by Joe Butterfield

Neil Custis, better known to Louis van Gaal as “fat man”, better known to Russian airline companies as “the moaning moron on Twitter”, will not be throwing his hat into the ring for the upcoming Sports Journalists’ Association (SJA) British Sports Journalism Awards, which have recently opened up for entries. Whether or not this is because he’s actually not written anything since a 167-word article in September making the bold claim that Mourinho wants to beat Manchester City to the signing of Alexis Sanchez, with absolutely no mention of a source, is something we can only speculate on.

The reason he’d have us all believe, however, is that the awards are Broadsheet love-ins, with absolutely no interest in giving Red Top journalists the credit they (apparently) so greatly deserve. He’s given some mention to this in the past, once calling Oliver Holt, Matt Lawton and Jonathan Liew “pompous twats”  who are part of “all three papers” who are recognised by the awards.

His latest rant came last week upon the announcement the award was taking entries and it looked a little bit like the below:


The validity of the SJA Awards is not something which necessarily concerns me. I’m no expert in the awards themselves, they may well be heavily biased towards certain papers or journalists and, honestly, it does strike me as a little bit of favouritism that the last decade has been shared between only three winners. Custis may well have a point buried deep beneath the vitriol and bitterness.

No, my concern lies within Custis’s contention that Red Top journalism is something which should be celebrated and admired on anywhere near the same level as that of Broadsheet journalism. Should there really be the same level of consideration given to the likes of The Sun and The Mirror to The Independent and The Guardian when it comes to sports journalism? Is the content, research and work involved even comparable?

The immediate and most obvious difference is the subject matter involved within the two. Besides match reports and transfer rumours (we’ll get to those), the content is worlds apart. Take away match reports and transfer rumours from Broadsheets and you’re left with an absolute feast of content, an all-you-can-eat of analysis both from a tactical and situational perspective. 1,000-2,000 word features will be written for Broadsheet sites, with in-depth interviews with people within the game which give a real insight into their lives and personalities away from the pitch – things which those with a real and active interest in the footballing world at large can take something from, even when it regards a club which may not be your own.

Take away match reports and transfer rumours from Red Tops and you’re left with the bottom of a McDonald’s takeaway bag, one or two chips of opinion piece which amount to little more than the journalistic equivalent of trolling. Stan Collymore will tell you that Jose Mourinho deserves the FIFA Coach of the Year award for parking the world’s most expensive bus against the most fragile Liverpool defence in recent history, while ‘Arry Redknapp subtly taps up Scott Parker for a reunion at the next club willing to sell their souls to him.

Of course, Red Tops also often come with a peppering of hatred for Raheem Sterling, a record which became so hilariously overplayed last season that even the most bitter of Liverpool fans were searching their pockets for a quid to stick in the jukebox.  Over the last year, slow news days have often just been passed off as Sterling days, documenting the life and times of the 22 year old. He’ll be able to use The Mirror as a bibliography for his own autobiography when he recalls the time he turned up to training in a car he hadn’t washed that morning or the time he went to Poundland to buy some batteries. Perhaps this is the hard-hitting journalism which Neil Custis wants to see given recognition?

Then there are the transfer rumours, the pinnacle of the clickbait which tabloids have built their financial success on, the meat which feeds the Talksport machine. The beauty of writing a piece about a transfer rumour, as Custis’s very own article regarding Alexis Sanchez proves so brilliantly, is that you have absolutely no need to provide any real evidence for what you’re writing. No mention of a source, no mention of any contact close to Sanchez, Arsenal or United, just 167 words of speculation, 131 of which merely provide fluff about the current season and give absolutely nothing to the article itself.

It’s the journalistic equivalent of throwing enough shit at the wall and seeing what sticks and, to an extent Broadsheets are sometimes guilty of this too. They will often wait for more concrete sources before printing rumours (although in the age of Twitter, the definition of a concrete source is becoming a lot more flexible) whilst Red Tops will print the slightest sniff of anything they hear from anywhere at any time.

Custis wants the story that Rooney is leaving United to be given praise to the extent where the journalist who first broke the story is given an award. However, I personally believe there’s no real skill involved in receiving a call from somebody who knows Rooney’s agent and being told Rooney is leaving. There’s no research involved, it’s just a tip which has been given by somebody which could well have turned out to be wrong.

Of course, being so well connected is definitely an asset and this isn’t to completely dismiss journalists whose best work comes in the transfer window, taking the time to dig a bit deeper into the rumours they hear before deciding to release them. However, when tabloids also include articles which claim Zidane is preparing a bid for Harry Kane, the only real support of which being that Zidane said he’s a great player in a press conference, it’s difficult to take the successes quite as seriously.

I could go on for much longer about how the tabloid simply cannot match up to the Broadsheet. Use of language, bias towards certain teams, The Sun being a generally abhorrent organisation, the reasons go on. For Neil Custis to dismiss such things as readily as his tweets suggest shows either a tremendous lack of self-awareness, a glaring hole in his footballing/journalistic knowledge or a level of blind bias which can only be matched by his inherent dislike of Pep Guardiola.

Do tabloids have their place in the footballing world? Probably. A casual football fan with a love for Alan Brazil in the morning, a hatred for foreign managers killing the English game and a yearning for route one football (see also: yer da) is the prime Red Top target audience and there are plenty of those around. Do tabloids meet the same standards as Broadsheets, however? Absolutely not.

The true motivator behind Custis’s opinion is, of course, bitterness. Combine the articles he writes with his media personality, general football knowledge and attitude towards fellow professionals on Twitter and he’s about as likely to win the SJA British Journalism Award as a porn director is to win the Oscar for Best Motion Picture.

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