Tag Archives: journalism

Ed Hawkins reveals truth behind spot-fixing scandal

EXCLUSIVE: The truth behind the amazing story that exposed cricket's dirty secrets

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UPDATED:

23:57 GMT, 11 November 2012

The sentencing in November 2011 of three Pakistani cricketers and their agent for their involvement in the Lord’s spot-fixing scandal a year earlier apparently brought to an end one of the most shocking episodes in the history of cricket corruption.

Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Mazhar Majeed were all shown to be corruptible by their roles in the deliberate no-balls that had marred the third Test against England – and paid the price with jail terms. But could their actions, as the judge said, have actually defrauded bookmakers Is it possible to place a bet on the precise timing of a no-ball

In the second exclusive extract of his new book about corruption in cricket, Ed Hawkins re-examines the crucial details of the News of the World (NotW) sting, and explodes some of the myths behind the story that rocked the game…

Scandal: The News of the World published their allegations against three Pakistani players in August 2010

Scandal: The News of the World published their allegations against three Pakistani players in August 2010

The story of Pakistan’s tour of England in the summer of 2010 would have made good reading as a thriller. Intrigue, infamy, cash in suitcases, back-stabbing, even sex, thanks to Veena Malik, the former girlfriend of Asif having her say, and, finally, courtroom drama.

Butt, the Pakistan captain, Asif and Amir, the two fast bowlers, and Mazhar Majeed, the fixer, were each sentenced to prison for their part in bowling no-balls to order in the fourth Test at Lord’s in August of that year. The four men, who all blamed one another for the crime, had been charged with conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat at gambling.

It was considered a disastrous day for cricket. It was, however, considered a great day for investigative journalism.

Hidden cameras showed Majeed talking to undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood, perhaps best known as the ‘Fake Sheik’.

Majeed was seen to propose three no-balls during the Lord’s Test, two to be bowled by Amir and one by Asif. For this information he was paid 150,000.

‘Caught!’ screamed the NotW headline under a ‘world exclusive’ banner. ‘Match-fixer pockets 150k as he rigs the England Test at Lord’s’. And ‘We expose betting scandal that will rock cricket’.

Butt received two years and six months, Asif one year, Amir six months and Majeed two years and eight months. The story that had everything was a bestseller. But did it really have everything The answer is, unquestionably, no.

Sentenced: Amir (left), Butt (centre) and Asif (right)

Sentenced: Amir (left), Butt (centre) and Asif (right)

In the backstreets of every Indian city, in outbuildings or bedrooms of crumbling apartments, never did a bookmaker cry ‘souda fok!’ – ‘all bets are off, it’s a fix’. In other words, there was no betting scam. There was no spot-fix.

It is the great irony of this tale. A story purported to be the latest in a litany of match-fixing scandals in the sport was far removed from the illegal Indian market where the ‘fix’ supposedly had its roots.

‘It seemed clear to me they that had been scammed,’ an Indian bookmaking contact told me. Recordings by the newspaper showing Majeed, a Croydon-based businessman, predicting when the no-balls were to be bowled would appear proof of match-fixing or spot-fixing to the layman.

But to anyone with a semblance of betting knowledge it was anything but. The NotW spent 150,000 and failed to get a bet on. The money paid was for Majeed to prove that he could control the Pakistan players.

Amid the media storm, not once was the question asked: if the newspaper had wanted to make money betting on the Indian market on those no-balls, could it have done so

Everyone in the Indian book-making world I have spoken to has confirmed it is not possible to bet on the timing of a no-ball.

Yet it was convenient for the media to ignore this point. It would have spoiled the story. The illegal Indian market is a monster. It is vast. It is unregulated. But it is structured and it is certainly not complacent.

No-ball: Amir oversteps at Lord's with Butt watching on

No-ball: Amir oversteps at Lord's with Butt watching on

No-ball: Amir oversteps at Lord's with Butt watching on

‘Do you think we’re fools’ one Indian bookie told me. ‘If someone says they want this no-ball bet for big monies and I’m Ladbrokes, I tell them to go away. No bookmaker in the world takes this bet.’

The reason would be that they suspected you had inside information. And it is no different in India.
You could argue that in the case of the Pakistan ‘spot-fixing’, it is irrelevant that one would not have been able to bet on a no-ball. The three Pakistan players were shown to be guilty of corrupt practices. They were cheating the game, their team-mates and the spectators.

And you would be absolutely right, but only if the court they were being tried in and the judge who would sentence them were aware that a no-ball is not a betting opportunity in India.

The court was not aware. The judge was not aware. This much is clear from the erroneous sentencing remarks by the Hon Mr Justice Cooke: ‘Bets could be placed on these no-balls in unlawful markets, mostly abroad, based on inside advance knowledge of what was going to happen…

Individuals in India were making 40,000–50,000 on each identified no-ball. On three no-balls, therefore, the bookmakers stood to lose 150,000 on each bet by a cheating punter.’

Butt, Asif, Amir and Majeed went to prison for charges that included ‘conspiracy to cheat at gambling’. If there was no bet placed, if there was no opportunity to even place that bet and therefore no one was defrauded, can anyone be guilty of such a charge

Mr Justice Cook said the NotW had ‘got what they bargained for’. Yet without their money, those no-balls would not have been bowled.

Media scrum: Amir arrives in court for the case

Media scrum: Amir arrives in court for the case

Nor would the no-balls have been bowled if Majeed was the fixing kingpin, as he was portrayed. The sting would surely have been drawn from the News of the World if Majeed was indeed the experienced fixer that he claimed to be.

In sales chatter to impress the undercover journalist, Majeed boasted of his knowledge and expertise in the field: ‘I’ve been doing this with the Pakistani team now for about two-and-a-half years, and we’ve made masses and masses of money. You can make absolute millions.’

Majeed said it would cost 400,000 to fix the result of a Twenty20 match, 450,000 for a one-day international and 1million to fix a Test match. There was no mention of how much a no-ball would cost because Majeed, correctly, did not believe one could bet on such an outcome.

Yet when the News of the World reporter was talking about placing bets on no-balls, Majeed, instead of hearing alarm bells ringing in his head, heard the ringing of the cash register.

Had money not been on his mind, he might have recognised he was being set up. Instead, he was focused on providing the no-balls that had been demanded, believing that if he could prove that Pakistan players were under his control, there would be more money to come: ‘I’m going to give you three no-balls, OK … right’

Majeed was true to his word. On the first day of the Lord’s Test, Amir bowled a no-ball from the first ball of the third over and Asif overstepped on the sixth ball of the 10th over. The third was not delivered because poor weather cut play short.

Outraged: England players react as Amir comes out to bat the day after the allegations

Outraged: England players react as Amir comes out to bat the day after the allegations

Keen to reassure his ‘sponsor’ that a third no-ball would still be delivered, Majeed rang the journalist that evening.

He told him that Amir would bowl a no-ball off the third ball of his third full over as he still had three balls to bowl the next morning following the disruption. Majeed confirmed this with Amir via text message.

However, for an unknown reason, Majeed attempted to get the ‘fix’ called off. He phoned the journalist, telling him that there ‘was no point doing the third now’. It is this volte-face that is crucial in exposing Majeed’s inexperience.

Shamed: Amir

Shamed: Amir

Alarmed at the prospect of his scoop losing some lustre, the journalist thinks quickly and tells Majeed that he must go through with the third no-ball because his ‘syndicate’ has already placed the bets.

This is important.

The ‘syndicate’ is claiming to have placed wagers on the timing of no-balls before the match had started. ‘So you can place money on the no-balls then’ Majeed asks. The journalist says yes. ‘What sort of monies’ says a surprised Majeed. This is the partially-sighted leading the blind.

If Majeed had been the shrewd, shady operator that he claimed to be – and the NotW had been only too willing to enhance this ‘reputation’ – then he would have immediately recognised that the journalist was lying.

Indeed, Majeed’s ignorance is stupefying. For a start he should have known that it was not possible for the syndicate to place these bets on a market that did not exist.

Secondly, a fixer well-connected to the Indian industry would have known that, even if such a market did exist, it would have been out of the question to have already placed such a wager before the Test match had started, as the reporter said his punters had done.

Someone asking for odds for a no-ball from a bowler’s third ball off his third full over on the second day would have been laughed at by any bookmaker in India – or anywhere else on the planet.

Adapted from BOOKIE GAMBLER FIXER SPY: A JOURNEY TO THE CORRUPT HEART OF CRICKET’S UNDERWORLD by Ed Hawkins, to be published by Bloomsbury on November 15 @ 16.99. Copyright 2012 Ed Hawkins To order a copy for 14.49 (incl p&p), call 0843 382 0000.

England must avoid slip-up in Poland – Martin Samuel

Beware travel sickness! Hodgson must avoid slip-ups on the road – now that Wembley is no longer a fortress

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UPDATED:

22:12 GMT, 15 October 2012

Martin is British No 1

Martin Samuel has been named Britain’s top sports journalist. Chief sports writer Samuel, whose columns every Monday and Wednesday tackle sport’s biggest issues with power and ingenuity, came first in the Press Gazette’s top 50 sports journalists.

The awards list was compiled by polling some of the biggest names in British sports journalism. Sportsmail’s Des Kelly was recognised for his weekly column, as was Charles Sale for his work on Sports Agenda.

There was a time when a draw in Poland was a good result. That was the mistake Graham Taylor made all those years ago. His team played poorly in Katowice, sneaked a point, and he dismissed them in public as headless chickens. The players took umbrage, went to Norway and lost, and began an inexorable slide out of the 1994 World Cup.

In the aftermath it was widely agreed that Taylor made a hash of the trip to Poland. Criticise the players behind closed doors, yes, but accept that a 1-1 draw is still a decent result and be diplomatic beyond those confines.

Times have changed. On the surface, a draw in Warsaw is good news. Poland are a young, improving team, playing in front of a noisy, full house. Many teams would settle for a draw in Poland. Germany and Portugal did in friendly matches here last season; Argentina lost in June 2011.

Big night ahead: England manager Roy Hodgson (left) and striker Wayne Rooney (right) in training in Warsaw

Big night ahead: England manager Roy Hodgson (left) and striker Wayne Rooney (right) in training in Warsaw

Yet, for England manager Roy Hodgson, the problem is this: England can no longer be guaranteed to win at home. Away draws only have worth if accompanied by home victories in the corresponding fixture, and nobody talks of fortress Wembley any more.

In May 1993, it was anticipated that a point in Katowice would soon be accompanied by three more at Wembley in September and so it proved, with a 3-0 win.

Yet England have already dropped two points at home to Ukraine in this campaign and while the 3-2 reverse against Croatia in 2007 is the only qualifying defeat in 12 years, there are an increasing number of draws and a worrying air of uncertainty.

Few would bet with any confidence against further slip-ups in this group. England’s final two matches are at home to Montenegro — who closed ranks and drew 0-0 on their last visit to Wembley, in the time of Fabio Capello — and Poland, a year from now.

Banana skin: The Poland squad warm up at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Monday night

Banana skin: The Poland squad warm up at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Monday night

If six points are required to avoid a
play-off or, worse, the exit, these could prove very tense affairs,
given England’s variable home form.

At the National Stadium in Warsaw, Hodgson attempted to make sense of a match some see as the most critical of his 11 in charge. If the European Championship tournament was blessed with low expectation — giving it a slightly unreal air — Hodgson has now had enough time to be handed responsibility for any failure.

Lose in Poland and there will be few excuses, even if the international retirement of John Terry is a greater blow than his many detractors would have us believe.

Hodgson said that the idea of a ‘must-win’ match was a football cliche that left him cold. He has been around the block plenty of times and, after his unofficial meet and greet on the London Underground, was not about to let another slip of the tongue cause him more problems than the opposition ever could.

Hart at work: England goalkeeper Joe is put through his paces in the Polish capital

Hart at work: England goalkeeper Joe is put through his paces in the Polish capital

There is no result that could
eliminate England in Poland, Hodgson made clear. He knows how quickly
the balance of power changes in group football.

Ukraine drew 1-1 at Wembley and no
doubt felt that the advantage was with them; then they drew 0-0 last
Friday away in Moldova, where England won 5-0 last month. Back to
square one.

Yet Hodgson was equally aware what a fillip a victory in Warsaw would be. ‘It reduces the pressure enormously if you can get a result away from home,’ he said, ‘and those victories are not as difficult to achieve as they once were.

Road to Brazil: England have already dropped points at home to Ukraine and cannot afford to let more slip

Road to Brazil: England have already dropped points at home to Ukraine and cannot afford to let more slip

Roy Hodgson's perfect start

‘Games are more open, with teams
having to come at you and leaving themselves vulnerable. At Wembley,
teams hope they can catch us on the counter-attack if we open ourselves
up too much. Look at the number of away wins in the Premier League in
recent seasons as well. That did not used to happen, but football is
changing.

‘And I know the
statistics, we did draw against Montenegro, we did lose to Croatia and
draw with Ukraine, but I still think the record at Wembley is pretty
good. We can remain confident of playing at home.’

That is not always how Capello saw
it. He thought England suffered an inferiority complex, particularly at
Wembley and came to the conclusion very early in his tenure that he
preferred away games.

Hodgson has only played two
competitive matches in London, a joke fixture against San Marino, and
the more stringent examination presented by Ukraine, which England
failed. The manager is beginning to experience the fragility that can
strike English players at any time.

Capello’s team sailed towards South
Africa in 2010 as one of the strongest European contenders, only to be
affected by torpor once there. England battled their way out of a
difficult group in Ukraine this summer, only to freeze against Italy in
the quarter-finals.

And
what happened to the Sven Goran Eriksson team that beat Germany 5-1 in
Munich They were stumbling and on the plane home from the World Cup in
2002 long before Germany reached the final.

‘The one thing we know is that, in Warsaw, we will face a very highly motivated team with a very vocal and enthusiastic support, because we are a scalp,’ Hodgson said. ‘England have always been a scalp.

‘We watched games about San Marino and, in those matches, their performance was nothing like it was at Wembley. They gave a bit to the game, rather than just being ultra-defensive. Their respect was a flattering aspect, seeing them simply trying to keep the score down.

‘So we know that Poland will be
rubbing their hands with glee at this game, given that, if they win,
it’s such a feather in their cap. First, we have to make sure we’re not
the victims.’

To this end, Hodgson is leaning towards experience rather than the cavalier approach: Michael Carrick not Tom Cleverley, Jermain Defoe not Danny Welbeck.

Away wins may be easier to come by in international football these days, but Hodgson’s tendency to caution suggests he will attempt to snaffle one, rather than enter the refurbished National Stadium with guns blazing. That is his prerogative. What he cannot afford to do, however, is allow conservative leanings to result in a missed opportunity.

This is a Poland team without captain Jakub Blaszczykowski and ranked 54th in the world, marginally higher than the Bulgarians who England beat home and away en route to the 2012 European Championship. No England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey in 1973 has lost in Poland, either.

‘Historical moments don’t really interest me,’ said Hodgson. ‘I don’t dismiss history, knowledge of it gives you some perspective: but it doesn’t help you win a football match.’

He must hope he locates what does in Warsaw; otherwise the road could get rather dicey from here. Even that familiar road home.

Martin Samuel: Roy Hodgson – we"re not out to get him

Martin Samuel: Out to get them No, we don't hound managers, we just want results

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UPDATED:

22:36 GMT, 30 April 2012

Football journalism. It's a results business. Just like football, really.

When Arsene Wenger took over at Arsenal, he was greeted with headlines asking ‘Arsene Who’ He answered that with a title or two, and now everybody knows his name.

Compelling evidence in football arrives not just year by year, but week by week, and cannot be overridden by mere trenchant opinion for long. A critic may still believe Roberto Di Matteo was a dismal appointment as interim manager at Chelsea, but try to justify that, as of now.

Jobs lot: Roy Hodgson is expected to be confirmed as the England manager for Euro 2012

Jobs lot: Roy Hodgson is expected to be confirmed as the England manager for Euro 2012

So this idea that Roy Hodgson can, or will, be hounded from the England job by a vengeful, embittered, southern-based press, stung that the FA have overlooked their chosen one, Harry Redknapp, really is beyond stupidity.

You know who gets England managers the sack Players. Either ours or theirs. Ours by not being good enough, theirs by being better.

More from Martin Samuel…

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30/04/12

Martin Samuel: It's time to bet like a man, Roberto! City must risk it… United would
29/04/12

Martini's old hat, Mr Bond. Fancy a Bacardi Breezer

26/04/12

Martin Samuel: No travesty… Chelsea's defeat of Barcelona was beyond triumph
25/04/12

Martin Samuel: Stuff purism, Chelsea's victory over Barcelona was a triumph of sheer will
24/04/12

Martin Samuel: Only in football would a rapist get a round of applause
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Martin Samuel: Beauty always needs a beast… gritty Chelsea make Pep's magicians special
23/04/12

Martin Samuel: We don't need ringers to make us Great Britons
22/04/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Whatever the surface reason for a
manager’s departure, results will have got him in the end. Win and it
does not matter what the media think, write or say. Win and everything
else is chatter.

You write your own headlines, Kevin Keegan would tell the players, and he was correct. Between two blows of the referee’s whistle, there is 90 minutes in which no pundit can interfere and if Hodgson makes his mark then, he is beyond criticism.

The honeymoon period is overplayed. No media darling has ever talked his way out of a 2-0 home defeat at Wembley. Indeed, I remember Hodgson’s verdict after England lost by that margin to Chile in the February before the 1998 World Cup finals. ‘Wembley is England’s fortress,’ he said. ‘You don’t lose at your fortress.’

Glenn Hoddle was in charge that night. He was undone by results eventually, too. History pretends he resigned after relaying a somewhat outlandish interpretation of Buddhist philosophy to a national newspaper, but that is only the half of it.

Those thoughts were first aired in a radio interview prior to the 1998 World Cup finals, but nobody cared. Hoddle was the England manager that had won Italy’s World Cup qualifying group and there was no appetite for cutting down that particular tall poppy.

Later that year, when he revisited the subject, it was on the back of an underwhelming World Cup and a poor start to the European Championship qualifying campaign. Goodbye.

Hot Spur: Harry Redknapp is perceived to be a darling of the British press

Hot Spur: Harry Redknapp is perceived to be a darling of the British press

Was Hoddle hounded out by media No, he went from winning to losing. Results have done for every England manager, even Fabio Capello, who despite going a year unbeaten was never forgiven for the 2010 World Cup finals debacle.

The press view is invariably divided anyway. Hodgson’s decisions will split opinion, as Capello’s did, as Redknapp’s would have. Yet to read some of the more outraged responses to criticism of Hodgson’s appointment, one would think the football press lived in Harry’s loft space on a diet of jellied eels.

Any resistance to Hodgson is a southern media conspiracy. Truth is, there is no collusion, no cabal, no convergence of interests.

As for geographical bias, where do you think Croydon, Hodgson’s birthplace, is Here’s the reality: of the nine chief football writers at the national newspapers, four are based in London and the South East, two in Manchester and one each in Liverpool, the East Midlands and West Yorkshire.

Hounded out, or not that good Glen Hoddle

Hounded out, or not that good Glen Hoddle

As for club allegiances, three support Liverpool and the others variously follow Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Fulham, Arsenal, Nottingham Forest and Manchester United. Nobody supports West Ham United or comes from east London.

Provincials outnumber southerners. If anything, Hodgson should be a victim of northern bias. But then how does that fit in with the Redknapp plot These conspiracy theories do not stack up.

Just maybe, there was much support for Redknapp because he was considered the obvious choice for the job: by Sir Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Martin O’Neill, Rio Ferdinand, Alan Pardew. That does not make Hodgson inadequate; just, in many minds, the second choice.

And this is what so many seem unable to understand. It is quite possible to rate Hodgson, but not support his appointment as England manager; just as it is possible to appreciate the job David Moyes has done at Everton, without considering him the most suitable successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

The support for Redknapp was nuanced, not knee-jerk, because it took into account the demands of this particular job; the need to knit a squad together in a short space of time, the delicacy of the issues around the Ferdinand brothers and John Terry and with the break-up of Europe into smaller nations, the number of matches in which England need to make the play and go out to attack.

Redknapp fitted that bill. The idea that media men liked him simply because he is good for a one-liner is facile. If that was the case, Fleet Street would still be behind Graham Taylor. We’ve just done four years with a man who spoke in six-word sentences and he was loved until the 2010 World Cup campaign went bust.

This season, Hodgson has taken to banging his head against the dug-out roof and threw a black armband of remembrance to the floor in disgust. Believe me, we’ll get by.

Do YOU know what football writers like most A winning team. Covering winners is always more fun. Being around England at the 1996 European Championship was a joy; following the doomed qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 was excruciating. On the road with Capello en route to South Africa: happy camping. Once in Rustenburg: holidays in hell.

How to make friends and alienate people: Fabio Capello endured an indifferent relationship with the press, but fell on his sword because results weren't good enough

How to make friends and alienate people: Fabio Capello endured an indifferent relationship with the press, but fell on his sword because results weren't good enough

So nobody wants Hodgson to fail. Many firmly believe England should be managed by an Englishman but, once Capello was appointed, the manager was taken on his merits.

And Hodgson has merit, no doubt of that. International experience, European experience, age on his side — national management is an older man’s game, because younger coaches get bored — and an admired and thorough coach.

Yet the fact remains his greatest success has come in jobs with limited expectation and, with England, expectation is huge. Far bigger than what he faced at Liverpool, or Inter Milan. This is where he has struggled in the past.

If the FA sought Hodgson’s involvement in the Burton-on-Trent project, as is claimed, they should have dumped the various elite and development experts, and used their salaries to pay Hodgson a proper wage, making him technical director. Effectively, he would have been Redknapp’s boss.

So there was most certainly a major job for Hodgson at the FA; just not necessarily the one he was discussing on Monday. Still, never mind.

Young football journalist competition – shortlist unveiled

Our search for the next big football writer hots up as shortlist of contenders is unveiled

UPDATED:

14:16 GMT, 13 April 2012

THE SHORTLIST

Greg Sykes (aged 29)
Archie Rhind-Tutt (19)
John Kallend (20)
Imran Marashli (16)
Casey O'Brien (20)
Chris Smith (24)
Ellie Swinton (22)
Will van de Wiel (30)
Louis Bollard (19)
Phillip Leake (20)

Click HERE to read the articles from each entrant

Earlier this season, Sportsmail started the search to find Britain's next big football writer.

We offered one lucky winner the chance to showcase their talents to the world with our brilliant competition.

In conjunction with Barclays and the Football Writers' Association, Sportsmail started the mission to discover the next star of the written word.

Inviting entrants aged between 16 and 30, we offered a superb chance to break into the world of sports journalism.

We
asked entrants you to write a feature or match report on the Barclays
Premier League that will now be judged by a panel of experts.

After receiving hundreds of entries, the extremely impressive range of candidates has been whittled down to a shortlist of 10, which can now be viewed on the official Barclays football writer blog

The panel – including MailOnline sports editor Mike Anstead – will judge the contenders before selecting on a winner to be announced later this month.

They will be given the chance to join a top FWA journalist at a
top-flight match at title-chasing Manchester City later this season.

And they will also be handed a week's work experience at the MailOnline for the chance to showcase their talent.

Three runners-up will win the chance to have a meeting with a leading FWA journalist.

Barclays Aspiring Football Writer

Young football journalist competition

Calling all budding football writers… here's your chance to enter the world of journalism

Sportsmail has teamed up with Barclays to launch a search for Britain's next big football writer.

You have the chance to showcase your talents to the world with our brilliant competition.

In conjunction with Barclays and the Football Writers' Association, Sportsmail is on the hunt for the next star of the written word.

Asking the questions: QPR boss Mark Hughes speaks to reporters

Asking the questions: QPR boss Mark Hughes speaks to reporters

If you are aged between 16 and 30, we are offering you a superb chance to break into the world of sports journalism.

We want you to write a feature or match report on the Barclays Premier League to be judged by a panel of experts.

The winner will be given the chance to join a top FWA journalist at a top-flight match at title-chasing Manchester City later this season.

And they will also be handed a week's work experience at the MailOnline for the chance to showcase their talent.

Three runners-up will win the chance to have a meeting with a leading FWA journalist.

For full details of how to enter this unique competition, please click here for the football writer competition.

Barclays Aspiring Football Writer

MATT BARLOW

Sportsmail's Matt Barlow (right) – one of our London-based reporters – has taken part in a Q&A on life as a football writer.

Did you always want to be a sports journalist

I think so, once I overcame the delusion that I might be a professional footballer. I loved football and loved newspapers and it seemed to make sense as a career. I enjoyed my time as a news reporter but made the right choice to branch off into sport.

Tell us how you got into the industry

I took a one-year post-graduate course at Sheffield and then worked as a news reporter through regional papers in Salford, Matlock and Hull, where I took the job covering Hull City for the Hull Daily Mail and broke into sport. From there I went to the Press Association and national newspapers.

What was your biggest break

My first job at the Salford City Reporter. Like most budding reporters, I found there were plenty of rejection letters flying around at the time.

What has been your best moment as a sports writer

Pinch-yourself moments like covering the World Cup final or the European Championships final. Or realising you just witnessed one of the greatest goals ever scored like Lionel Messi’s against Real Madrid in last year’s Champions League semi-final.

…and your worst

It is never nice to chronicle human tragedy. A young Hull City player died of meningitis during my time covering the club. I was at Hillsborough when 96 Liverpool fans died, not as a working journalist but I did write about it for the Mail, 20 years later.

How has the job changed since you first started out

Sport is covered in more detail than ever before by more outlets, particularly electronic media.

Are you optimistic about the future of sports journalism

Yes, there will always be a demand for information about sport. I only hope the quality of journalism does not suffer from the quest to deliver more and more, faster and faster.

What advice would you give to any budding young writer

Don’t give in at the first dead end.

For full details of how to enter this unique competition, please click here for the Barclays Aspiring football writer competition.