MacMillan Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

October 21, 2004 | 6 min read

Berti: walking the long walk?

HE got off to such a good start at a Hampden Park press conference. “Just call me Berti McVogts,” Scotland’s first foreign national team manager told the media that assembled to greet him more than two-and-a-half years ago. It was an overwhelmingly positive reception. Indeed, the Scottish Sun, never content to run with the pack, had beaten its rivals by meeting Vogts at Heathrow the day before, handing over a bottle of malt whisky in a typically enterprising stunt. It was 14 February 2002, St. Valentine’s Day. What cruel irony.

WE WANT OUR WHISKY BACK! screamed the Sun, following Scotland’s humiliating 1–1 draw in Moldova last week. Yes, any last embers of a media love-in were finally burning out. The back page was much worse. WE’LL SACK HIM NEXT WEEK, SFA TALKS TO DUMP VOGTS. Having recently been elevated to page one in the same paper, due to Abi Titmuss’s apparent longing to bed Scotland’s national team boss, Vogts had already been reduced to joke status. Rather than deflect the rumour, he revelled in it. Clearly, this was a man in denial, approaching his nadir.

If reports in both the tabloid and the increasingly rare broadsheet press are to be believed, Vogts’ days as Scotland manager are numbered. The press has been virtually unanimous in condemning the German’s performance, given poor results and the lack of progress. “The long goodbye for Berti Vogts,” said the Herald. VOTE OUT VOGTS said the Daily Record, with an accompanying petition to sack the Scotland manager. “Throw the book at him,” and “Bye Bye Berti”, added the Sun, for any new readers in doubt of its low opinion of the Scotland manager.

Doubtful though it seems at first glance, there was very little malice in any of this coverage. Speak to 100 people on the street and ask if Vogts should remain Scotland boss and you’ll struggle to find any takers, so why should football journalists pretend otherwise? It is often said that the media, in Britain in particular, builds people up so that they can knock them down later. While this may sometimes be true, the theory does not apply to Vogts. He was initially greeted with adulation by the Scottish press because newspapers and their journalists, like everyone else, wanted him to succeed – it’s better for business. Many thought an outsider could ally different coaching skills and continental nous to our renowned passion for the game. But Vogts has failed. Getting beaten 4–0, 5–0 and 6–0 proves this. Our latest poor results amount to final confirmation. We were all wrong. Vogts is not good enough and that is why the press – and the public – are clamouring for him to go. The few people brave – or stupid, depending on your point of view – enough to defend Vogts have been pilloried as being either hopelessly nostalgic or mentally unsound. BBC football pundit and Daily Express sport columnist Chick Young was one journalist pleading mitigation for Vogts’s predicament. It was with incredulity that, amid the usual reasons for our nation’s footballing failure, I heard Young blame the media. “There’s something wrong with the attitude [of the press] in this country,” he said. Yet even Young could not bring himself to say that Vogts should remain in post, after the Daily Record’s James Traynor pinned him down on the point. Some would say it is amazing that it takes our national game to unite Scotland’s media in common cause: get rid of Berti Vogts. But most of us have played or watched football and remain interested, albeit in a somewhat masochistic way as Scotland fans, in its future. It’s nothing personal against Vogts but football sells papers and that is why the decline of our national game made the news as well as the sports pages last week.

THE MCMEDIA dinner club will deliver something of an event if, as announced, Andrew Gilligan, the former “Today” programme reporter, attends as guest speaker in Edinburgh on 13 December. It is a long-anticipated outing because McMedia first contacted Gilligan before he made that now infamous 6.07 a.m. broadcast about Downing Street’s claims regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction on May 29 last year.

A year-and-a-half later it is worth noting that McMedia contacted Gilligan because Alastair Campbell, Downing Street’s departed, but far from detached, director of communications had dubbed the radio reporter “Gullible Gilligan”, following a report about a new EU constitution. The latter, despite continual denials from Campbell’s department, turned out to be true. Given that Campbell has since been termed to have been “off the ranch” with rage at the time he conducted the government’s defence of Gilligan’s later claims, it is legitimate to question whether Campbell was after him from the start. After all, Campbell’s diary did note that the government’s aim was to “f*** Gilligan”.

Yes, mistakes were made and, most tragically, a man who found himself at the tip of a civil service/government/media triangle took his own life because of the pressure that had built up around him. The fact that Gilligan, Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke lost their jobs following that 6.07 a.m. broadcast is negligible by comparison. But we also know that the central tenet of Gilligan’s story, that the government exaggerated its case for the Iraq war, becomes more credible every passing day. Four government inquiries have not dented that.

THOSE who claim that circulation decline means newspapers have no long-term future, because of 24-hour rolling television news and the internet, will presumably be stumped by Rupert Murdoch’s decision to invest £600m in 22 new printing presses at three new UK print sites, including a new facility at Bellshill near Glasgow. The reasons are simple. News International’s titles, including the Sun and The Times, will be able to offer its advertisers colour on every page as well as increased newspaper production and distribution advantages. It means more income and, in the long term, lower running costs. At the same time, individual TV audiences continue to be weakened by the addition of extra digital channels, upping newspapers’ advertising appeal. Many still call Murdoch the “dirty digger” but at least he puts his money where his mouth is.


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