I was amused earlier this week to see Sir Alex Ferguson enhance his status as a sane, rational person by attempting to ban a journalist who had asked him a (perfectly reasonable) question at a press conference.
This is the first refuge of the paranoid and the powerful: if I don't like a question not only will I not answer it but I'll go after the person who asked it.
Happily, relations between World Snooker and the media are better now than they have been for a long time.
There is greater openness, a feeling that everyone is working towards the same end and more fun than we have seen for many years.
Journalists are, of course, not to everyone’s taste, but for every stitch-up merchant there are a far greater number of hard working hacks doing their best in often trying circumstances.
My first day in the Crucible pressroom saw me ‘shown the ropes’ by a couple of tabloid journalists who formed a group known affectionately as ‘the Beastie Boys.’
These ‘ropes’ turned out to be situated mainly around the free bar, which in those days dispensed alcohol from morning to night as if it were going out of fashion.
The Beasties were all good blokes, if a little thirsty. They would often decamp to the Brown Bear, a pub just up the road from the Crucible, and re-emerge hours later demanding to know what had happened at the snooker.
One memorably saved time over writing up a piece about Stephen Hendry by making up the quotes before the press conference, an admirable example of economising.
They were a loud bunch but a good laugh and always seemed to get plenty in the papers.
But it wasn’t always fun. When politics intervened things could get nasty, as Snooker Scene’s editor Clive Everton discovered when he arrived in Preston for the 1999 Grand Prix.
Clive had made some criticisms of the then WPBSA chairman, who responded in time honoured even-tempered fashion by issuing a blanket ban on him entering the pressroom.
To complicate matters, Clive was commentating for the BBC and so could enter the building, go to the commentary box and leave again as long as he stayed away from the pressroom, where he was working for the Guardian.
It was at this tournament he fell out of the commentary box, almost throttling Dennis Taylor by grabbing hold of his tie as he rocked back on his chair.
“Doesn’t he know it’s a no-go area,” was Stephen Hendry’s observation on hearing Clive had hit the deck somewhere outside the box.
The absurdity levels were cranked up to 11 at the UK Championship in Bournemouth shortly afterwards where this ban remained in place.
The route to the commentary box was paved with little plastic chickens, which were representative of the sponsor, Liverpool Victoria.
So it was that Clive was photographed in a national newspaper doing the ‘chicken run’ to the box. For some reason this failed to enhance the game’s reputation as a serious, forward thinking sport.
Matters had not been helped by the appointment of a former tabloid investigative reporter as WPBSA media relations boss. It was at Bournemouth where he managed to have such an explosive row with a journalist that its newspaper recalled him to London.
Piers Morgan, now of CNN but then the Mirror editor, made an unlikely foray into snooker history at this point.
The WPBSA media relations boss, in his polite way, had threatened to submit a formal complaint against the Mirror’s correspondent. Morgan responded he could do so and that he [Morgan] would “come down there and personally stick it up his arse.” The complaint never was lodged, in either sense of the word.
A few months later the WPBSA dismissed their man. He successfully sued them, pointing out they had employed him to ‘target specific individuals, including Clive Everton.’
Clive was eventually allowed back in to the pressroom and all was well again...for a bit, anyway.
At the end of 2000 I found myself working for TSN (which became 110sport) on their new website, which remains better in scope and content than most of the sites that have succeeded it.
They then decided to announce a rival tour to the WPBSA circuit, which for some reason didn’t go down too well with the governing body.
Shortly afterwards I went to Shenzhen for a heavily subsidised trip to the China Open. My first indication that all was not well was when the tournament director greeted me with the words, “are you here on holiday?”
It would transpire that I was now banned. Or sort of, anyway. I was told I could come inside the pressroom as long as I didn’t do any actual work.
I responded that this would be no problem as I had been doing it for years.
I was told, very earnestly, by the WPBSA chief executive that this was the only fair solution. I suggested the real reason was that the WPBSA still didn’t have its own website and were trying to stop others establishing themselves.
He later distinguished himself by managing to get sacked from the same job twice – ironically it had been his original dismissal that had kicked off the nonsense with Clive.
Years later I had another run-in with a WPBSA executive who accused me in Glasgow of “distributing Clive Everton’s propaganda” on the basis that I had given Mark Johnston-Allen a copy of Snooker Scene to read in between sessions.
As propaganda spreading goes, I felt this fell somewhere short of an average evening on North Korean state television.
With great theatricality, said executive slung the magazine in the bin and stormed out of the pressroom, a gesture only slightly undermined by him realising he still needed it and so returning, a little sheepishly, and fishing it out again.
It summed up to me a kind of paranoia about the media that has only recently lifted. Their strategy was never to cogently answer the criticisms but try and get even in some way with the critic.
Sometimes they weren’t even being criticised but still got the hump, believing journalists were out to get them.
Politicians - including snooker politicians - have to roll with the punches. If you take a position of responsibility, you should expect to be challenged.
In my experience, journalists just want interesting stories, and that doesn’t mean just scandal.
Offbeat and quirky tales always play well and people enjoy feel-good stories, such as battles against the odds.
Most of the time the main battle is to get anything in the papers at all, particularly given the rise and rise of football and the space it takes up.
It is a world I have largely left behind now due to my commentary commitments and I don’t envy the latest brigade of snooker journos operating in a declining newspaper market.
But at least it’s a little friendlier these days.