By Mat Killeen
As Chief Sports Writer for the Portsmouth News, Neil Allen is usually the one asking the questions. On this occasion however, he was in the unfamiliar position of being the interviewee.
Allen has been his current role for the past nine years. During this time, he has seen the highs and lows of Portsmouth FC but how did someone, originally from the Midlands, end up working for the Portsmouth News?
Neil said: “I got into writing covering Bedworth United down the non-league pyramid for the local paper. I covered them home and away all season for 50 games which is a great learning curve.” After this he did a journalism course and began working on newspapers.
The route to Portsmouth included a post-graduate NCTJ course at university then some work for a couple of papers in Birmingham, working mainly on news with a bit of sport. Then the chance came to move down to the South Coast to work on a sports desk which led Neil to the Portsmouth News in 2000.
During his time working at the paper, Portsmouth FC have gone from winning Division 1 (now the Championship) in 2002-03, to lifting the FA Cup in 2008 and then nearly to the point of extinction after a turbulent time going through a period which saw a number of ownership changes in a very short time.
When asked about this, Allen said: “At the present point, the club are open and accessible. You can speak to players and the manager.” He noted that when the club were in England’s top flight it was a ‘closed shop’. Neil did acknowledge it was a great time to be a fan of the club but not much fun to cover as a journalist, remembering how he had gone nine years without speaking to any of the chairmen or owners of the club.
The News’ current chief sports writer recalled one particular day during one of the darker times in Pompey’s recent history, noting how he had looked around the high court during a case where the club battled to keep a hold on their Fratton Park home and thinking ‘Why are we here? I’m here to cover football. I hadn’t covered a court case for 12 years.’
In the time Neil has been chief sports writer, Pompey have gone from FA Cup winners to fighting for football league survival. When asked where the club could be in the future, he said: “Hopefully the club can get promoted this season. Pompey need to start the climb back to Championship level. Historically since the 1950s, the club has been a second-tier team so that is what they should be aiming for.”
As well as covering Pompey as a journalist, Neil has also released a book entitled Played Up Pompey. The book features 24 interviews with club legends telling stories from their respective time with the Blues. Those players featured stretch all the way back to Lindy Delapenha, a member of the 1948-49 Division 1 (replaced as the top division by the Premier League in 1992) winning side. Amongst the recent players to appear in the book include former England international, Paul Merson and ex-Iceland international Hermann Hreiðarsson, a member of the 2008 FA Cup winning team.
In the process of writing the book, and also as a reporter on the club, one theme Allen highlighted was the community feeling around the club. In particular, highlighting the generosity of those ex-players who gave up their time to be interviewed on their time and experiences with Portsmouth. Neil did also admit that another reason for this, was the club’s current league position saying that the further down the league system you go, the more open the clubs get.
So what advice would Neil give to anyone trying to get into journalism at the moment, as somebody who has worked their way towards a dream job. When asked this, he said: “It’s all about experience and a portfolio for me and then you can progress but these days there are fewer jobs so it is more difficult to get in.”
With the growth in social media and hunger to have ‘as it happens’ reporting, it seems the days of the traditional newspaper are numbered. Luckily for Allen and other sports reporters, there will always be a need for professional journalism to feed people’s endless desire for news.