I’ve been in about 10 press boxes across England now, and they are very odd places.
Every English press box seems to have about 15 to 20 old men in it. Proper old guys between 60 and 90. Most of which come in with apples (not the computer, actual apples) and newspapers. Real life newspapers, like from the ’30s or something.
I don’t know who these guys write for, or even if they do, but they seem to have legacy positions in the press box. They are delightfully dressed like something out of a Noel Coward play, and a few of them have such red faces you want to pinch their cheeks.
They are people who have often made their whole career out of cricket writing. Something it is very possible to do in England. Yesterday I was told all about Freddie Trueman’s hatred for batsman coming out dressed as knights (with padding on) over lunch. And there has not been a press box that I haven’t had a history lesson in.
The very first time I was allowed into a press box was for a Pro40 game between Surrey and Kent, and next to me was one of these chaps. He was very nice, seemed interested in what I was writing, and then fell asleep after the dinner break. HE FELL ASLEEP. Now the Oval press box has a ridiculous dark cover on it that makes it almost impossible to watch the game at night (and not much easier during the day), but it isn’t so dark you need to nap.
A couple of weeks later I was in the press box at the Oval again for a County match, and while everyone was busy typing their reports, one guy got out a phone (an actual phone, not a mobile, but an actual phone) and rang his desk to dictate his report: “Surrey’s decision to use Shoaib Akhtar. Comma. The petulant overrated Pakistani quick. Comma. has come unstuck due to his abysmal physical fitness. Period.”
This was the lunch report, so he was dictating it so that someone could put it up on the web. And he had a laptop, I know, because earlier in the day he had basically said, “hey there boy, you’re young, come here and fix my computer.”
At the County games many of the older reporters will only turn up at lunch, eat, chat, and leave. Although to be fair I have noticed young reporters do that as well.
At another County game I sat behind a veteran County reporter in his late 50s who spent one whole day on dating websites and chatting with random women. The next day he spent most of it in a local pub, and when he came back he said, “I turned my head and missed that catch, who took it, was it good”. Turned my head my ass.
For the bigger games the press box turns into a schoolyard. The cool kids (the ex-players and some well know celebrity writers) sit in a cluster and generally make the most noise, the nerds (the intellectual analysis type writers) don’t always sit together but often rush over to each other, the teachers (older writers) often seemed startled when you ask them something and they will often ask you long and yet entirely unanswerable questions, then move on to ask someone else the same question.
The rest of us try and watch the cricket and form our own little cliques. You can sit next to someone for a few days without knowing their name or who they write for, but you will have bonded over a mutual unnatural hate of Jimmy Anderson.
When the cool kids come over, you are expected to answer their questions on something they have missed or are unsure about. Once they have worked it out you are to agree with their opinions. It is not cool to doubt what they are saying (trust me). The nerds usually won’t say much, but when they ask you something you know you have to get it right, as if you don’t they will never ask you again. You can tell the teachers pretty much anything.
Oh and it’s always best to leave one over before lunch — to ensure you don’t have to queue for the food.