That time the press walked out on Sam Allardyce at Newcastle United
Writer Miles Starforth has reported on Newcastle United for 20 years. This is the latest in a series of recollections and anecdotes from his time covering the club.
Sam Allardyce has always liked an audience. Sadly, he kept his audience waiting at Newcastle United all too often.
Most managers in my time covering the club have been punctual. Allardyce was one of the exceptions.
And Allardyce kept the press assembled for his pre-game press conferences waiting. And waiting. Often, they would start well over an hour, or even two hours, late at the club’s Benton training ground.
There would be impromptu kickabouts in the indoor barn next to the press conference room as we waited. And waited. Back in the office, my colleagues would be waiting for copy.
Allaryce, appointed as Glenn Roeder’s successor, was rarely apologetic when he eventually took his seat.
It wasn’t long before the North East press pack had had enough. With no sign of him after a two-hour wait, it was decided that a couple of reporters would stay for Allardyce, with the broadcasters, while the rest of us would leave.
Waiting, however, is something every football journalist has to get used to, whether they like it or not, and good things don’t always come to those who wait.
You can wait an hour or more to speak to a player, only for them to refuse to speak to you. It’s their prerogative.
After every Premier League game, a handful of journalists and broadcasters usually head to what’s known as a “mixed zone”.
It’s an area where the players have to walk through before they leave the stadium. Lined up one one side will be the reporters, waiting for willing interviewees. Players, however, can be unwilling to speak.
Fortunately, Newcastle players have been more prepared to talk to journalists than at other top-flight clubs. They know the appetite for information and interviews on Tyneside, such is the importance of the club to its local community.
Reporters covering other clubs are less fortunate. They wait in mixed zones more in hope than expectation.
Three players I didn’t mind waiting for were Fabricio Coloccini, Jonas Gutierrez and Jose Enrique, known as the “Three Amigos” during their time together at the club.
They would ALWAYS be last out of the dressing room, home and away.
They would talk and listen to music long after the final whistle. Their team-mates were long gone by the time they finally emerged. They would always speak, and were a pleasure to interview.
One particular interview with Gutierrez always comes to mind. He had just made a goalscoring comeback for the club’s reserves in front of 332 fans after being given the all-clear from cancer.
This was in January 2015 on a cold night, and a colleague and myself waited and waited for Gutierrez outside Whitley Park.
The floodlights had long been turned off when he stopped to speak in an empty, barely-lit car park.
"I say thank you to those fans,” said the winger, who had been inundated with messages of support as he underwent treatment in his native Argentina. “That has always been there with me – always. Through all of my treatment, the messages and support from the Newcastle fans was special. It made me happy.
"To be at home in Argentina and hear my song and then the clapping in the 18th minute was very emotional – I don’t have the words to say what power that gave me.
"It's true that it gives you the strength to forward. All I wanted was to be healthy and come through all of my chemotherapy."
Gutierrez didn’t know then if he would be able to make a first-team return. He added: "If I come back and play for Newcastle then, for me, it will be the best.”
He did, and it was the best. On the final day of that season, Gutierrez scored one goal and set up another as Newcastle secured their Premier League status with a 2-0 win over West Ham United.
It was turned out to be his last act for the club he had come to love.
“It was a dream, especially after a few months ago thinking I would not play football again,” said Gutierrez after the game. “It was a fantastic finish with a moment like that. Unbelievable.”
Pointedly, he added: “I have been here seven years, and these fans and this city do not deserve to wait until the last day to stay up or go down. The club has to change because it is a massive club, massive fans, and they deserve much better things.”
Gutierrez really did get the city and the club.
Back to Allardyce, who would talk at length when he did eventually sit down with journalists. Allardyce would also take calls between press conferences, which was invaluable to a local newspaper reporter.
I remember trying to get hold of him ahead of home game against Manchester City on January 2, 2008.
I’d given up hope of hearing back from him on New Year’s Eve and had headed to a party. Allardyce called back, and I headed to the host’s kitchen to take down a few notes.
Would he be celebrating, I asked?
“One might have a glass of champagne,” was his answer.
That was typical Allardyce, a larger-than-life character who lasted half a season at St James’s Park.
What about that time most of us walked out for before he very belatedly sat down for his presser? He was on time the following week.
Read the inside story of Rafa Benitez's most extraordinary press conference here