But far above the crowd and the action sits an unusual breed of football lover, a species who rather than absorb the enjoyment and entertainment of a match choose to write about the intricacies of a game according to tight deadlines and immense pressure. It’s a way of life for a football journalist.
Stuart James, the Midlands Football Correspondent for The Guardian, epitomises the unique qualities of his profession. His path into the world of journalism at the Guardian has seen him play professional football for Swindon Town, work as a prison officer, and experience life as a mature student at Bournemouth University.
Down on the pitch the referee blows his whistle to start the match as the fans bask in the glorious Midlands sunshine, while high up in the press box the journalists peer to see the action unfold from the shade of the stadium’s rafters.
For Stuart, 34, his journey to the compact surroundings of this Birmingham City press box began while playing football semi-professionally for Bath City several years ago.
“Ken Loach (the British film and TV director and a director at Bath City) approached me about writing a newspaper column for the Bath Evening Chronicle. That rekindled an interesting in writing for me, and that was really the catalyst for getting me into journalism.”
His interest in writing was developed at Bournemouth University’s media school, and like any young talent in the world of football looking to succeed, plenty of hard work would be needed whilst avoiding potential pitfalls.
“I worked as hard as I possibly could. On a Wednesday afternoon when we had no lectures I wasn’t going to play pool all afternoon, which is not criticising those who do it, because you’re doing exactly what you should do when you’re 18. But when I was going to graduate I was going to be 28, not 21. As far as I was concerned I was going to try and make up for lost time and get into the newspaper industry as high as I possibly could and as soon as I possibly could.”
On the pitch, there is a brief arousal of excitement as James McFadden sends a rasping shot wide of the Hull City post, and it heralds a scurry of movement in the press box as journalists from around the country look to one another for inspiration on how to summarise an otherwise turgid first half.
Stuart reveals it isn’t always like this, “you get an adrenaline rush from it, and sometimes it’s still there when I get home, you can’t just switch off. It’s kind of an enjoyable madness at times.”
The half-time whistle blows and there is a consensus that the second half can’t get much worse. Stuart could be forgiven for allowing his mind to wonder to places such as Turin, Moscow and Monaco where he has reported on some of Europe’s finest games…
“You get paid to travel with the teams, stay in very nice hotels, and then you see the fans and its costing them a fortune and it makes you think. You can moan about a crap game but you get paid to be there, the ones that really should be moaning are the fans who have paid 30 or 40 quid for a ticket to sit there.”
Remarkably Craig Fagan has a chance for Hull in injury time – he could win the match and simultaneously re-write the words of the national media (as they write most of their copy before the full time whistle thanks to tight deadlines)…… But Fagan’s shot flashes wide of the up-right and there is a collective sigh of relief.
Stuart admits, “last minute goals at night matches in particular are a nightmare! You just highlight a load of text and press delete!”
The full-time whistle of a soporific stalemate blows. The journos pack up to head down the narrow staircase of the gantry towards the press room for post match interviews. The fans quickly filter out to enjoy the last of the early evening sunshine and the St Andrew’s stadium falls quiet.
Come 5.30pm all that can be heard is the tapping of keyboards in the press room as journalists frantically attempt to meet their deadlines. After barely needing to raise his pen to write anything of note during the match, Stuart’s sound advice for any journalist “it’s all about being able to put what you see into words” is well and truly being put to the test.