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“You miss living the game from the touchline” – YEP’s Leeds United reporter on the era of Covid

Photo: James Hardisty

by Riccardo Trono

“It is brilliant and some of the games have been instant classics,” according to a football reporter relieved at the return of Premier League football after Covid stopped play for three months.

Graham, chief football writer at the Yorkshire Evening Post, told Leeds Trinity University’s Journalism and Media Week he welcomed Leeds United’s return to top-flight competition after their last appearance in the 2003/04 campaign.

“It is really nice to see Leeds United can compete with the same football that we all loved watching so much in the Championships and that it still works in the Premier League,” he said.

However, Graham also addressed the other side of football this year, with stadiums eerily empty because of the Covid-19 emergency.

“It’s all played under this massive shadow of not having fans in the stadium. You find the players are walking onto the pitch just before kick-off and you haven’t really engaged yet. There’s no atmosphere.”

The Leeds United reporter also commented on the new, digital way of doing things which has become the norm for football reporters across the country. Reflecting on how he would define the role technology plays during a virtual press conference, he talked about “awkwardness”.

“Previously you would be sat with Marcelo Bielsa on a Thursday with his translator and one of his players to do our press conference. Now it’s all done on Zoom, which sometimes makes for a difficult encounter for reporters because of the awkwardness of video chat, instead of being there and responding with follow-up questions.”

Covid-19 restrictions mean that reporters now need to undergo strict medical checks before entering the stadium and that fewer journalists can cover a fixture live.

“We have to fill a medical questionnaire 24 hours before the game to ensure we haven’t been in contact with anyone with symptoms. Besides, mask on all through the game and social distance to be maintained from the other reporters.

“Previously the YEP would have sent three journalists to a game, whereas now it’s only one reporter per organisation for the print titles. With only two reporters covering the game from TV, our way of doing things has changed dramatically. You miss so many things that happen on the touchline.”

Reminiscing on the interruption of sports activities in Spring, Graham pointed out the support the Yorkshire Evening Post received from the Leeds United fanbase, which spreads well beyond Yorkshire and England.

“The Leeds United fanbase is vast and they’re absolutely rabid for any kind of news they could get about their team. It’s because of the fascination this historic club has enjoyed through the years.

“When it was obvious during lockdown that a lot of industries were being hit by the Covid crisis, we had people from Northern Ireland, Norway and other countries worldwide offering support to the YEP.

“We have been trying to tap into a global audience and we can still do a lot more about it. Leeds fans are simply everywhere.”

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