Q & A with Stephen CoppingDalton Harris
It still amazes me that some players are still one-footed!!
Tell us about yourself Stephen;
“My name is Stephen Copping and I’m a producer for Binumi.com, a multi-media production company. I also work freelance as a digital football producer and commentator for TV (including Spurs TV, and various Football Associations) and radio networks. I have worked in the football media industry since 1992”.
How did you first get into commentating & journalism?
“My first taste of football journalism was on a weekly football newspaper. I did six-months work as an intern and it allowed me to speak to managers and players. It was a huge learning curve and I had an editor who opened doors for me on my next step up the ladder. I started a Diploma in Journalism but didn’t complete the course as I got offered a full-time job at another weekly football publication”.
“When it came to football commentating, that was a pinch of good fortune that came my way. During an FA Cup Final in a local pub, the broadcast suddenly went mute. I got on a table and started commentating. A few weeks’ later, a local radio station was looking for a commentator. Someone who had heard me at the pub recommended me”!
What’s your most favourite and also the hardest part of the job?
“I have been a journalist, Public Relations Media Manager, TV football producer at ITV and Channel 7 but my favourite part of my football work is commentating”.
“Researching for football commentary is time-consuming. I cover matches from non-league football to the Premier League and further you go down the football pyramid, the more difficult the research becomes. Clubs can change their players on a weekly basis in non-league football and sometimes having an idea of their formation is almost impossible”.
“Also, if I’m attempting to do a film clip on a player then the trail of emails going back and forth to try and set it up is mind-boggling and often dispiriting. The amount of money in the game at the top level has made it almost-impossible for some media outlets to have any media contact with players and managers”.
“I would also question the media monopoly that the BBC, Sky and BT have forced on the football pyramid as well. I remember filming and interviewing Kevin Keegan some years back when he was boss at Manchester City, the Press Secretary of the club, followed us all day making sure we were not getting any footage she deemed inappropriate. During the Keegan interview, she stood over me and monitored every single question I asked”.
As a commentator, what areas do you think are most important in a player for them to progress?
A difficult question.
“Football has marched on since I started 25-years ago. However, sometimes, it still amazes me that some players are still one-footed. Also, no matter what league you’re covering, the need for a consistent, lethal striker is often still missing. Someone to put the ball in the back of the net is still the missing factor in many matches and teams that I cover”.
“ Fitness is a huge part of the modern game, no matter what league you’re in. Even teams down in Step 3, for example, Leamington FC, have players that will train three or four times a week”.
What leagues do you enjoy covering most?
“When I started, the amount of access you had with the managers and players was a joy to behold. I would have phone numbers of most players and if I wanted a quick chat, update, it was never a problem. After the match, getting quotes in the changing rooms was not a problem. Now, most clubs, managers, players are shepherded by agents, PR managers and club officials”.
“The distance between journalists/commentators and fans has never been so far away than it is now. I would say that access at National League level is great because the manager’s and players enjoy the media contact and publicity and importantly allow you the access that you require. The best match I’ve covered this season was Macclesfield Town’s 2-0 victory against Dulwich Hamlet in the FA Trophy Quarter-Final. It was a cracking game of football”.
Has any player stood out recently from non-league that you think could make it in the football league?
I can’t say individually that many players have stood out in non-league football. There are a number, undoubtedly, that if they applied themselves could make it. Are there a dozen or so Jamie Vardy’s scratching a living in non-league football that have been missed by clubs, coaches and managers? No, I don’t think so. I would say many have climbed down the football pyramid because they lack technique, application, quick-fire and correct decision making ability and may have the wrong attitude for professional football”.
“When it comes to teams the difference between Sky Bet Division 1 to the National League is a lot closer than you might think. For a start, many of the clubs in the National League are full-time (some in the National League South and North are as well!)”.
“I commentated on Stourbridge FC this season during an FA Cup run that saw them beat Sky Bet Division One outfit Northampton Town. I couldn’t tell the players or the team apart. Teams outside the football leagues will continue to beat so-called professional outfits”.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
“My first TV commentating gig for a network in Australia”.
“When the producer spoke to me in my headphones and said: ‘’Ok, Stephen, we’re live’’… I remember hairs on the back of my neck! It was a dream come true. I have loved commentating since I was a young boy in my backyard with friends and to be on TV calling a live match, well it doesn’t get better than that”.
“I also was former England boss Terry Venables’ Press Secretary when he was the Australian Manager for two-years. It was a roller-coaster of an experience, on TV, guiding Venables to all the Press Conferences and having contact with big-name players including Mark Viduka, Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell and Craig Foster. Venables is still someone that I’m in contact with, too. I remember, too, when I became editor of SHOOT! Magazine, I remember having an overwhelming sense of joy”.
From your experience, what words of advice do you have for young players hoping to be scouted?
Another tough question.
“Never give up. Listen to your manager. Don’t burn bridges. Work harder than any team mate at your club. Improve your technique especially your decision-making process. If you’re a midfielder, score more goals. If you’re a defender, become faultless. If you’re a striker, score consistently”.
Anything else you’d like to add?
“Having a passion for what you do as a job has made my work experiences so enjoyable”.