Football people on TV: Henry Winter

Sarah Winterburn

This week John Nicholson watches journalist, broadcaster and Times advertising superstar Henry Winter and hopes to get “a deep understanding of the game”.


Fashion police
Someone once told me they’d met Henry and he was dressed from top to toe in denim, including, most impressively of all, a denim cap. We need to see a picture of this. Sounds magnificent. More usually in TV appearances it’s all sensible, Geography teacher-style, plain, open neck shirts, dark jackets and suits. Almost certainly owns chinos and a pair of tan loafers.

Another who met him reported him as “tall and slightly unworldy, as though he’s an alien who hadn’t quite got his human right, yet”. Sometimes seems to wear a pleased expression, similar to that of a cat being stroked beside a fire. Didn’t he used to be blonde? Didn’t we all?


Lingo bingo
One of those Englishmen who has no accent at all. Frequently puts an ‘a’ in front of names and clubs – “a Rooney”, “a Manchester United” etc, a linguistic tick which belongs in the same locked cupboard of shameful expressions as “your Rooneys and your Manchester Uniteds”.

Can knock out a laboured intro with the best of them. Has a distinctive habit of referring to things that most under the age of 50 wouldn’t understand. A favourite is to refer to a manager who is parachuted in, mid-season, to rescue a failing club, as a Red Adair figure. Also seems to have bought into the weird football habit of calling men who are already midde-aged a “good young English manager”. Frequently paints from the usual over-used palette of expressions. Loves to refer to “good young kids coming through” and ex-players like Ryan Giggs, always “know the club”. Seems to say the words “St George’s Park” more than anyone else.

When addressing people by their nicknames e.g. “Poogers” it always sounds awkward, like it’s not part of his normal rhetoric.

By newspaper standards, is quite posh. Often speaks rather slow and carefully, as though he’s explaining something very complex and difficult to you, even though it’s just football.


Hits and misses
A man who was privately educated at a top school, working at the Telegraph, what are the odds of that, huh? But when you’ve been the chief football correspondent at a national newspaper for years, you’ve clearly got a big hit on your hands. Henry is, by any measure, a Very Important Person in football media. Possibly at the very top of his very tall tree. One insider comment was, “There’s him and then there’s everyone else, way behind.” He must have achieved this by extraordinary dedication, hard work and absolute committment over a long period of time. Beyond anything else, he must just bloody love football with a persistent passion few can match. And with over a million followers on Twitter, he clearly has an audience keen to read what he says, even though a glance at his timeline suggests most of what he says is relatively unremarkable and no more informative than the next person’s observations. Likes to Tweet a team sheet.

Other hits include being a long-time regular on Sunday Supplement where he often succeeds in winding up Shaun Custis. We’d all like to see them have a fight.

Often appears on 5live to add insight into matters. Was very good on Wednesday night speaking in support of lowering ticket prices, monstering the never-knowingly-in-touch-with-the-people Matthew Syed in the process.

After 20 years at the Telegraph, has just moved to the Times and made an advert to advertise the fact, an ad which will go down in history as one of the most cringeworthy 30 seconds ever broadcast. Not a natural show-off, he wanders through the piece with a wooden, self-conscious air. Even though he might be top of the journo charts, it’s not like he’s Norman Mailer writing about boxing, or Hunter S Thompson on baseball, is it? The whole thing seemed badly judged, hugely inappropriate and only made a rod for his own back by suggesting he could bring more exclusive “insider” insight than anyone really can, especially in this age of commonly available information and opinion. It must be the only ever advertisement for a football journalist, though. So it is groundbreaking in that respect.


Big club bias
Oh yeah, because it’s where the most exposure is. Especially big on England, about whom he seems to reserve his strongest vinegar. You can’t do his job without a lot of stroking and purring over the big beasts. Because journalists are held in such poor regard by the public and, presumably by football club people too, half the job seems to be brown-nosing the right people, and caressing fragile egos in order to get interviews, all the while making sure you don’t upset someone who can help you do your job for the next 20 years.

This is why the Brits get such an easy ride and the foreign less so. If a player or manager will be in a different country in 18 months you can risk alienating him and calling him useless. Do that to a British manager who is likely to be on the circuit for 20 years and you make your life much more difficult in an industry where you’re required to churn out stuff every day, even when there’s nothing of interest to write.

Henry doesn’t seem the sort to be confrontational, or happy to make enemies, so the politics of football relationships must be a hard line to walk.


Loved or loathed
My social media research veered from the inevitably extremely rude and insulting to praise for his match reports. Many said how obsessed with England he seems to be. One commenter called him Captain Obvious. He does seem very beige, at times, but then presumably that’s in sympathy with the audience he’s writing for, so only appropriate. He’s not trying to be Charles Bukowski.

Another suggestion was that he’d become a self-parody, pretending to have more inside information than he really does. That might be a bit harsh, but hating journalists is part of the sport of football in the 21st century. It’s fair to say they are often poorly regarded, but then, the sheer size of the media hole that they’re required to fill has inevitably spread the quality a bit thin, especially online, where women in bikinis seem much more important.

As well as the writing gig, journos like Henry are appearing all over the broadcast media too and some such as Dunny, Crossy, Custis 1 and Custis 2, the Riccosaurus (I’m not making this up, honest), Laptop Lipton and the like, are media personalities in their own right.

What comes over so strongly on shows like Sunday Supplement is that it’s a weirdly incestuous, inward-looking little club with its own rules and politics. I’m not sure they realise how odd it looks from the outside.

All this being said, I’m always happy to see HW on TV or hear him on the radio because he’s an enjoyably distinctive voice, is able to express himself well, and occasionally has some genuinely perceptive info. Rightly or wrongly, there’s an air of authority about him, there’s no-one else like him and you certainly couldn’t mistake him for anyone else. He might be vanilla, but he’s a top-quality vanilla. And anyway, vanilla is lovely, especially compared to almond or clove.


Proper Football Man
Well, obviously not. Especially if he’s wearing a denim cap, which any good PFM would consider a crime against masculinity and good cause to adminster a stiff right-hander.

He would certainly use the expression ‘a proper football man’ about a British coach. The newly sacked Brit manager always “deserved more time”. Can usually be relied upon to do a PFM’s bidding in the media, but one suspects any true PFM would be scathing about a privately educated Westminster School boy. The PFM is a strangely snooty creature, a self-made man who never had no help from no-one, who came from nowt, but wants to be accepted in middle-class society as a successful man, yet is paranoid everyone there thinks he’s just a big, dumb, farting animal.

Journalists are scum is the PFM’s starting point and you’re going to have to work very hard to disprove this fact for him. In this context working hard means doing the PFM’s bidding, talking about him as though he’s great, pushing him for jobs when he’s out of work and generally being respectful of his awesomeness and how he’s being discriminated against in favour of supposedly sexy foreigners. Anyone doubting this only had to listen to Sean Dyche on 5live earlier this week for a classic example of genre.

But Henry is useful. He’s got a high profile, even though the PFMs don’t read the broadsheets. Big paragraphs without pictures? Not for me, Clive.

So they’d all be nice to his face, just in case he can put a word in for them with a posh chairman. And he’s got some qualities the PFM likes. A brother who recently had to apologise for a “homosexual slur” made 20 years ago is classic PFM territory. No offence, luv, those jeans are very tight and you’re not wearing a bra…I’m jus’ sayin’. Are you a lesbian? What? Oh no. Am I going to jail again, Jeff?

The PFM would also suspect that Henry is a Tory and most of the PFMs like that because they think voting Tory makes you posher and shows you’re successful. He also seems likely to have conservative tastes in music and own a Tina Turner CD bought at a service station, along with a shirt in a cellophane packet and a bag of mint imperials, all of which is a quintessential part of the PFM upmarket saloon car lifestyle

Henry is a writer, not a fighter, so, of course, there is no chance of him ever going out on the lash with Reidy and the boys, though they’d enjoy rendering him unconscious with a flask of nail polish, infused with Fairy Liquid and WD40 and then leaving him on a train to Inverness inside a shopping trolley. And, like a well-brought up boy in a gang of rough kids, he’d surely find it hard to laugh as the lads strap TC to a drone, send him up to 100 feet and then shoot at him with a t-shirt cannon. Also, Henry would not realise that stealing someone’s shoes is hilarious, nor that pushing someone’s nice silk tie up a dog’s bum was brilliant. What’s wrong with you, Fauntleroy? It’s just a bit of banter, innit?

Doesn’t exude any lothario tendencies whatsoever, so won’t be seen coming out of Hull hotspot, Ben Dovers at 4.27am with the former Miss East Grimsby Fish Finger and Boil-in-a-Bag Cod Fillet in Parsley Sauce Body of 1978.

So PFMship is not a possibility, though he remains a useful contact because he probably went to school with an important solicitor and his brother is Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, and the PFMs always suspect they’re going to need a top lawyer and a Muslim academic in a hurry, to prevent an international incident in a luxury hotel in Dubai. I thought he was talking about the profit, Jeff.


Beyond the lighted stage
Seems utterly dedicated to football, so not a lot of evidence of a cultural hinterland, beyond attending football journo dinners and awards, where he must surely be drunk under the table by some of the more substantially framed members of the profession. He’s a trustee of an African social enterprise which makes footballs in Kenya and Zambia. Spends the rest of his time in a press box, probably trying to stop Shaun Custis flicking his ears with a ruler.


John Nicholson