Tuesday, 7 February 2012

My Dinner with Jackie.

Jackie McNamara: like Frost/Nixon, but better.

If you’ve been paying attention to the handful of posts on this blog over the last few months, you’ll have noticed that several articles have concerned themselves with the young players Davie Irons has brought to the club on loan. You’ll have noticed that instead of offering any comment or explanation on Stenhousemuir’s dismal slump in form over the Christmas period, this blog has focused on providing a withering analysis of Gary Smith’s 20 minute cameo against East Fife.

I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know today’s piece follows a similar pattern. As part of an assignment for University, I was tasked with reporting from a press conference at Firhill yesterday afternoon. Partick Thistle were unveiling of a new shirt sponsor following their previous backer's administration last month. The deal, I was told, was designed to plug the financial shortfall until the end of the season.

Before leaving for Firhill, I spent 15 minutes drafting a series of questions for manager Jackie McNamara and club captain Alan Archibald: are you happy with the new sponsorship deal? Will it allow you access to the resources to bring in new players? Do you have any opinion on Gary Bollan’s dismissal from Livingston? How do you think their players will respond to his sacking, is that likely to alter the way you approach the game? Do you believe your side can still launch a bid for promotion, or will you be spending the rest of the season consolidating?

As I walked from the city centre to Maryhill, I thought that the press conference might also provide me with the opportunity to ask the management about Shaun Fraser and Jamie Campbell, two of their youth players sent out on loan to Stenhousemuir. Fraser was fairly dismal in his three appearances, while Campbell has toiled and failed to impose himself on the side. Since Irons has failed to offer any sort of comment on how he feels either player assimilated into his current set up or how their introduction has benefitted the team and their bid for promotion, I felt obligated to at least press McNamara for his opinion on the two loan deals.

I arrived at Firhill’s Aitken Suite in the early afternoon and took my place amongst the small number of assembled press. One of them included an undergraduate student from the same course as mine (Dougie - your company was excellent). A banner with the words Just Employment Law (JEL) hung from the wall. Several shirts were draped over the top table with the JEL logo emblazoned across their chest. JEL will be the club’s new sponsors, then.

Aaron Sinclair: pictured moments after learning he would be
forced to don judicial garb for a PR opportunity.

Earlier in the day, one Thistle fan told me over Twitter to expect a press conference “with a twist”. The twist, it transpired, involved players Aaron Sinclair and Jonathon Black wearing barrister's wigs and judicial robes during the announcement. Both players looked quietly embarrassed as they flanked McNamara, Alan Archibald and a troupe of directors from the club and JEL while they took their seats at the main table.

After the new sponsorship was unveiled, McNamara, Archibald and the directors moved outside onto the Firhill pitch for photo opportunities. After a series of traditional photos (McNamara holding the shirt; McNamara posing with the directors), the photographers began to demand something slightly more unorthodox. They attempted to coax McNamara into a number of different positions with Sinclair and Black, still in their judicial garb. “Put your hands on their heads and play with the wigs, Jackie,” implored one photographer.

“I’m not comfortable with that,” replied McNamara sheepishly.

I spoke with Greg Brown, Thistle’s director and David McRae, MD of JEL about the sponsorship and the opportunity to extend the deal beyond the season. Both were friendly and open and happy to talk to me about the importance of securing the club’s short-term finances. I was then given the opportunity to speak with McNamara himself.

We returned to the Aitken Suite. McNamara spoke quietly in dull newspeak, his answers rarely rising above the mundane. For example, when asked about Bollan’s dismissal, he answered: “I don’t know about the ins and outs at Livingston. I’m just concentrating on my job here. I thought he did a good job when he was there and I wish him all the best.” In all honesty, it was the sort of thing I could have written without even interviewing him, picking his words from a stockpile of bland phrases spouted by footballers.

McNamara also spoke about his plans to bring a loan signing of his own from Hibernian (erstwhile Stenhousemuir loanee Sean Welsh) and his disappointment at his team’s inability to score and how he was going about addressing the problem. Then came my chance.

Jackie – can you tell about the guys you’ve sent on-loan to Stenhousemuir this season? Were you happy with the deals? How have they been performing? Are you happy with the reports you’ve had back about them?

“One’s went to Stenhousemuir, that’s Jamie Campbell, he’s played two games so far” he said. “Johnny Lindsay’s went away to Brechin to get experience. He’s not played yet, he’s not made an appearance.

“These two lads have got another year with us after this season, so hopefully they’ll come back with a wee bit of experience, albeit at a slightly lower division. It’s experience that’s valuable to us.

“They’re both at their clubs until the end of the season.

“We’ve got a few loan players in from the SPL - that helps us in the long-run and helps their teams as well. Hopefully we can get that benefit when they come back as well."

I tried to twist my line of questions to focus on Stenhousemuir and the two players he sent to Ochilview. What have the reports been like? Have you been pleased with what Davie Irons has told you about Jamie Campbell?

“Shaun’s only...” McNamara started before correcting himself. “Jamie’s only played two games, I think.

“The first game was against Ross County in the Cup,” he continued, incorrectly. “They got a doing and one of their players got sent off, so it’s been hard to judge him so far.

“I think once it all settles down for the run-in, it’ll be good for us to get them watched and see how they’re performing.”

I didn’t take my questions any further. There didn’t seem any point. McNamara didn’t really want to be there and I didn’t really want to keep him. In truth, it seemed like an opportunity missed.

Shaun Fraser: the real heart of darkness.

As I walked back to University to file my report, I felt quite angry with myself. I didn’t learn anything new about the players other than the length of Jamie Campbell’s loan agreement. I should have asked him about Shaun Fraser’s short spell with the club and if he felt the player benefitted from the experience; I should have found out more about his long-term plans for both Fraser and Campbell; I should have asked him about his relationship with Davie Irons and Stenhousemuir and if there are any plans to develop stronger ties between the two clubs in the future.

But I didn’t. Instead, I pitched my own series of anodyne questions and got back a series of anodyne answers in return. Reading back what I’ve written, I really have no right to complain about McNamara’s replies when my questions were equally as uninteresting.

Despite this, there are several positives I can take from yesterday’s press conference. While the conference itself may have been fairly low-key, the whole experience was worthwhile. Jackie McNamara may have been fairly dull, but it was a genuine thrill to interview one of the most underrated Scottish fullbacks of the last 20 years. Additionally, I learned the importance of pushing the line of questions that I wanted to ask and of being confident in myself. Remember: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. David Frost didn’t topple Richard Nixon by delicately skirting around the issues.

But, perhaps most pleasing of all, the finest thing to come out of the entire day, the most crucial thing I learned at from my first press conference, is the knowledge that we can all enjoy Jamie Campbell’s marauding runs down the right flank from now until the end of the season.


  1. Enjoyed reading this blog piece, Craig. Good experience for you to be at that press conference. I suppose every time any of us attend these, we'll learn something valuable for the next one.

    1. Thanks Kenny. Looking forward to Monday's assignment already!