Asking questions which count is an art form

Jim Smith
Jim Smith
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Sol Campbell on his return to Fratton Park in December. Picture: Joe Pepler

Former Pompey skipper: I have one of football’s greatest minds

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Jacqui Oatley’s recent questioning of Arsene Wenger would have resonated with any football journalist.

Wenger was accused of being ‘arrogant and patronising’ towards the BBC reporter in the wake of Arsenal’s disappointing draw with Hull last month.

Whisper it quietly but there was even suggestion of sexism from the Gunners boss towards Oatley.

That doesn’t factor in with the progressive personna of the Frenchman, regarded as one of the games reasoned thinkers and, to be honest, I doubt it’s true.

Maybe that’s not quite the same for the former Pompey boss who informed Oatley she had ‘lovely eyes’ in a head-in-hands moment a few years back, though. She took the backhanded compliment well.

What evolved at the Emirates was a manager dealing with a difficult, yet perfectly valid and reasoned line of questioning in the wake of a disappointing result.

Unlike so many of her peers, Oatley stuck to her guns as Wenger bristled and then effectively chastised her.

Her crime was to forward questions supporters wanted to hear, to a man who is clearly not used to being challenged.

Post-match interviews are indeed an art form. One where the gauntlet between asking what needs to be asked has to be rode with extricating information. All of that in what is often a pressure-cooker environment.

Over the years at Fratton Park we’ve seen that scene combust in interactions with manager, players and owners.

In fact, it can happen at any time when the heat is on. Post-match, pre-match, on the phone or face to face.

Harry Redknapp’s often-volatile demeanour was a classic case-in-point.

That most famously exposed its ugly head in the wake of the aborted promotion party against Sheffield Wednesday in 2003.

A local journalist had the temerity to ask Redknapp if he’d considered responding to chants to introduce fans’ favourite Gary O’Neil, rather than leave him on the bench.

The response was a foul-mouthed rant in front of a stunned press pack, which even demeaned the journo’s earning power compared to the Pompey boss’s. He later apologised.

A verbal blast was never far from the surface with Redknapp, as The News’ former chief football writer, Mark Storey, once found to his cost.

Redknapp, when director of football, was given permission to take a holiday mid-season by chairman Milan Mandaric.

The fact Pompey had a midweek cup match in the depths of winter was highlighted by The News, in a mocked-up image of Redknapp on a beach alongside a hardy Fratton end in full voice.

It was Storey who got both barrels, even though he’d passionately argued against the image appearing.

Likewise, myself when Jim Smith launched into a tirade at the sighting of him, Redknapp and a number of senior players mocked up as Dad’s Army, in a light-hearted response to the squad’s experience. Those old artists at The News have a lot to answer for.

Those men never let a grudge last and the same could largely be said of Steve Cotterill.

An innocent but nonetheless incendiary metaphor from a radio reporter lit the touchpaper in dramatic fashion in 2010.

The flowery monologue detailed how Pompey had produced ‘rope-a-dope tactics’ ala Ali v Foreman and climbed off the canvas to floor Swansea after being battered into virtual submission.

The soliloquy had the impact of sending a raging Cotterill into meltdown.

I then had to confront the Pompey boss, deliver follow-up questions and ask for a player to speak to while he was still spitting bile. He obliged.

We haven’t reached those furious levels with Andy Awford, yet, but, believe me, there have been disagreements.

One thing is for sure, it’s not the cosy-up some people would have you believe.

David Connolly’s non-inclusion this season is one topic supporters have wanted to know about. We are duty-bound to ask.

Likewise, results and performances have fluctuated this term – as has the surrounding mood.

Sunday’s post-match boos were most definitely a lower point, along with an irate fan confronting Awford.

There’s no pleasure there but they are events which have to, and will, be asked about.

The desire to see Pompey succeed is real but so is the professionalism to ask what counts.