Daily Express chief football writer Harry Harris has told Press Gazette relations between football and the media have hit an all-time low, and the beautiful game may not need the printed press any more.
In the week before Harris published a book detailing his 30-year career at the forefront of football reporting, he said: "The problem is that access is at an all-time low, and I think the relationships between football clubs and the media is also at an all-time low. "The industry no longer needs the written press and whereas the mistrust existed before now, the football industry no longer needs to put up with it, so there is a huge chasm between the two industries."
The biggest changes during his career occurred when "so much money" started to come into football from television and other commercial sponsors in the early '90s, with the launch of the Premiership and the injection of big money from Sky.
Harris said: "The modern footballer now has image rights and they become big celebrities. David Beckham can't possibly be classed as big a player as Bobby Moore, but his image is much greater as a footballer than players of the past, and that's what television has done. Newspapers still play a big role, but you see comments from players such as Rio Ferdinand saying: ‘I don't trust newspaper journalists, I'm not bothered about being in the newspapers'."
He added: "Modern-day footballers say ‘I don't need to be on the back page any more because I'm on television', but at the same time, if a newspaper pays one a quarter of a million pounds to have a column, they don't say no, [although] that same newspaper could be turning them over on the front page."
The level of access football reporters get to players is harming print coverage of the game, Harris said. "Now you get an awful lot of articles written by really good journalists in an authoritative way, but they really do not know the subjects they're writing about. "They don't know them intimately on any personal level whatsoever. There is still the ability to get to know people on a private basis, but it is very limited and very difficult to achieve."
He added: "At first, clubs needed the newspapers to have shirt sponsors visually advertising themselves, but when there was wall-to-wall coverage in places like Sky there was a better outlet for sponsors to be on TV screens rather than newspapers."
Hold The Back Page is published on 9 November by Know The Score Books in hardback, priced £16.99.