Award-winning Journalist, Broadcaster, Speaker and Best-Selling Author who fought against Roy Jones junior, ran with the top Kenyans, played rugby for South Africa and cricket for Australia.
By Mariett Ramm
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” -Vince Lombardi
A few minutes before my interview with Mr. Ian Stafford, I asked myself The question: How can one question a multi-award-winning sports writer and journalist voted Sports Reporter of the Year twice, Highly Commended as Sports Magazine Writer, and twice Highly Commended as Interviewer of the Year at the Sports Journalism annual awards.
How does one quiz a Highly Commended British Press Awards best-selling author of 16 books, most sought-after speaker and event host, and successful sports media company director, and founder of the most prestigious private club in London, The London Sporting Club ® who has entertained one of the world’s biggest sport celebrities such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Lord Seb Coe, Michael Johnson, David Coulthard, Sir Ben Ainslie, Frankie Dettori, Dames Katherine Grainger, Kelly Holmes and Laura Davies, Eddie Jones, Sir Geoff Hurst, Geraint Thomas and many, many more?
I sat in silence for a few minutes, and I took the advice of Mr. Ernest Hemingway “When people talk, listen completely.”
Ian wrote sports interviews, features and live reports for The Mail on Sunday from 1998 to 2014 and also from 1988 to 1992. In this time, he covered seven Olympic Games, four Rugby World Cups, two football world cups, five Commonwealth Games, world and European championships in all Olympic sports, test matches, world boxing title bouts, tennis and golf majors. During this time, he also interviewed most of the world’s most famous sports stars.
Ian has also written for The Times, The Independent (“The Monday Interview”), The Scotsman (“The Friday Interview”), Daily Express, Sunday Express and Today, the “Player” column in Esquire magazine and contributed to Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, FHM, Live (Mail on Sunday supplement), High Life (British Airways), Sky (Delta Airlines) and Scanorama (SAS).
The success of Ian Stafford and The London Sporting Club ® is an excellent example of what Warren Berger said: Knowing how to question will help you in life. And indeed, I had the impression that Ian knew each question before I even asked. Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now? In simple terms of “Journalist to a journalist.”
BC: What took you onto the field of sports in the first place?
IS: Well, it’s just coincidence, I’ve always liked sports and played it a lot. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent working in the media and travelling the world talking about international news.
I kind of “fell into” working in sports media. After finishing college, I saw a job interview for a brand-new national sports magazine, and I just went for it. I kept applying, and eventually, they said no. I did not give up. I managed to get hold of the editor and insisted that I went to see him. He agreed to see me, and on the back of that meeting, he gave me a job of making coffees, photocopying and running about. But within four weeks of me being in the office, I managed to persuade him to send me to Ireland to cover a story with the Tour de France Winner. I got it, and I did a big interview. The editor then started letting me write for the magazine every week.
After leaving the magazine, I started doing freelance work, and within a year, I was writing for four national newspapers. I then joined The Mail on Sunday and, six months after coming on board, I became the youngest sports journalist to win sports journalist of the year award.
BC: Why journalism? What does journalism mean to you?
IS: My mother was one of the first female journalists in national newspapers in the 1960s. I’ve always loved the writing, and I always wanted to do journalism. I was very creative at school very artistic and strong with English and history. Traveling the world and having adventures seemed very exciting to me. I just like being busy and doing lots of things. Journalism is also about making a difference, and I want to make a difference. Without journalists asking questions and making mischief we do not live in a democratic world.
BC: Regarding the recent digital transformation of social media platforms creating viral content in new disruptive format -videos, GIFs and apps- where do you see the strengths of traditional journalism?
IS: Well, beyond the significantly modified society in general, media has changed an awful lot in the last years and is continuing to change.
We’re in the moment where there are thirst and hunger for immediate news. A very inclusive story these days is something that we’re all going to be told about in five minutes. But somebody gets it in two minutes. Only three or four years ago everyone denied that social media platforms were content sites. Now suddenly these platforms are the promoters of mainstream media content.
Now, a lot of people read the newspapers on tablets or read books on Kindles. There is a broader choice. But the best articles are still the best articles.
What I hope is that the benefits of the old newspapers can be transferred onto digital: long-standing relationships, trust, creating opportunities to make a difference in journalism.
BC: You have written 16 books, all of which are related to sports. Which is the one that would say had the most impact on you either writing it or doing the research behind the topic and content?
IS: Easy one to answer. Playgrounds of the Gods: A Year of Sporting Fantasy published by Mainstream and Random House, 2000. Over half a million copies sold, it was short-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, and people are still talking about it.
I played sport with all those top stars in the book. I played seven sports in seven countries: Football in Brazil with Flamengo FC; Squash in Pakistan against Jansher Khan; Athletics with Kenya’s Long-Distance Runners; Rugby Union in South Africa with the Springboks; Rowing in the UK with Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent; Cricket in Australia with the Steve Waugh led Australian cricket team; Boxing in the United States against Roy Jones junior.
Well, the pinnacle of the book to me was my fight with Roy Jones junior who was the best boxer in the world. People couldn’t believe I did it. I was a significant subject matter for an interview in Newsweek magazine as a result of it, and I got a lot of respect in the world of sport. Simply because I’ve actually experienced it myself.
BC: It is impressive watching you competing against all these world-class athletes. But what was the real reason or drive why you really wanted to play these sports?
IS: Yes, I was good at sports and very competitive. But the reason goes more in-depth. A lot of people especially men go through life believing that they could have made it in sports. They would have scored that easy goal that the top players just missed. I wanted to use myself to show why these people are the best. The difference between being good at the public level and doing what the top-level athletes do is massive. While writing the book, I also wanted to show how sports unites people. Sport creates bonds between people and sport also creates opportunities. Playgrounds of the Gods was not just a sports book. Its messages embraced social, political, economic arguments.
BC: The The London Sporting Club ® is the UK’s most exciting, fun-packed, invitation-only private networking club. Tell our audience about your journey creating this privileged network in initially London.
IS: When I started this business, nobody thought it would work. But what we created, a good idea spiced with an enormous amount of passion with the help of a vast network of top-level athletes and successful business contacts has been phenomenal.
After 18-months of creating pools of contents, we now have three wonderful clubhouses in London; Mayfair, Soho, and the City, and now Manchester too. Apart from our lunches as you know, we host breakfasts, book signings, dinners, and gala events. What we do is different. I know most of the people attending. I know who they are and how they think. I have years of experience doing this work, I am particularly prepared, and on the day the energy of the experience is incredible.
When we invite our top high calibre guests to our events, we want to provide entertainment to the audience. But also, we want to make it inspirational and motivational. It’s not enough just to tell a few jokes and make people laugh. With people of such great achievements and strength of character in the room what to get across is how they’ve achieved this gigantic success. Because the way that they’ve achieved goes way beyond the sport. These are life messages. These are business messages.
Our actual membership of the club is also different. We care about our members. We want our members to enjoy the events as well as they can get business out of it. Members are becoming friends with each other, and the result is: there is a lot of business flying around.
We are opening the Dublin Sporting Club this year. We are in the process of franchising the Sporting Club around the world. Another 18-months and we are going to have many more clubs with global networking and permanent homes. That’s the connection of the level of the sport.
Our message is simple: Good people, good business but most of all good fun.
To become a member of the London Sporting Club®, or connect with Ian Stafford, please email to email@example.com or call +44 7710 124780