“IT’S the most, wunnderful time of the yeeea-arr!!”
No, not Christmas, silly – that’s easily lost in the mix.
I mean that the January transfer window is almost upon us – happy days indeed for those on the Premier League money merry-go-round.
A time for profits, not prophets.
And while Christmas comes but once a year for almost all of us, there are those for whom the chance to make merry arrives in both January and the summer.
Footballers fancying a payday, agents eyeing their cut, clubs looking to make a killing, clubs looking to wage war on the wage bill, have all been eyeing up the big New Year kick-off with far greater interest than the festive fixture list.
There will be some for whom it will be a sprint – many players moving before the FA Cup third round ties get underway; deals wrapped up before Christmas.
For others, it will be a marathon – transfer negotiations set to go to the final whistle on January 31 in a game of who blinks first or panics most.
Of course, it’s not ALL about money.
But it’s ALMOST all about money.
And it’s rarely an edifying sight when the desperately needy and the desperately greedy circle each other.
So what of the journalists in this midst of all this? Aren’t we in it to sell newspapers, or cull those lovely hits?
Well, not personally.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than a good transfer story, but, in my view, it’s only good if it’s TRUE.
And not only is January the month of fibbers as far as the transfer window goes – it’s only getting worse.
Any pubescent with a bedroom and a computer can build a tall tale and get it circulated around the net these days and let me tell them: IT’S NOT BIG AND IT’S NOT CLEVER.
If you get caught, pocket money will be stopped for a week.
On top of that, anybody can repeat every internet rumour from around the globe and then claim the credit for the few of the multitude that come off, while quietly ignoring the plethora that don’t.
Real journalists ask the questions of those in the know.
Real journalists try to be guided by those whose word can be trusted.
This stuff matters if your newspaper wants to be credible, and local newspapers pay a bigger price in the minds of the public if they indulge in the tall-tale stuff.
A solitary transgression on the transfer trail at local level can be remembered for years while nationals seem to get away with streaky tales all the time.
I’ve never understood that.
This stuff didn’t use to matter in the old days. Pre-internet.
In those days, the papers and the paying public knew much more where they stood.
When I first started in this job and met chairman Bob Murray for the first time to discuss what sort of relationship he would have with new man, he leaned forward and asked, with the half-smile of one introducing a novice to the Magic Circle: “Did you ever wonder why the Echo is always right with the transfer news?”
It would have been impossible for him to read my poker face.
That’s because actually all I was thinking was: “THE ECHO IS ALWAYS RIGHT?!?”
I had worked on the news side of the paper for several years, but even as a savvy journo, it had never occurred to me that the Echo might be perpetually bang on the money.
I had just lumped us in with the rest of the papers.
All the time we’d had a hot line to the truth.
Those times have changed in terms of perception – the average member of the public is now more savvy, (and more cynical) than they have ever been about how the papers and the internet works – and what tall tales they may be being sold by either the media or the players or the manager or the club.
One thing remains the same though and that’s, as journalists, you are only as good as your sources and 99 times out of 100 there is no better source than the manager himself.
The tricky thing here is that all managers are different.
Some take you completely into your confidence – one manager once gave me his complete list of transfer targets and told me to phone him over the summer if other names come up – what a delicious summer that was for me.
Others are tighter than a gnat’s eyelids in sandstorm.
That’s when it gets more stressful and more trying for those local journalists hoping to make sense for the public of the multitude of transfer stories that blizzard around the place at this time of year.
Some are simply made up, many are planted in the Press without a hint of truth, and a few are dead on.
It can be a frustrating month – like prospecting for gold nuggets in a sewer of conflicting information.
But the quality of sources locally remains paramount. Which brings us finally to Gus Poyet, who we gently interrogated this week about his transfer plans.
He gave us a few titbits – he would like to start early in January; he’d go for a second-choice player if it meant getting him in because he felt it was important to get players in quickly rather than wait around for a player who might arrive when the team had lost three or four more opportunities through not strengthening sooner.
But on specifics he was clear.
“Gentlemen,” he smiled, with cheerful sincerity. “I tell you this for certain – you will get nothing from me!”
Poyet believes that talking about any individual might risk queering the deal and that’s not a risk he’s prepared to take.
He will be pleasantness itself, but, as far as targets are concerned, he will give the Press nothing – zip, zero, nada.
So enjoy the simple joys of Christmas Sunderland fans.
It could be a long and wearing January ahead!