Ian Stafford, The London Sporting club and the missing link between the Digital and the Real

“Listen, you’ve gotta live!”

Ian Stafford is a man who, in the words of Dan McLaren on the Digital Sport Podcast, ‘won’t be left wondering “what if i’d done that” when it comes to eventually retiring’. They return to the theme ten minutes later, when Stafford declares, “at some point I’ll be on my deathbed, and I won’t be happy about it, but I would like to say, ‘well, I’ve squeezed every last drop out of this.’”

After 30 years of covering sport from all angles, Stafford can look back on a body of work which doesn’t just stop at a career as a top sports journalist. His former title of chief sports reporter for The Mail on Sunday doesn’t do it justice, nor does the fact he’s been voted sports reporter of the year and won multiple other awards. A long list of writing credits in The Times and The Independent along with a frankly ridiculous host of appearances in other publications, magazines and TV shows doesn’t do it either. You have to factor in books about England’s Rugby World Cup triumph in 2003 and their route to the 2007 final, books about Lewis Hamilton and Prince Naseem, or about the memorable 2005 Ashes series. And even then you only break the surface.

The breadth and depth is astonishing, but it hints at something greater – Stafford is a fan of sport. All sport. And his career has allowed him to write about partnering Steve Redgrave at the Henley Royal Regatta, playing golf with Tiger Woods, and boxing – if that is indeed the right word – against Roy Jones Jr.

If you love sport, it’s fair to say that life doesn’t get an awful lot better than that.

But that doesn’t appear to have been the point. Stepping into the ring with a man who, in 2003, became the first middleweight to win the world heavyweight title in 106 years wasn’t about fulfilment or even about getting strung out on adrenaline.

“They’re great creative experiences,” Stafford said. “When I sat down to write the Roy Jones Jr chapter, it was 15,000 words, but I did it in a day. The words couldn’t come out of my fingers fast enough.”

But life moves on. Over the last decade, newspapers and books have been displaced by smartphones and social media. Publishers – newspapers especially – have suffered massively. The fast-paced nature of sport coupled with the speed of social media has combined to create the monster we deal with on a daily basis; and the idea of sitting down to read 15,000 words about anything now feels like a daunting prospect rather than a relaxing pleasure.

And yet, experiences now matter above all else, and more than ever before. As we start to live more and more of our lives through the veil of the smartphone screen, we appear to be one step further removed from reality. Philosophical scepticism asks if there really is a world outside of the mind’s perception of it. An updated, digital version could well ask if there really is a world beyond the one we perceive through digital media.

That’s where Stafford’s latest project comes in. The London Sporting Club, which has added Snack Media as a new digital media partner, feels like the logical next step for a man who has spent a lifetime working with some of the greatest names in sport.

“The world’s only private members club for sport and the business of sport,” is housed at Morton’s on Berkeley Square, bringing a network of sporting professionals of all different stripes together into one network situated in the heart of London: a place to relax and attend events in the salubrious surrounds of Mayfair. Recently, it’s been Sir Steve Redgrave and England rugby coach Eddie Jones who have come through the doors to take part in events hosted by a man who’s done it all before, but as a space to meet people in sports business, it provides so much more. And that places it at the crossroads of the digital world and the sporting one.

“We’re going to take our social media very seriously and we’re going to be creating content like podcasts, like radio shows live from the London Sporting Club, and I will be incorporating what I’ve learned over the last three years,” says Stafford, who has recently been working with the likes of Kicca as well as founding and launching Sportsvibe, digitally native platforms covering sport. But that’s just the beginning of it.

Social media may have revolutionised how people consume their sports coverage, adding a need for speed and concision on an unprecedented scale, but there is always a space between the inherently physical nature of sport and the digital, online world where we now discuss it. Put differently, there is a gap in the middle for those who deal in the real – provided it takes the digital bit seriously, too.

“We must make sure that the digital revolution doesn’t remove the journalism or the beautiful art of writing,” says Stafford. The digital space creates more content than can possibly be consumed, but the desire to be enthralled by something real is greater than ever. “What’s a long read? It’s not measured by how long it is, it’s measured by whether it feels like a long read.”

And that’s the crux of it. There may be an emphasis on the instant and with it, a dilution of quality, but that’s an unacceptable compromise. And in the end, it’s an unsustainable one, too. Stafford’s London Sporting Club stands contrary to that idea.

People will still spend the majority of their time working and playing online, from social media at leisure time to emails and Skype meetings, but in the same way magazine articles enthralled and inspired readers for decades, the online world can have that power, too. Stafford has pinpointed the one and only thing that, even in the internet age, will ever be certain: there’s still a physical world and you’re still in it.

In the end, you’ve gotta live.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 261 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and a regular contributor to Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan91

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