Your transfer 'fantasy filter' needs to work – Sky Sports' Magee

With Transfer Deadline Day almost upon us, football fans up and down the country will be checking news feeds, Twitter feeds and, of course, Sky Sports News, for nuggets of information about that star striker or midfield dynamo that their club is buying or trying to keep hold of.

One man who will be at the forefront of the speculation and reporting is Sky Sports News reporter Aidan Magee, who explains how the day develops.

How do you prepare for Transfer Deadline Day?
Most of the preparation is done in the weeks leading up to the day itself. I’m on the SkyPad reporting throughout this window so the work for me starts on January 1. We have a dedicated team who work on transfers throughout the window. It’s a group of reporters and a transfer editor. 

Of course, you try to improve relationships with clubs and agents that you might feel are a bit rusty due to under-use in the months leading up to the window – but in respect of the day itself, “Anything can happen” as Jim White has been saying.

It’s one of our biggest days of the year, so there are many promos and adverts to be done. It’s fun.
As the end of the window nears, where do you get your information from?
Information can come from anywhere. We have a large staff at Sky Sports News HQ – and one of the strengths of the office is the geographical spread of where team members originate from and who they support.

There’s always someone who has a connection at any of the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs - as well in Scotland. 

There are people who know the continental scene very well, which is vitally important. Others may have specific knowledge and connections in South America or Africa, for example. We now have a strong affiliation with our Sky colleagues in Italy, Germany and in other parts of Europe. There is a steady flow of information between all channels on deadline day and before.

Some of them like to venture over and film the drama of the day from an English perspective.
Beyond that, it’s the usual sources - agents, managers, players, press officers and other club staff, journalists, other media, social media and the list goes on.

Much of the information that surfaces on the day itself is nonsense invented by fantasists. Your in-built 'fantasy filter' needs to be working in overdrive. 
How can you know who to trust when things get frenetic and your reporting could have such an impact not just on fan expectations but in some cases, share price or wider commercial considerations?
It’s not really our job to worry about the share price of a football club, but we always run our transfer stories past clubs themselves and generally I think they appreciate that – as they’re not afforded this courtesy by everyone.

Sometimes you can have up to a dozen sources of information on a story hitting you at one time. You need to be mindful of the forces at play, their agendas and where you think one particular source might be trying to lead the story.

I find the best practice is to reflect all sides, like this, for example…“Sky sources say the deal is done, the player has said his goodbyes to team-mates on social media but the club say the deal has hit a hitch over payment structure.” The truth is usually unravelled in the end.
How helpful are club PR officials and how do you gain their trust?
The PR officials at football clubs usually do what suits them at a given time, on a given day. It’s not often in their interests to publicise a transfer story, but then sometimes the opposite is the case. If they think a club or an agent they’re involved with in a deal is not acting correctly, they’ll present as much detail as possible – usually unattributed – to reflect their position and you can end up with a good story.

Clubs have the advantage of knowing that fans generally want to, and do believe what they say through their official outlets – even when the information presented is done so in what we might call a ‘sugar-coated’ fashion.

Even in the era of post-match phone-in shows and supposedly greater supporter interaction, the new-age fan is not as quizzical or critical as he or she was 20 or 30 years ago.

Their intrinsic desire is to believe the official club sources ahead of journalists and others, and I believe club officials and PR staff are well aware of this.

All clubs are different, however. You can be a high-rolling Director of Communications on a six-figure salary at one club – but not be kept abreast of what’s happening elsewhere in the hierarchy. 

Equally, I’ve known cases where the role of Press Officer at another club might not be as prestigious or well-paid but because there are fewer people involved in transfer deals, or maybe because the individual has a good relationship with those overseeing recruitment, they are much better informed.

The best way to gain their trust is by being honest with them, running stories past them and giving and taking where appropriate, which both sides call 'playing ball.'

I used to have much more of an adversarial relationship with media officials at clubs in my News of the World days. My view was that they were employed purely to stop me doing my job.

In some cases, I wasn’t wrong. I’d like to think I’ve matured, though, since then and I try harder now to see events from their side of the fence. I’ve realised that there are some great people working at football clubs and that for them dealing with me over transfer stories is just business, as it is for all of us. 
What’s the most unusual PR/transfer story you’ve ever been involved with?
I’ve been studio based in the last three windows, which has been great – but there was also plenty of fun to be had in the times when I spent 19 hours outside stadia and training grounds on deadline day.

I had a West Ham fan breakdancing behind me outside Upton Park on the day they signed Andy Carroll on loan in August 2012. That was my first deadline day on duty.

The most memorable one was reporting on the Peter Odemwingie saga at QPR’s Loftus Road in January 2013, which is now etched in transfer deadline day folklore. I’d never known a player turn up at a stadium thinking a deal had been done, only for the buying club – in this case QPR  – not to have been given permission to speak to the player by West Brom, who were the selling club.

Odemwingie even gave me an interview through the car window as he arrived at the ground at 7pm. He was under the impression that all he had to do was sign the paperwork.

I 'played ball' with the club by retracting my observation that I’d seen Odemwingie enter the stadium. This would have prompted West Brom to claim QPR had begun negotiations without their permission. I still can’t confirm whether I saw him walk into the club offices or not. Let’s say my memory is sketchy.

In the days afterwards, the story was dressed up by some as “greedy player takes transfer into his own hands.” Believe it or not, he was actually taking a pay cut as the bonuses he was due didn’t take effect unless QPR retained Premier League status.

He went and parked in a Shepherds Bush side-street and remained there until midnight for a call to invite him round to sign the contract. The deal never materialised.

I interviewed Harry Redknapp at quarter to one in the morning and you could see the anger and frustration in his face. He knew the failure to close the deal would have a pivotal bearing on his side’s fortunes in the second half of the season.

Even when I look back three years on – the saga was surely a lesson in how stubbornness isn’t always a virtue in life. The player didn’t get the move he desperately wanted and went back to a hostile reception from West Brom fans.

West Brom ended up with a player who didn’t want to be there, and of more concern to them  – a dwindling asset, while QPR didn’t get the player their manager felt was badly needed and they were relegated three months later.

So everyone lost. Except Sky Sports News HQ – for us it was a compelling drama played out live in front of an audience of millions. It was great TV.

The events of that night were heavily publicised in the national media. Having not arrived home in Bromley until 3am, I was back at QPR’s training base near Heathrow at 9am the following day to cover the pre-match press conference. I hadn’t slept a wink because of the pure adrenaline of the day. 

My own involvement was even mentioned in Ally Ross’ TV column in the Sun on February 1.
It was a big moment for me personally. It surpassed much of what I’d experienced even in my four years at the News of the World. I gained confidence and proved I could perform live –having had all traces of fear removed after appearing live on screen something like 40 times during the day.
How excited are you about wearing the yellow tie?
I see it in my wardrobe every day, just waiting for its opportunity to get on TV twice a year, and there is definitely something mythical about it.

I do look after it and have it dry cleaned after every deadline day. It’s important to look after it. I treat it like an England cap.

More generally, I associate it with a huge buzz in the office on the day. There’s a high level of excitement and anticipation. The high turnover of guests on set means the make-up department is even busier than usual.

Later on, the pizzas arrive. It’s a bit like Christmas Day – except with more people around and less Ferrero Rocher.

Remember, it’s an 11pm deadline on February 1.