These are some of the articles I wrote as part of my journalism degree at Sheffield Hallam University.
An interview with then-Sheffield Wednesday defender Frank Simek for a news piece, a career profile on Wednesday’s Ireland striker Clinton Morrison including my chat with him. Also a feature on the Liverpool team of the mid-to-late 1990s dubbed the ‘Spice Boys’ by the media, with interviews from a member of that team, defender John Scales and Liverpool FC author John Williams. Finally, a feature on the 2005 series of Big Brother (UK) with interviews from that year’s housemates Kieron ‘Science’ Harvey and Vanessa Layton-McIntosh. As you can see from the dates, they’re from a while ago now!
Frank Simek interview: 11th December 2009
Frank Simek is hoping a role in a Sheffield Wednesday revival will book him his place at next summer’s World Cup.
The Owls’ right-back is targeting a return to the international stage with the USA squad as well as an extended Hillsborough stay.
Simek’s contract expires at the end of this season but he believes an uninterrupted run in the team will help convince the club to reward him with a new deal.
‘‘I’m settled at Wednesday and I like it here,’’ he said. ‘‘Nothing’s been talked about with regard to my contract yet but I want to stay.’’
‘‘It would be unbelievable to be on the plane to the World Cup. Representing your country is a special feeling and if I do well with Wednesday then hopefully it will fall into place with the US squad.’’
The 25 year-old American has yet to fully establish himself back in manager Brian Laws’ first eleven since suffering a serious ankle injury at Crystal Palace in December 2007.
He is positive however on his chances of reaching the performance levels that once saw him regarded by many as one of the best Championship players in his position.
‘‘I’m very confident of getting back to those levels. Up until the last two matches I had played four games on the bounce so if I can keep playing week in week out then I have a great chance.’’
The immediate focus though lies with arresting an alarming winless run of eight games which currently sees only goal difference separating Wednesday from the Championship’s relegation zone.
Simek believes the trip to Leicester City this weekend provides the perfect opportunity for the side to return to winning ways.
‘‘We’ve done well at Leicester in the past and hopefully it will be the turning point for us this Saturday. Confidence has obviously taken a hit lately but if we can get a lucky break and get scoring goals again then things will turn our way.’’
Clinton Morrison interview: 5th November 2010
Never shy of showing his emotion on the pitch, to his fellow professionals Clinton Morrison is something of a ‘love him or hate him’ character.
The swagger and unshakeable self-confidence has long been a trademark for the Tooting-born striker.
It only takes a short time in his company however to notice the positive effect he has on his team mates.
Now 31-years-old, Morrison still fondly recalls his injury-time winner on his professional debut for Crystal Palace back in May 1998.
”I can still picture it like it was yesterday,” he says. ”To score the winner on my debut was amazing, the best feeling ever.”
Ironically it came against his current employers Sheffield Wednesday, a team he has consistently tormented with his goal scoring over the years.
Morrison moved to Hillsborough in the summer on a free transfer after leaving Coventry City, dropping out of the top two divisions in England for the first time in his career.
His early days at Palace saw the Eagles enter administration, something Morrison believes helped him in a strange way.
”With the experienced players being sold it helped youngsters like myself to break through.”
Morrison was one of a number of players who played without pay for three months as the South London club’s plight hit home.
”I perhaps wouldn’t do it now with two kids and a family to support!”
He certainly seized his opportunity in the team, scoring an impressive total of 47 goals in his first three full seasons in the game.
Born in South London and eligible to represent Jamaica as well as England, it was ultimately with the Republic of Ireland Morrison made his international bow.
Qualifying through his Dublin-born grandmother, he describes the Ireland manager at the time Mick McCarthy as the key reason for his choice.
”I spoke with my Nan but it was Mick who swayed my decision. He sold the idea of playing for Ireland to me so well.”
In August 2001 at Lansdowne Road, Morrison made his debut for the Irish team as a substitute in a friendly against Croatia, going on to net the equaliser in a 2-2 draw.
”Scoring on my international debut was amazing but so was every game playing for Ireland really.”
The international experience was made even more memorable for Morrison with the regular pre-match visits to the dressing room of a very special guest.
”We used to have Bono from U2 visiting us before games. He used to get us all going!”
After 72 goals in four years at club level he was bought by Steve Bruce’s Birmingham City for £4.25million in 2002.
Morrison names Bruce as the best manager he has played for and understandably recalls his Premier League days with a smile.
”I loved that time in my career. Scoring in a derby against Villa and getting two goals at Anfield are the memories that stick out especially.”
In 2005 he returned to Palace for £2million to help spearhead a promotion challenge following the club’s relegation from the Premier League.
His second stay at Selhurst Park encompassed the managerial reigns of Iain Dowie, Peter Taylor and lastly Neil Warnock.
Morrison looks back on his time under the controversial Warnock’s management with a wry smile.
”He was hard to work for, in training he wanted everyone to kick each other. He was a good motivator though and his teams always do well.”
After defeat in the Championship play-off semi-final to Bristol City in May 2008, Morrison left Palace that summer as the club’s fifth-highest ever goal scorer, scoring 113.
His next port of call was Coventry City where he spent two years, scoring 23 times for the Sky Blues.
After leaving the Ricoh Arena he made the decision to join recently relegated Sheffield Wednesday in League One, moving on a free transfer.
Morrison scored two league goals in the opening month of the 2010/11 season as Wednesday topped the table after an impressive start.
However it has not been smooth sailing since for the Owls who now lie 10th in League One.
The debt-ridden club also have the threat of administration and are due in the High Court on November 17th to face a winding up petition.
A situation Morrison has experienced in his time at Crystal Palace, he insists it should not necessarily affect the team’s performances.
”It shouldn’t affect the players really. Obviously it’s in the back of your mind that if we lose ten points then that would be a massive blow to us.”
The striker remains adamant that he will rediscover his own form as well as helping the team up the table.
”It hurts the fans and it hurts me because I’m a winner. We have to keep working hard and the talent will shine through.
”Judge us come May, we’ll be in the promotion places I know it and the Wednesday fans will have something to celebrate.”
For Morrison, League One is new territory in a career where he has played against the likes of Zinedine Zidane and the Brazilians Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.
While he is totally focused on the immediate future of Sheffield Wednesday he already has an idea of what he wants to do when he hangs up his boots.
”I’d be interested in doing TV work and I’d also like to get into coaching with the kids.”
A natural goal scorer who exudes self-belief from the moment you begin talking to him, it seems there could be another twist or two to come in his story.
Liverpool FC’s ‘Spice Boys’ feature: Interviews with former defender John Scales and Liverpool FC author John Williams (November 2010)
The 1996 FA Cup Final, a game many remember for a late Eric Cantona winner which broke Liverpool hearts at Wembley.
The image of the mercurial French maestro running off in jubilation towards the hordes of Manchester United fans will remain long in the memory.
Just as difficult to forget however will be the infamous cream Armani suits worn before the game by a Liverpool side tagged by the media as the ‘Spice Boys’.
Those outlandish suits remain an image synonymous with a side who consistently flattered to deceive under manager Roy Evans.
Evans, a player and coach at Anfield under five different managers, took over as boss in January 1994 after the resignation of Graeme Souness.
During nearly five years in charge, Evans had before him a talented yet wayward group of players who would gain as much press attention for off-the-field antics as they would for winning games.
The likes of Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Jamie Redknapp and David James were key players in a Liverpool team that are remembered largely as nearly men who never managed a Premier League title despite their considerable promise.
One of Evans’ first signings was the £3.5million capture of Wimbledon defender John Scales in September 1994.
Scales believes that the natural ability of the team was capable of winning them far more than the solitary League Cup they managed in 1995.
”What became evident very early on was that it was an incredibly naturally gifted set of players but with no real management authority to achieve the success the talent clearly had the potential to reach.”
At the time, media stories of the Liverpool players’ involvement in colourful antics away from football were rife.
There were reports of goalkeeper David James and midfielder Jamie Redknapp missing training due to fashion shoots, as well as countless others, including an airport punch-up between Robbie Fowler and Neil Ruddock.
For Scales, the internal approach to many aspects within the club at the time was wrong and severely hindered any chance of sustained success on the field.
”The stuff off the field isn’t the single biggest reason we failed, rather indicative of the lax culture that existed and played a part in us not achieving the things we had the potential to do.
The whole environment was too lax and if you give anyone anywhere a weak set of boundaries then the best performances will not follow and bad habits will thrive.”
John Williams, Senior Lecturer of Sociology at Leicester University, as well as author of numerous Liverpool FC books, cites a change of culture in football at that time as another significant factor in the team’s underachievement.
”Roy was old school but he took over just as huge wages and player glitz began to be a key feature of the culture. I’m not sure Roy understood this or the discipline needed to make sure that it did not infect the playing side.
Ultimately he was damned as a man who was ‘too nice’ to understand and control this new player culture.”
In June 1995, Evans spent what was then a British record £8.5million fee to bring striker Stan Collymore to the club from Nottingham Forest.
Williams believes Collymore was an expensive gamble that ultimately did more harm than good to Evans’ plan for success.
”He could be devastating on the pitch but was a hopeless team player and a divisive influence in the dressing room. He also abused his manager’s support and belief and ended up barely speaking with his forward partners.
He more than any other player destroyed the Evans project and signified the new power of players.”
A team mate of Collymore in his time at Anfield, Scales saw differing sides to the striker’s personality.
”Stan was popular, likeable and sometimes sociable, but also moody, distant and volatile – an inconsistent personality in an inconsistent environment.
In many ways he summed up the club at that time – super talented but unable to perform consistently for many reasons.”
In Evans’ four full seasons as manager, Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League twice and third on two occasions also.
He left the club in November 1998 after a brief spell as co-manager with Gerard Houllier, ending an association with the Reds that had spanned 33 years.
The ‘nearly men’ tag of Evans’ players is one which John Williams finds hard to disagree with looking back.
”It’s a rather confusing time in retrospect because it was arguably the best Liverpool team since the 1980s, it certainly played the best football.
But ultimately it will be known as an ‘almost’ great team because of the laxities off the pitch. Evans will also be remembered as a ‘weak’ manager which misrepresents his great years and service at the club.”
Scales looks back on the era with understandable disappointment that the team never reached the heights it so often threatened to.
”I like Roy Evans as a man very much but unfortunately I think his approach meant the players never fulfilled their potential.
I believe our lack of success was down almost entirely to the culture within the club at the time. We had the talent there to win, without the right structure to achieve it.”
Off-the-field indiscretions are still commonplace in the game with notable recent examples involving the likes of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll.
Can lessons be learned from the ‘Spice Boys’ era or will the modern day footballer always be impossible to control?
With his experiences at Liverpool, as well as his time with the Wimbledon ‘Crazy Gang’, Scales has his own view on how clubs should help their stars today.
”I think it’s more about educating them, setting clear boundaries and being bold enough to enforce an effective club disciplinary procedure when needed.
Players should be clear that they are not only privileged role models but that their actions greatly jeopardise the success of the team.”
However today’s footballers react to the ever-changing times, Scales will always look back on the culture he was once part of with a wry smile, especially when it comes to those FA Cup Final suits.
”We all blame David James for that, it was a bad idea, highly embarrassing and added fuel to the fire of the tag we had.
We weren’t able to back up the ‘style’ with substance on the pitch unfortunately. That said, at least it’s in football folklore.”
Big Brother 2005 (UK) feature: Interviews with housemates Vanessa and Science (December 2010)
Of Big Brother’s decade-long UK series, one stood out as the most fiery and confrontational.
2005’s ‘Big Brother 6’ saw an extraordinarily large amount of arguments and flashpoints, proving even more volatile than the year before, which took some doing.
The 2004 series will be remembered for the infamous ‘fight night’ episode when the house erupted into carnage, resulting in contestant Emma Greenwood, now 27, being removed from the house after being identified as the main aggressor.
The following series however even managed to outdo its predecessor for sheer malice and personality clashes.
Beginning on 27th May 2005 and ending on 12th August, the show was won by 23-year-old 70s dancer Anthony Hutton from County Durham.
Arguably the most controversial of the housemates was Kieron Harvey, known as ‘Science.’
Entering the house as a 23-year-old, Science had previously been working as a barman in Chapeltown, Leeds, whilst working on his music career.
”I was living a struggle for survival in low-class society, people I grew up around took a different path but my ambition was music.
I was trying to get my music promoted but there isn’t a music industry in Leeds so things were not working out the way I wanted.”
Science was looking to use the programme as the springboard he needed for success with his music.
”I never went in there for fame or to be a celebrity, I thought I’d be able to do my music off the back of it.”
Vanessa Layton-McIntosh, from Croydon, South London, was one of the youngest housemates in the house at just 19 years old.
”I had finished my A-levels and Big Brother was what I did in my gap year! I went along to the auditions with a friend to give her moral support and ended up getting all the way through to the show myself.”
On the opening night, Zimbabwean nurse Makosi Musambasi was given a secret task by Big Brother – to receive the most nominations from her fellow housemates.
Her task, on completion of which she was rewarded with immunity from first week nominations, led to Makosi deliberately making enemies in the house from the outset.
Vanessa would go on to become close friends with Makosi, even after the show, but footage she saw after leaving the house made her somewhat wary.
”I really valued her friendship in there, I wouldn’t have lasted without her. We ended up sharing a flat together for almost a year after the show.
If I had my time over in the house though I wouldn’t have listened to her quite so much. I realised she was mainly just after the limelight and wanted all the coverage to be of her.”
Confrontations were rife in the series, incidents included both Science and Maxwell Ward, a maintenance engineer from Islington, aggressively throwing water in the face of bisexual student Kemal Shahin.
Another heated moment saw Maxwell having pasta poured over his head by teacher Roberto Conte after a vicious row.
Science seemed to argue with each and every housemate at some point, but he maintains to this day that he was not the problem.
”People argued with me because I was a popular character. They tried to gang up on me and make me look bad because of my rare entertainment value.
I was a lot smarter than they anticipated though so it always ended up with the antagonist looking silly.”
In a house of such big personalities, Vanessa admits she found it difficult to survive.
”I felt out of my depth, I didn’t know just how big the characters would be. It was fierce, everyone wanted to be the centre of attention.
I was just the girl next door and I missed my friends and family. I wanted to quit but I stuck it out.”
On Day 50, Vanessa was cruelly evicted face-to-face by her fellow housemates who were forced to choose between her and Makosi for eviction.
”It was good television I suppose but it left me feeling really weak. It made all the stuff after the show all the better though after such a low.
Going to premieres, meeting Kanye West and Beyonce at the Brit Awards, and the short-term financial gain was awesome.”
In the weeks and months that followed her appearance on Big Brother, Vanessa made the usual raft of public appearances that inevitably follow before going on to study at Harvard for a law degree.
The 2005 series is also remembered for the outrageous moment when Kinga Karolczak, a market researcher from London, got ‘intimate’ with a wine bottle.
Vanessa became good friends after the programme with Kinga but she shared the public’s disbelief when the incident was shown.
”I literally couldn’t believe it. When we’d go out in London after the show finished it was all people mentioned when they saw her!”
After eleven series in the UK, excluding the celebrity editions, Big Brother finally ended with the 2010 show.
”I was really happy it ended, I’ve got a serious job with a bank now and I don’t want people there remembering me from Big Brother,” Vanessa said.
”Looking back it was the craziest time of my life and so many good things happened but I’m glad I can leave that chapter of my life behind now.”
Science, now studying film production at Leeds Metropolitan University, agrees that it was time for the end of the programme.
”I raised the bar and I innovated the game, the whole experience was a lasting memory. It had to end some time though.”