Matt Dickinson: Cambridge, Journalism and the World of Sport

Charles Martland 13 January 2015

With the busy festive season of sport only just concluded and another great year of sport to look forward to in 2015, we spoke to Matt Dickinson, formerly of Cambridge and now Chief Sports Writer for The Times.

Dickinson talks fondly of his time at Cambridge, where he turned his hand initially to some writing, before taking up the sport editorship with one of the student papers. Despite arriving in Cambridge unsure of his intended career path, he left having decided to pursue one in journalism, especially after a change of course from Law to History. His first article was an interview with Steve Palmer, who, now retired, remains the only professional football to have attended Cambridge University.

A year-long post-graduate diploma at Cardiff University followed, which, Dickinson claims, served as “the perfect transition student hood to the working life.” The tough nature of the course allowed him to return to Cambridge the following year with enhanced skills and able to stand on his own two feet; “It was ex-journalists who were the tutors and it was very much a hard school… they made you write stuff to deadline and if it wasn’t up to standard they literally threw it in the bin.”

Dickinson went on to join The Daily Express in 1991, but there is little doubt that his experiences at Cardiff and at the Cambridge Evening News, provided him with the requisite learning to take his career to a national level. “Each step of the way, I learnt all the time,” he says, “Cambridge probably isn’t the raciest of districts, but I remember being sent to Parker’s Piece as a junior hack with a bunch of sausages to catch a stray dog which had been scaring walkers!” recalling the experience in amusing fashion.

His began life as a sports journalist at The Express doing just one shift a week, but stresses the importance of perseverance in achieving greater things. One shift per week quickly became two, three well written paragraphs on a football match at Millwall one weekend afforded him a piece of double the length the next.

The conversation moves on to Dickinson’s famous interview, whilst working for The Times, where he remains today, in early 1999 with then England manager Glenn Hoddle, in which the latter’s bizarre slur on reincarnation and the disabled ultimately sealed his fate and led to his resignation.  “You wonder whether you want to be remembered for one story,” Dickinson reflects, “it was a tough few days because you didn’t know how the wind would blow and what the FA’s reaction would be, but in terms of a learning experience, I probably learnt more in those three or four days than you might do in three of four years.”

Dickinson has also turned his hand to publishing a book on England’s World Cup winning centre-half Bobby Moore, who he describes as the “the measuring stick for an England footballer” and “the epitome of sportsmanship.” His interest in the West Ham and England great was enhanced further by comparisons of more recent players to Moore by other members of the media, yet without the knowledge of what he was really like. “I could sum up everything I knew about him on a page of A4 and people didn’t know Bobby Moore the man.” “As soon as I started doing some research, there were two or three quite big stories in his life that seemed to have slipped under the radar.”

Talk of a sporting icon leads to an almost inevitable discussion of Steven Gerrard, who recently announced his departure from Liverpool, where, in spite of his ability, he never won the Premier League. Dickinson has little doubt that the Liverpool captain’s loyalty ultimately cost him a league winner’s medal: “if he’d gone to Chelsea he would have won four or five league titles, but that was a price he was willing to pay to be loyal to his club and the fact that a player can do that is something to admire.”

And what does 2015 hold for the world of sport? The European Under-21 Championship is something Dickinson highlights as an important stage in the development of England’s national football, seeing current boss Gareth Southgate as the manager elect, who will eventually replace Roy Hodgson in the Wembley hot seat.  

What is evident throughout the conversation is Dickinson’s passion for journalism. He admits that the industry faces significant challenges with decreases in circulation and the onset of a digital age ending the existence of some local papers, but has always loved the trade and believes newspapers can continue to flourish; “newspapers have got to think on their feet and meet the challenges but I’ve got no qualms about the industry at all.”

Matt Dickinson’s book, Bobby Moore: The Man in Full is available from Amazon and most other retailers.