’s 88th-minute goal had handed Southampton a 1-0 St Mary’s triumph over Premier League champions Manchester United.

Enter Henderson, crouching beside Strachan’s perch in the post-match press conference, microphone outstretched.

‘So Gordon, you must be delighted with that,’ came the question.

In press terms it represented a loosener, a gentle delivery tossed in to allow the manager an easy introduction. Standard procedure.

Strachan looked at him in disdain and mocked: ‘No, I’m absolutely gutted to beat Manchester United. What do you think?’

The seats crumpled into laughter, while lone gunman Henderson, situated at the front of the class, was stranded in a sea of indignity.

A needless act of sabotage from Strachan, an action even more unpalatable considering Henderson was also employed by Southampton – as their ClubCall reporter.

Post-match interviewing is a pathway impeded by barbed wire and broken glass. Faced with minerals at their rawest, the cuts to radio journalists are always the deepest.

Take Paul Cook, a Pompey boss known to unleash a razor-bladed tongue during radio interviews – in contrast to his pre-match demeanour.

On a Thursday, he represents an affable, intelligent figure who relishes talking football, often utilising video clips on a laptop and drinks coasters to demonstrate his tactical rationale.

For those present, they are precious slivers of insight to be savoured.

Yet Cook despises the post-match immediacy of interviews, he loathes the requirement to analyse a result in a manner he perceives as knee-jerk.

Of course, he also relishes socialising with the opposition manager, a time-honoured routine inevitably sapped through media demands.

Plenty of other Blues managers have been far more intolerable to deal with on occasions.

Take Harry Redknapp following a 2-1 Fratton Park defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in April 2003.

Again it centred on Henderson, who had questioned why Gary O’Neil had been left unused on the bench.

In his 2014 autobiography, From The Sidelines, Henderson wrote: ‘After questioning my parentage, he (Redknapp) continued: “Of course you know a lot more about football don’t you? I earn a load more money than you do!”

‘“Quite right Harry on that one,” I replied, causing him to blaspheme for about 10 seconds before he stormed off along the touchline back to the dressing rooms to the astonishment of the 30 or so assembled hacks.

‘....the next morning’s Sunday newspapers were full of headlines like “Harry slams his own reporter!” and “Harry sees red with journalist”.’

Thankfully, Henderson has never encountered the ire of Steve Cotterill – unlike the rest of us.

Following a 2-1 defeat to Burnley, during Cotterill’s post-match address it emerged the Blues were to jet abroad for warm weather training. Yet he did not wish to elaborate.

‘Blow me, what is this? Flippin’ hell, bog off Neil, you’re not having all the info so don’t go sniffing around it, alright,’ he roared (edited version).

The following morning he rang to apologise, defeat against a club he formerly managed had hurt.

It was an admirable gesture from a character who, in the post-Redknapp era, remains The News’ sports desk’s favourite manager to deal with, Cook excluded.

Others didn’t relish Cotterill’s presence, such as Martin ‘Scoop’ Hopkins.

Following a 2-1 victory at Swansea in November 2010, The Quay reporter incensed the Blues’ boss by referring to the display as ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics.

Weeks later, Cotterill took umbrage at Hopkins’ post-match query about whether he would resign following a 3-0 defeat at Watford.

Having ignored further questioning from his direction, Cotterill stormed outside, repeatedly screaming ‘Get me away from him’ to his head of media.

The News’ ex-sports writer, Steve Wilson, once received a tongue lashing having enquired whether Liam Lawrence was to blame after a red card in a 4-3 defeat at West Ham.

At Preston in August 2010, Radio Solent’s Adam Blackmore was blasted for tutting in response to Cotterill demanding alternative questions.

Yet it is Andy Awford who remains the sole manager I have witnessed handing out ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers post-match. The recipient was myself.

It was in response to a column published that morning centring on the truth behind David Connolly’s mysterious ongoing absence.

Awford, who had persistently refused to discuss the striker, believed the timing of the article was designed to unsettle the team on a match day.

Incidentally, I have written a Saturday column since 2007.

The Blues legend apologised almost two weeks later – although not before a second round of ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Awford also incurred Ian ‘The Moose’ Abrahams’ wrath after the talkSPORT reporter asked to interview his ‘friend’ Paul Robinson following a 1-1 draw with Mansfield.

‘No chance,’ came the needlessly-curt reply.

From that point, a seething Moose often fed his Twitter account to wish Pompey’s boss every personal failure.

You see, those easy post-match targets can, one day, snap.