A wee while ago, the Birmingham Mail’s Aston Villa reporter Matt Kendrick kindly agreed to answer questions put to him by the Vital Villa masses. Herein lies Mat’s responses!
Many thanks to Mat for agreeing to answer the questions fired at him!
I will kick off with. Mat, who have been the easiest / most difficult players/managers/officials you`ve had to deal with?
MK: Ashley Young could be a bit snooty dealing with the press pack at times, but was great to interview one-on-one.
Managers? Had a few issues with Martin O`Neill. Had a few problems with Jimmy Quinn when I covered Shrewsbury. But it`s all just gentle sparring; it`s part of the game. Generally tend to have a decent-ish working relationship with the ones who still speak to me!
Which superpower would you like to help you in dealing with managers and players
Telepathy, so I could read the minds of everybody in the ground and come up with a match report that all of them agreed with. Or even just one of them…
Have you ever seen/met Lerner? Does he have a Villa tattoo or is it fake? I`m going fake at the moment
MK: Met him a couple of times when he has done his annual summer press conferences. Had a brief informal one to one chat with him when he was at the training ground earlier this season. Didn`t roll up his trouser leg up so I can`t comment on the authenticity of his Villa tatt, I`m afraid.
Matt, do you know what the revised 5 year plan is? What level of signings budget do you anticipate will be available in the Summer. Which players do you expect to leave? Will the North Stand be redeveloped?
MK: This is my own opinion, rather than inside info, but I should imagine any revised five-year plan has been put on hold for the time being. Villa`s finances needed reining in to such an extent that the club are trying to get back on an even keel before making any bold plans for the future. Boring, I know, but I think they are looking to break even in the next two years before even thinking about any fresh assault on the top four.
Do you personally consider Villa to be a ‘big` club or like Lawrenson think our days have gone?
MK: How do you define ‘big`? Of course, in terms of heritage, tradition, reputation then Villa are a big club. In terms of recent league positions? Probably in the top 10 biggest clubs in the country. In terms of silverware? Much smaller clubs have won trophies more recently than Villa. In terms of generating revenue? They are again in top 10, but the very big clubs leave them behind with every lucrative season of Champions League qualification.
Any bias shown by villa to any particular press outlet?
MK: As local papers, ourselves at the Birmingham Mail and our Wolverhampton counterparts, the Express and Star get decent access to players and manager now.
Was it your ambition to become a Football Journalist when you were young(er)?
Pride of Lions
MK: Yes, I realised at a fairly young age that I was never good enough to play football for a living so the next best thing was to get paid for watching it! Some people have said when are you going to realise you`re not good enough to write about it too, but I ignore the flak and keep enjoying a job I have always wanted to do.
As a fan, do you find yourself in a moral dilemma having such close contact with people who are killing our club? And also how can you even bear to be in the same room as AlexM? Is it just a job to you, like lawyers defending the guilty?
MK: Interesting question. I think having close contact, by virtue of my job, gives me an insight into how certain people go about their work and why certain decisions are made, even if I don`t necessarily agree with all of them.
As for moral dilemmas, I started out as a news reporter on the Express & Star, having to do ‘death knocks`, which is knocking the doors of relatives of the recently deceased trying to get interviews. When you are dealing with ordinary people who have lost loved ones, it puts into perspective millionaire footballers moaning at you because you criticised them for missing an open goal.
Just how funny ARE my jokes Mr Kendrick?
MK: I promised Murph I would do my best to answer all of the questions, but I CAN`T ANSWER THIS
Where did you study and where did you start working? How long did it take to start covering a) the sport you love and b) the team you follow? Did you ever have to do any other type of reporting other than sport/football?
MK: Did my GCSEs and A-Levels and then did an English degree locally at Wolverhampton Uni. Got on a trainee journalism scheme with the Express and Star, who gave me a crash course in being a reporter – shorthand, law, local government affairs – with a guaranteed job at the end of it.
Worked as a news reporter on the weekly Chronicles in the Black Country and then as a news reporter on the Express and Star (council meetings, church fates, cats stuck up trees and court reporting etc).
Wanted to branch out into sport asap. Got a job on Shropshire Star covering Shrewsbury Town for two years, then went to become sports editor of weekly Kidderminster Shuttle, covering Kiddy Harriers for a couple of years. Joined the Brum Mail/Mercury/Post about five years ago with a brief to cover all West Mids football and have been covering Villa specifically for about three years.
How challenging have you found it to see the internet became as big a part of the job as the printed press part and do you have any preferences as to which media you prefer?
MK: I`m quite a traditionalist in that I still enjoy flicking through a paper, although I realise I am part of a dying breed (it`s not the same reading your smart phone on the loo as it is reading the paper!). It is a challenge trying to break stories in print now, because our deadlines remain regimented compared to the 24/7 nature on the internet. Adjusting to getting instant feedback from readers is also strange.
From an occasional letter in the sports mail bag every few weeks, I can now get scores of people commenting on my stories within minutes (some of them even say nice things). Lots of newspapers/print journalists having to reinvent the way they work to get the most out of new media. I enjoy the challenge.
Who was/is the best manager for quotes?
MK: I would love to have covered Villa during the John Gregory days with his electrocuting-referee`s-testicles style quotes.
When I had a wider brief to cover the whole West Mids patch, Mick McCarthy was always great for a quote. At Villa, I`ve only encountered Martin O`Neill, Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish (plus temporary bosses Kevin MacDonald and Gary McAllister) and they`ve all had their foibles.
As a fan yourself (I presume you aren`t bluenose!), how hard is it to bite your tongue in order to preserve your relationship with key figures at the club? (and how often do you need to do it!)
MK: I`m an experienced journalist now; I`ve had these relationships with players, managers, directors at other football clubs, so you learn to pick your moments. If I feel I have made a mistake I will admit it, apologise and try to smooth things over.
If I feel I am not in the wrong, I will stand my ground and argue my case. Most reasonable people, even at football clubs, will allow you the odd discretion, if they know that on the whole your coverage is fair. Some will sulk forever.
Do you get some useful information from fan sights such as Vital Villa.(as Fear is always in one of the papers)
MK: It is a good way of gauging public opinion, I find there usually tends to be a more balanced variety of opinions on the fans forums (some of them, anyway) than you seem to get on Twitter, which seems to be populated by 25 per cent rational minded fans and 75 per cent freakzoids.
Many Villa fans boycott the paper because of its bias towards Small Heath. Please do not deny this. Since August 1st Small Heath have been the main back page story on 112 occasions. In this same time Villa have been the back page lead on just 61 occasions.
Please explain why the biggest club in the City, with the biggest following (even when both clubs were in the same division Villa to Small Heath support was at at 5 Villa fans for every 3 Heathens), playing games against the biggest clubs in the World, with all the controversy surrounding the club, with more local lads playing for the team than the Heathens could ever dream of, why the Villa play second fiddle to Small Heath in terms of news stories.
This bias has gone on for many years. It is why Villa Fans boycott the paper. I look forward to the spin that you put on as to why this happens???
MK: Seems like quite a closed question that, voiceoftheholte, but, with the risk of making you dizzy, here`s the spin.
Allegations of bias have been going on since time immemorial. And the opposite accusation – that we are pro Villa – is often levelled at the paper from Blues. It is nice to know you take such an interest in our coverage that you keep a tally – I haven`t added it up, so I`ll take it as read your figures are correct.
The only explanation I can think of for the disparity in the number of Villa and Blues back page leads is that when our teams are playing midweek games we tend to lead the back with them on the day of the game and the day after, because match previews and reports are prime sellers for us.
As the Villa reporter, I have a more vested interest than anybody in ensuring my stories have big headlines and my name is up in lights, and I personally have no problem with the prominence my articles are given. I know that if I deliver interesting enough stories then they will lead the back page and I think I have been doing that.
The two clubs are treated equally because our readership spans both sides of the city.
Sorry to waffle on, but even the stories that form the side panels on the back page carry pretty much the same number of words as the lead articles anyway so neither club should feel short-changed by our coverage.
Mostly I`m sure meeting players is just work, which players / or other footballing figures have you met that were more than ‘just` work’ though, who were you in ‘awe` of (for want of a better phrase)
MK: I got nervous when I first phoned David Platt for an interview, because he was/is my all-time football hero. I just prayed that he wasn`t a complete fool because I didn`t want him to ruin my memories of him. He wasn`t. He was a top bloke.
Dwight Yorke too was brilliant when I met him, happy to chat football and Villa long after I had turned my tape off and even recorded a video telegram for my mate`s wedding, although he did wish him Happy Christmas, rather than good luck with his marriage and promptly burst into hysterics!
I don`t tend to get nervous or starstruck when dealing with the players of today, mainly because they are mostly younger than me and it`s hard to be in awe of lads half your age. Also, when you are doing your job it is important to focus on asking the right questions and conducting the interviews in the right way, rather than thinking ‘Look, there`s that fella who plays for the Villa`.
Ghost-writing Paul McGrath`s column in the Mail for a year or so was a wonderful privilege too, getting to speak to the great man every week.
Matt, Do you believe that as a journalist you are responsible chiefly to the public, or has there been times when you have withheld information about Aston Villa that after careful consideration, you personally felt should remain inside the club thus denying the public?
MK: Thomas, I think I am responsible chiefly to my boss and my employer and my remit is to cover Aston Villa, generating stories and comment which will be of interest to our readers in the paper and online. There`s things I see and hear which I don`t write and there`s things I see and hear which I do write.
I`ve been doing this job for 13 years now and I`ve still got plenty to learn, but I think I`m a decent judge (most of the time) about what I should and shouldn`t write. It is what has helped me progress to get the job I always wanted, so I`m not going to suddenly deviate away from those methods now. Whether you agree with what I write or not is a different matter.
Do you think Eck is doing a good job? Do you think Randy fell for his nice guy act?
MK: Alex McLeish and the players have underachieved and should be between six and 10 points better off. The reasons for that are manifold ..tactics, confidence, caution, fear, individual errors, some players getting too many chances and others not enough…and also just plain bad luck.
I think Randy Lerner has been quoted elsewhere about his reasons for appointing Alex McLeish so you`ll have to take his word for it rather than me attempting to speak on his behalf. Alex McLeish is going to have to produce something special to truly win over the Villa fans, so we`ll have to wait and see.
Matt, if the headlines could write themselves then what would they write come the summer if Villa were to be dragged into a relegation fight and just stay up/go down?
holte ender 1969
MK: Erm… if they went down…..`Relegated Villa in crisis` or if they just stayed up ‘Relieved Villa avert crisis`. Probably best to let our sub editors do the headlines, they`re better at it than me!
The manager speculation will continue from the fans view point, what part do you press play in suggestion of another manager and do you share any gossip/rumours with AVFC or current manager?
holte ender 1969
MK: Do you mean, do the press have an input into which manager a football club appoints? Not as far as I know. In terms of sharing gossip/rumours with Villa and the manager, I suppose I do if I`m trying to get a particular rumour checked out.
Don`t tend to gossip with them just for the purpose of small-talk. They tend to have a good idea of what is being rumoured anyway, without me bringing it to their attention.
On the outside we see a very private owner in Randy Lerner, is he always so guarded in your meetings/interviews and does he really seem to love the club as much as what is portrayed?
holte ender 1969
MK: Hard to comment really because I have spent such little time with him. On the occasions I have chatted to him on or off the record he seems to care deeply for the club and on the whole, his actions since he bought Villa in 2006 and the cash he has ploughed in would suggest that, yes, he has the club`s interests at heart.
Matt, have you ever seen another chairman like Randy bring so much hype and excitement for the future of a football club, but then fade away and bring in the end in just 5 years or so such misery, disappointment, and shocking managerial decisions, and run the club at such an unsustainable wage level allowing his manager to buy players on contracts that would risk the clubs ability to be able to challenge for anything of note again for years to come?
MK: Is that a question or a statement, Clivethevillan? Randy Lerner`s tenure has certainly had its ups and downs.
Matt, do you think we still have a good honest bunch of lads down at Villa Park?
MK: Sorry DOL, I`m not fickle, I just don`t like you.
Mat, this wasn`t the real David O`Leary: Ed/Murph
Mr Kendrick Do Villa have in your opinion an operational PR dept. as the attempt to sign a manager last year was a total PR shambles, and the silence from the Villa Park boardroom regarding the future of the club is deafening.
MK:I wasn`t covering the club when Randy Lerner first came in five and a half years ago, but watching from afar the PR seemed to be so slick…..The Holte Pub, the scarves, the coaches, and then, the Acorns deal. But there have clearly been problems in recent years.
In terms of PR, there are some things Villa do well and some things they do less well.
Welcome Mat, Two questions in one, how well do you get looked after when you cover matches at Villa Park and which Premiership club that you have visited hosts reporters the best?
MK: Col8, Villa have stepped up their press room hospitality lately, which is one of the reasons I`m so fat.
Arsenal was renowned for providing the best press room food, but Chelsea and Manchester City have probably overtaken them now. The chicken pie I bought at Bristol Rovers was quite impressive too, even though it did burn the roof of my mouth.
Hope you claimed the pie price back on expenses! Murph/Ed
Mat do you feel obliged as the Mails “Villa Man” to try and find something positive to report, even after what has been a shocking performance by the team? If so what was the one match this season where you struggled the most?
MK: I try to strike a balance. Struggled the most:Can`t remember. Manchester United or Swansea at home, off the top of my head.
Best game you have ever reported on?
MK: Villa 0 Leeds 0 . A forgettable match in terms of incident or action, but it was the first time I ever covered Villa. I was a news reporter on the Express and Star but was covering for one of the sports guys, Martin Swain I think. I`ve still got the metal printing plate from the presses as a souvenir.
MK: Probably the match when Shrewsbury Town got relegated out of the Football League. It was a horrible evening.
If you could interview one person, who would it be and why?
The “I ask too much” Fear
MK: My son after scoring the winner for Villa in the FA Cup final. He`s just turned four, so let`s give him another 15 years
. that`ll mean Villa win the cup in 2027!
Which manager or player has given you an awkward moment where you realised they are being difficult and not responsive, and you couldn`t wait for the interview to be over.
MK: I relish a bit of friction sometimes… had an interesting exchange with Ian Holloway at Blackpool last year when I asked if he realised what kind of offence he had caused Gerard Houllier and Villa with his ‘club that used to be famous/manager on a sticky wicket` rant.
He got the hump at first, but backed down and apologised for his comments. I enjoyed that.
I interviewed David Moyes over the phone once when I was Shrewsbury reporter ahead of an FA Cup tie against Everton. Wayne Rooney had just burst on the scene and I said to Moyes: ‘I know you don`t like talking about Rooney, but……”
He interrupted me and said: ‘If you know I don`t like talking about him, why the **** are you asking about him….”
Eventually he relented and gave me the harmless handful of superlatives I needed to file my story.
Alex McLeish was annoyed when I asked him if his team might have been a bit bolder at Wigan the other week.
Got the hairdryer treatment off Martin O`Neill a few times too. Bless him.
Do Villa use you as a positive PR tool or are you free, fair and balanced?
MK: Both. If Villa want community events, parochial stories written/promoting that have a narrow reach and are of little interest to the national press then the Birmingham Mail is the perfect way to reach local people. Equally, when writing comment pieces or match reports (apologies for coming over all Roy Walker from Catchphrase) I say what I see. I`ll be honest and admit that I am finding it challenging right now.
Funniest football anecdote
MK: This is cheating, because I wasn`t there, but I`ve told this story before so it`s worth repeating. At most football grounds now there is something called a mixed zone (sorry if I am patronising you by explaining this). Anyway, the mixed zone is usually located somewhere between the dressing room and the players` entrance/exit. The press stand on one side behind a bit of velvety rope and the players walk past on the other side after matches.
Apparently, after an England game at Wembley, Emile Heskey walked through the mixed zone with his phone to his ear and indicated that he couldn`t stop to talk because he was on a call. Anyway, as he passed through, his mobile promptly started ringing. He was forced to admit he had been pretending to be on the phone, gave an ‘it`s a fair cop, you`ve got me` gesture and returned to be interviewed!
Who would be your ultimate interviewee
MK: Think I`ve answered that further up – my son after scoring the winner in the cup final. Failing that it would be great to speak to the late William McGregor to find out his thoughts on the modern game.
Favourite current player, favourite all time player.
If you don`t know by now
MK: Barry Bannan/Darren Bent/Gabby Agbonlahor – mainly because of their approachability….. all-time: David Platt/Paul
Who amongst the youth do you rate to fully break through into our team.
Attention seeker isn`t he
MK: Daniel Johnson, hopefully, once a few of the rough edges are smoothed off.
Do you have an opinion on Emile Heskey!?
What more can you say on this one?
Once again, many thanks to Mat Kendrick for answering our questions. You can find him on Twitter @matkendrick or read about him in the newspapers! Thanks to all those who asked questions the questions as well!
With a bit of luck, Vital Villa sleuth’s will be out and about looking for yet another claret & blue man to answer your questions soon!