INTERVIEW: DOMINIC BLISS
It has been a busy summer for Craig Easton. The 33-year-old Scot has signed for League Two Torquay United after six months without a club and he has also graduated with a first-class honours degree. He took time out from an intensive pre-season schedule to speak to TheInsideLeft about the joys of sports writing and the increasing number of professional footballers enrolling on journalism courses…
Craig, it hasn’t been a bad two months for you. Congratulations on your transfer to Torquay United this summer and also on your academic achievements. Tell us about the course you just graduated from…
The course was Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting at Staffordshire University. The PFA endorse the course and anyone can take it, but our class had about 15 footballers. For most it is a full-time course, but for us it was mainly distance learning.
It’s basically a four-year honours course which they condense into two years with a distance-learning programme. We go up once a month on a Wednesday for lectures, but most of the stuff is online.
We also have a week each summer when we go up and do a lot of practical sessions there, recording radio bulletins, cutting video packages and stuff like that. It’s really interesting to do that but a lot of the stuff is distance learning, so it’s based on written work as well.
As a pro footballer, are there more options open to you in journalism?
Well, I’ve always been kind-of interested in it. When I was playing for Swindon, a guy from a local newspaper back home, the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, phoned and asked if I would do a ‘Diary of a Pro’ for them. It was just giving people back home a wee insight into life in League One.
He initially said, “I’ll just write it for you once a week from an interview”, but I said I wanted to have a go at writing it, if that would be alright. He said, “Even better, because that saves me a bit of work!”
I started doing it and I really enjoyed it. So, I tried to get on a course that year but it was quite a popular course and I had to wait a couple of years to get on it.
In the meantime, I was writing for the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser and the Swindon Advertiser. You tell people what it’s like being in the dressing room as a footballer and write a wee bit of behind-the-scenes stuff. I’m not saying it was brilliant – I mean, I look back at the stuff I was doing at that time compared to what I’m doing now and there is definitely a big difference, and I would hope there would be. But it was just a start for me and it was getting me used to doing that sort of thing. Fortunately, I’ve been able to take it on.
I was doing it myself, with a wee bit of guidance from the guys who were helping me at the papers, but doing the course opens your mind up to other ideas, especially from reading articles. For me, that’s been the biggest thing – reading what other people have written and learning from that.
It’s like football, you’re always learning and that helps you to improve what you do. Also, I just enjoy it. The blog I’ve got at the moment was started as one of my modules and I’ve kept it going, although I’ve not added to it as much as I would have liked recently because I was always busy at the end of the final semester.
But it is something I want to continue, to keep improving and keep practicing my writing.
Pat Nevin, your fellow Scot, is another footballer who writes his own stuff now that he has moved into the media. Is that something of an inspiration for you?
I’ve met Pat a couple of times, actually. The last time I met him was at a service station after a game and I just introduced myself to him. He knew me from playing up in Scotland and I had a great, wee chat with him. He liked his music and I’m into my music, as well, so there are so many things you can write about – it’s not just football.
As ex-professional footballers, we have got a little bit of – I wouldn’t say an advantage – but it gives you a bit of insight when you’ve played, and people are interested in that.
Do you read ‘The Secret Footballer’ column on the Guardian website?
I do read it and I think it’s brilliant. I’ve not got a clue who it is, but I think there is some really good stuff on there and I can totally relate to some of the things he is writing about. I can see why everybody is interested in what he puts out there.
You’ve got a wee bit more licence to talk when no one knows who it is. If you knew who it was, you could easily put two and two together in most cases and work out who he was talking about. Don’t get me wrong, you obviously can’t say everything that you think, but it’s good to be honest and that bit of anonymity does help with that – he can talk more about the stuff people want to know about because of it.
If you work in any profession, you can give a bit of insight into the things that people are interested in, but you can’t go into details all the time or talk about certain things that are off limits – basically, some things that happen in the changing rooms. You can certainly give people an overview, though, and tell people your own feelings and I think he does that very well.
The most important thing is surely that you enjoy doing it, wouldn’t you say?
I enjoy doing it and I don’t know where it’s going to lead but I’m going to keep it going and see what happens. I graduated recently and managed to get myself a first-class honours degree, which I’m really pleased with.
There are so many people doing it now, so many footballers trying to get into it. You see it in coaching as well – there are so many people doing their coaching certificates, but there are not enough jobs.
It’s the same in the media, where there are people cutting back all the time on newspapers. It’s a hard industry, but with blogs and websites, it leaves it open to you to write and still get yourself out there.
Well, we can testify that it takes a lot of work to keep a site up-and-running, but it’s worth the effort…
Yeah, it’s tough. I was writing for a website called footyextra.com, which doesn’t exist anymore, and there were a few of us on the same course doing bits for them from different perspectives. You had guys in League One, League Two and I was doing stuff for them on Scottish football at the time. There wasn’t real money in it, though – they were paying us, but I think that was the problem for them in the end!
But, you know, once you get into it, you realise there is so much to write about and, I’ll be honest, I get a buzz out of it when I write something that I’m quite proud of and then I publish it.
You’re not finished playing football yet, though. Tell us about your pre-season with Torquay United after a brief spell out of the game last season…
It’s been a frustrating year and, to be honest, it is brilliant to be back at a club. I certainly missed it in those months when I was out of the game – I was watching games and just wanting to play on a Saturday. I missed being involved with the lads and stuff like that, so it’s been a good pre-season with Torquay. We went to Plymouth, to Stonehouse barracks, and the Royal Marines put us through our paces for four days. It was an amazing experience and something that gives you a bit of insight into what the Marines do, but it also helped us get our fitness back and gel together as a team.
We’re now getting into the football stuff and then the games come thick and fast. I’m just looking forward to getting into it again – it’s my job, it’s what I’ve been doing for 16-17 years and when you’re out of it for just under a year… did I miss it? Well, yeah, unbelievably. I’m just happy to be back and I’m looking forward to playing again.