As you are aware, Andy is leaving Blues to take up a new position working with the national team. Andy has always been a great support to us here at J&S, so when Russ approached him to do an interview, it was a surprise that he said no – so we made it up!
Not really, Russ has conducted a great piece with AW, so I’ll hand over to him – I just wanted to thank Andy for all his hard work for the club.
Over to you Russ.
Cheers Kev. The interview took place at Millwall, where we’d heard a decent amount of ‘press grub’ was available. I won’t spoil it for you, I’ll let Andy reveal the quality of the ‘cuisine’…
(It actually took place in ‘cyberspace’…more an extension of the Blues Wall, than some ‘Lawnmower Man’ fantastical event, but the Millwall line sounds funnier. Thanks for your time Andy!)
As you come to the end of your time at Birmingham City, it is a great time for us here at Joys and Sorrows, to thank you on behalf of Blues fans for the hard work you’ve put in over the years, to keep us Bluenoses informed about the goings on at BCFC, and heightening our profile on social media. Kev (owner of Joys and Sorrows) and myself have had the pleasure of meeting you on a few occasions, and you’ve definitely been a positive ambassador of the club, and we wish you every success in your forthcoming role with the FA and England setup.
First off, what was your first link with the club…and what position did you assume when you arrived?
I covered the club home and away for around two years, with the highlight being the historical tour of Hong Kong and China, before I was offered the position of PR & Social Media Officer in August 2010. My initial remit was to introduce and develop a social media strategy at the club before I ultimately progressed to the role of Head of Media & Communications, overseeing a team of five.
What’s the best advice you’ll be passing on to your successor?
Enjoy the highs and don’t dwell on the lows. Football is a cyclical industry and whenever you feel times are tough, just focus on the fact that there will always be brighter times around the corner. I know that one day Blues will be back where they belong in the Premier League.
Four years is a healthy period in any job, these days. What will be your fondest memory of the club?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have plenty. To see the team not only play but win at Wembley in my first season obviously stands out while the UEFA Europa League journey will live long in my memory. I strongly believe that had it not been for Europe then Chris Hughton’s team wouldn’t have reached the play-offs, such was the galvanising effect of that competition. Aside from the obvious, I always thoroughly enjoyed pre-season tours (I visited Ireland on three occasions and Austria once) as not only were they a chance to get to know new recruits and backroom staff but, in my opinion, it’s the most important period of the calendar year to increase fan communication. With new players, new kits and new methods being put in place, coupled with a lack of coverage from other media outlets, supporters are always hungry for information. I also found Blues Ladies’ remarkable run to the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-finals an outstanding experience. I was fortunate enough to travel out to Finland with the group for their fixture against PK-35 Vantaa so witnessed their unbeatable team spirit at close hand. It was an incredible international, let alone national or local, story and I still don’t feel the squad’s achievements were given the wider coverage they deserved.
What will you miss most about your time at Blues?
The people. From the training ground to the stadium, I worked with so many great colleagues who I now class as good friends. For all the perceived turmoil off-the-field at the club, the morale is fantastic as everybody cares for the club and wants to do their absolute best for Birmingham City. Also, I’ll miss the opportunity to get to know Gary Rowett more as I believe this is an exciting new chapter for the club with him at the helm. Although I only had chance to work alongside him for two weeks, I’ve been very impressed with his approach – from media commitments to managerial methods.
What will you miss LEAST about your time at Blues?
That’s easy – home defeats. So much preparation goes into home matches from all areas of the club that when the team don’t pull off a positive result, it just makes your day-to-day duties harder and gives everybody around the place a sinking feeling. As you can imagine, I’ve had many a weekend, or even week, ruined by yet another home defeat. However, in many ways, that’s what I love about the football industry – the unpredictability! Every department, from ticketing to marketing to retail, could be at the top of their game but ultimately that won’t matter a jot if those 11 men out on the field don’t produce the goods.
If you could choose any song for the team to walk on to the pitch to, what would it be…and why?
Good question as this was a debate that raged on throughout my time at the club and we could never (and will never) find a solution to please all. I’d personally kick tradition to the curb and go for an uplifting ‘ready for battle’ number that would get everybody lifted. I’ve also been jealous of Leicester City’s ability to utilise Kasabian tracks at the King Power Stadium so I’d go for ‘Shoot the Runner’.
You’ve had the pleasure of providing match commentary at many an away match via the amazing ‘Blues Wall’ – I think my Grandad would have loved to have had access to that when he started following the Blues 70-odd years ago…how do you manage to keep an eye on the game, whilst typing, tweeting and enjoying the ‘press grub’? Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all noticed the odd typo, but how do you manage to multitask? We thought women were the only ones capable of that!
“It’s all down to many years of practice plus leaning on the eyes and ears of the colleagues in the press box around me. Stretching back to my Birmingham Mail days, I’ve been live blogging for six years now so that’s allowed me to sharpen my touch-typing skills. In fairness, I often took on far too much at matchdays. On some occasions, I’d be liveblogging on the Blues Wall, issuing updates via Twitter and Facebook, cropping pictures, writing a match report, co-commentating on the Blues Player audio commentary and liaising with other media colleagues all at the same time! I loved running the Blues Wall as we’d built up a really loyal international fanbase from all corners of the globe. Many relied on that service and I always found that very heartwarming.
Talking of press grub…Where is the best ‘press grub’ available? (Apart from at Blues). Are you allowed to tell us where the worst press grub was?
In the Premier League, it’s a toss up between Arsenal and Manchester City. The Emirates press room has a help-yourself Ben & Jerry’s ice cream fridge while at the Etihad they used to bring a bespoke pie to your seat at half-time. In the Championship, Brighton & Hove Albion certainly edge it as the best but that’s just indicative of their marvellous stadium. As for the worst, up until this season, Millwall would only offer up a small tray of dry sandwiches. In fairness, we’d trimmed down our press grub offering at St. Andrew’s to just sandwiches, albeit fancy, and wedges in recent seasons.
Longest journey you ever had to take working with Blues?
I remember a rather hell-ish journey back from a freezing Hull City following a midweek fixture a few years back. A colleague (who will remain nameless) just followed road signs to ‘The South’ not thinking that he was taking us down the east coast of the country towards London rather than back across to the Midlands. I must have crawled into bed about 4am having literally been to Hull and back. On a separate note, worth pointing out that during the UEFA Europa League away fixtures to Bruges, Braga and Maribor, I’d often get home earlier than domestic trips to the likes of Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town!
Latest time you ‘clocked off’ working at Blues?
The only time I completely clocked off was when I left the club last Saturday. My phone/e-mails/Twitter were always by my side as the media never sleeps. It genuinely is a 24/7 role. Even when I went away on holiday, I’d always have to pop online and check on matters a couple of times a day.
What is your favourite match day food/drink?
You can’t beat a balti pie and a cup of Bovril.
You must have had some interesting chats in your work over the years. Could you share a couple of them? One with a Birmingham City link (i.e. a former player/manager) and one without a Blues link? Feel free to ‘hide their identity’.
Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and speak with a whole host of interesting people. Paul Tait is a thoroughly entertaining character and should he ever decide to put pen-to-paper then he’d have a bestseller on his hands! Working on the Celebrity Footy4Harry events was an experience too and I recall an interesting taxi journey with boxer Joe Calzaghe, X-Factor singer Shayne Ward and ‘Arg’ from reality TV show TOWIE. I also had a fascinating evening with Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight following the premiere of the first series in Birmingham. It turned out that HE was MY biggest fan – not only did he spend a good few hours recalling his favourite live blog commentaries but he also insisted on having a picture with me to send to his kids.
What’s the funniest thing a fan has ever asked you for?
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been asked for autographs and photographs on several occasions which did make me feel slightly uncomfortable. The funniest must have been out in China when the squad paid a visit to the Xtep store in Beijing. This young female fan, who couldn’t speak English, was insistent that I signed her ball just as the players had done. As I desperately tried to explain to her that I wasn’t a footballer or indeed anybody famous, she was getting more and more irate that I wouldn’t scribble my signature on this football. In the end, Kevin Phillips just told me to sign it to shut her up so I reluctantly obliged. I wonder where that piece of memorabilia is nowadays?
What’s the next big thing on the horizon for social media?
Social media hubs. There’s so many different social media platforms around nowadays that it’s now a case of finding the best way to collate content from all in one place. The introduction of Storify to Blues’ regular output was an example of that.
Who is the most approachable Blues boss you’ve worked with?
I’ve worked for four – Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Lee Clark and Gary Rowett – and they were all approachable in their own ways. I probably got closest to Lee Clark as he was there the longest during my tenure and was very open to all media demands. I think, had I stuck around, then I would have struck up a good working relationship with Gary Rowett.
What was the most surprising event you had to announce, during your time at Blues?
Alex McLeish moving to Aston Villa – nobody saw that coming* and it was a moment that turned what was supposed to be a few weeks of post-season down time into complete mayhem.
*Editor’s comment – the Villa fans certainly didn’t!
What is the most memorable football match you’ve ever attended (any club)?
It has to be that final day at Bolton Wanderers last season. Many would think the Carling Cup success would be my obvious choice but if we’d gone to Wembley and lost to Arsenal then it still would have gone down as an enjoyable day. However the consequences of defeat coupled with how the fixture actually panned out, puts the Reebok rescue mission at the top of the pile for me. To go from utter despair to sheer jubilation within a matter of seconds was simply remarkable and the Player Awards dinner the following evening felt like we’d won a trophy.
Who is the ‘unsung hero’ of Birmingham City FC (yourself excepted!)?
Ian Dutton, the club’s Head of Commercial. His enthusiasm is infectious and the amount of business he’s continued to bring in during an incredibly difficult period for the club is testimony to his relationship building. He’s an innovative operator who has built a proactive commercial team.
Which player (in your opinion) should Blues look out for in future?
Reece Brown. Easily the most technically-gifted player in the squad and could go all the way if his attitude remains right and he continues to work hard.
Which living player, past or present, that you have met is least likely to use social media?
Which former player is most likely to ‘tweet’ about you next?
Former player would be Michael Johnson (who’s very retweet happy as I’m sure his followers have noticed) and current player would be Paul Robinson. Robbo has embraced his role on Twitter in the same way he embraced the club’s captaincy.
If you could receive a season ticket for the men’s or ladies’ team as a leaving gift, which would you prefer?
The men’s – purely because I’d get to see more games!
Is Beau Brummie savvy with technology? Where could other dog owners get the training?
He sure is – just follow @_beaubrummie_ on Twitter to see our furry friend in action. He’s one of a kind 🙂
Finally – What question did you wish we’d asked, but didn’t think of?….and which question are you glad we didn’t ask? It’d be great if you could answer one (or both ???? ) of them!
I’d wish you’d asked who was the best player to deal with. There’s plenty of candidates but I loved Chris Burke. An absolute gent, not to mention a great player, who couldn’t do enough for you.
I’m glad you didn’t ask anything about BIHL as I probably wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. I appreciate the ownership issue is one that’s at the forefront of most supporters’ thoughts but, as club staff, we just focused on the areas of the business that we could influence.
I’m sure all the readers of the Joys and Sorrows blog will join me in wishing Andy Walker every success in the future. Hopefully we’ll see you at Wembley some season soon Andy!
Russell Dempsey, Joys and Sorrows