‘Graeme Souness told me to quit boozing. I did not listen’: Jim White on his trouble with drink, his remarkable career and how he messed up a Mick Jagger interview
- Jim White ended up in hospital after trying to juggle jobs at Sky and talkSPORT
- The 66-year-old is a reporter at heart, brought up on local papers in Scotland
- He has written a book on the football transfer market with Kaveh Solhekol
Earlier this year Jim White was at Wembley working as a host for the Football League at the Carabao Cup final between Manchester United and Newcastle. United owner Avram Glazer entered the room and a familiar instinct kicked in.
‘I just desperately wanted to get my phone out and get some quotes from him,’ recalls White. ‘The next day I could have had: “This morning on talkSPORT, a world exclusive: Avram Glazer speaks to us. Avram are you in the last days of your ownership?”
‘But I was there for the EFL. So I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have been right. But then part of me thinks it would have been worth getting thrown out for.’
White, 66, was for years the face of Sky Sports News, a crackling ball of energy and insight synonymous with transfer deadline day and that bright yellow tie that came with it.
For a while he tried combining that with a late morning show on talkSPORT but the experiment landed him in hospital.
Jim White (above) is riding high with his weekday show on talkSPORT with Simon Jordan
White is an old school reporter at heart, brought up on local papers in Scotland
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‘Having two jobs was killing me,’ he reveals. ‘I ended up badly ill with a kidney problem.’
So now it’s radio only for White. Every weekday between 10am and 1pm with Simon Jordan. But that tells only half of the story of this charismatic and fascinating man.
For White is a reporter at heart. Old school. Brought up on local papers in Scotland, his first big scoops when he eventually graduated to television were interviews with Mick Jagger, David Bowie and the ballet star Rudolf Nureyev.
‘I am a reporter who happens to present a show,’ he explains. ‘I’ve been in a studio with a shirt and tie on quite a lot. Scotsport, Sky. But the best times I have had were when I have been out there running riot, going after people.
‘They either speak to you or they don’t. That’s the biggest adrenaline rush in the business, especially when you walk away from someone and you’ve got it. It’s a different discipline from presenting but it gets me more, yeah. And over the years I have really had to work on it.
‘Someone at Sky said to me once, “You are one of the best I have ever met at getting into position and getting big names… and then asking them f*** all”.
‘That made me realise it’s one thing getting into positions but if you then don’t execute the questions then it’s a waste of time.
‘I was very much like, “Mick Jagger, it must be great being in Glasgow”. “Yeah it is”. You know? Hopeless. I was just ill-prepared. Put it this way. I know what I would ask David Bowie now. These days my approach is that I am not going to let someone go until I have nailed them.’
He turned down the opportunity to interview Avram Glazer (left) while on hosting duties for the EFL
his first big scoops when he eventually graduated to television were interviews with Mick Jagger, David Bowie and the ballet star Rudolf Nureyev
The truth is that White could still be on the road now. He has one of the best contacts books in football. Owners, managers, players. What viewers of Sky would perhaps not appreciate is that during those long days presenting transfer shows, White would often be the member of the team using the advert breaks to call his contacts for breaking stories.
Along with his former Sky colleague Kaveh Solhekol, White has written a book about the art of chasing and breaking transfer stories.
‘I am obsessed with news,’ he explains. ‘I have always been inquisitive and keen and see no downside to getting a phone number, calling someone and asking a question. People who say no by and large don’t mean it. Sometimes they might but often they don’t. And when they eventually say yes it’s all the more satisfying.
‘Back in my early days on newspapers, I liked the courts. I liked learning what you could and couldn’t write and I liked hearing the stories. Families at war. Getting pictures of murder victims. I loved getting in the middle of all that.
‘There was a riot at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow in 1987 and there were people on the roof. And because one of them was a football fan my boss at Scotsport asked me to go down. I was presenting at the time. I knocked on the door of his family and they were like, “It’s f****** Jim White”. Next thing I was in there getting the chat and later on we went down there to the prison as the lady tried to talk her son down from the roof.’
You get nowhere in journalism if people don’t like you and White has always appeared to have the knack. An early relationship with Graeme Souness bore fruit when the former Liverpool midfielder called him at home one Saturday to tell him he would be the next manager of Rangers.
‘I was on TV back then and so had to sit on that story over the weekend,’ White says.
‘All I could do was take a cameraman to the airport on Monday and wait for him. There is a picture in the book of me with a moustache and ridiculous long hair walking with Souness who looked equally ridiculous with a moustache and long hair. But he has never changed. He’s accepted me over the years as the guy I am and he’s been very good to me.’
White once messed up an interview with British Rock n Roll legend Mick Jagger (centre)
White, with former Sky colleague Kaveh Solhekol (left), has written a book about the art of chasing and breaking transfer stories
Souness’s friendship extended to a conversation while he was Benfica manager in the late 1990s. Souness was concerned about White’s drinking and told him so.
‘He told me I should knock it on the head but I didn’t take the advice and just kept going,’ he says.
‘When I eventually did, it was 12 years ago and it was no big deal.’
White describes his old self as a binge-drinker. ‘Sometimes on my own and sometimes with others,’ he says.
‘I wasn’t really choosy. But I knew it was right to stop. I was up in Glasgow at an event and I just thought, “Nah, not tonight”. I got through the event and flew back home and just got on with that and that was it. I don’t think I will ever drink again and I am happy to say that to you.
‘I did AA for a spell and enjoyed going to the meetings. But I felt that I was hearing the same thing over and over I had to cut the umbilical cord eventually. I had said I would do it so I had to damn well do it.’
White is protective of his home life. He lives in central London and by his own admission doesn’t sit still very much. He remains consumed by the challenges ahead and amused and vaguely irritated by some of the stories that have remained untold.
White, with his bright yellow tie, was synonymous with transfer deadline day om Sky Sports
‘Years ago I was invited to a box when Bolton were playing Chelsea,’ he says. ‘Roman Abramovich was next door and I got to meet him. The next few minutes were bizarre. Everything flashes through your head. You are thinking you are about to get the big exclusive. He said “Yes” several times to a chat and then one of his aides leaned over and said to me, “He means no”. I still rue that one.
‘Before the 1998 World Cup Scottish TV sent me to Brazil where I interviewed Gerson, the great Brazilian midfielder from 1970. Then to Algeria where I met the manager of Norway. Brazil and Norway were in Scotland’s group. It was fantastic but I really fancied interviewing Ronnie Biggs, the train robber. He wanted some money for the interview, about $500, and Scottish TV said it would be quite hard getting him into a World Cup documentary about Scotland.
‘I ran out of time and never got face to face with him which really disappointed me. We would have wheedled him into that football documentary somehow….’
Deadline Day: The Inside Story of Football’s Transfer Market by Jim White and Kaveh Solhekol is out now (£25, Constable).
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