Interview with Chris Wheatley, former Eurosport and Goal.com journalist, founder of GoonerTalk and currently working at D2S Media a company dealing in marketing, maximizing the image in social media and creating new commercial opportunities for its clients.
FR: Chris at the beginning I would like to ask you how you feel and what is the current situation in England when it comes to coronavirus pandemic?
CW: First I’d like to say hello to all the football fans in Poland. I know you have a huge appetite for the game over there and as a country you are continuously producing some of the best young players in Europe.
With regard to the current situation in England, as you probably know we have one of the highest death tolls for COVID-19 in the world. The return of Premier League football is great news but it is obviously not the same without the supporters inside the stadium. They need to find a way to safely increase the numbers of fans allowed in the stadium, but I appreciate the most important thing is to contain the virus first.
Premier League is back. Which team do you watch the most besides Arsenal and why?
Wolves are just fantastic to watch. I love the football they play and forwards like Adama Traore make them so exciting to watch. I also liked watching Liverpool earlier on in the season because of how efficient they are. Jurgen Klopp has turned them into world beaters and it shows what can happen if the club owners put faith in a manager over a long period of time.
Liverpool won the championship after 30 years. Jurgen Klopp created a real machine that left everyone far behind. Do you think this team can be even better?
I can see Liverpool dominating English football for the next few years. They have players in the peak of their careers and possess a squad who are committed to the project that Klopp started several years ago. The thing I admire most about Liverpool is the fact that the owners believed in Klopp even when he was receiving widespread criticism from the media and even some supporters. Patience is the most underrated quality in football.
I would like to ask you a few questions about you. How did your journalistic adventure start?
I’ve always wanted to be a journalist from a young age. I had a six-week trial as social media manager at Eurosport in London about six years ago and was offered the job after two weeks. In 2016, one of my former colleagues from Eurosport worked at Perform Group (owners of Goal.com) and mentioned the Arsenal Correspondent would be perfect for me. They offered me the job and that was the start of my adventure covering Arsenal.
These brands are really impressive. Eurosport is one of the most popular sport tv channel in the world and in turn Goal.com is the largest football website in the world and it was while working for Goal that you interviewed stars such as Mesut Ozil, Rio Ferdinand, Gilberto Silva, Gary Lineker, Petr Cech, Shkodran Mustafi and others. Could you tell us more about your impressions during these interviews?
Petr Cech was my first interview in the Puma store on Carnaby Street, London. It was a Facebook Live, and I was pretty nervous as there were many people inside the shop. I think I did a good job and my confidence grew with every player I interviewed. Shkodran Mustafi was a fascinating guy. Extremely intelligent and had opinions on everything from mental health to religion. Gilberto also was very philosophical and I interviewed him when he was sporting director at Greek side Panathinaikos.
What is your most valuable work experience as a journalist?
That’s a very good question. I think the documentaries I made were insightful and provided a different view that many fans wouldn’t usually see. They didn’t receive millions of views on YouTube but for me it was the most satisfying work I did. Someone like former Arsenal youngster Ryan Smith, who retired early due to injury, and the mental anguish he struggled with while on the sidelines from depression. You can watch it here.
While doing my research I came across the information that you participated as a journalist correspondent in the UEFA Euro 2016 in France and the World Cup 2018 in Russia. Which of these events made a better impression on you and why?
The Euros were amazing. I was filming Facebook Lives when all the trouble with the Russian hooligans happened. I ended up being in the middle of fighting and tear-gassed by the French police. My colleagues joked that I was ‚war correspondent’ for Goal. I had a huge adrenaline rush covering that tournament because of all the trouble and I guess I was quite young at the time which made me a little fearless. However, I have to say that Russia was a beautiful country and the city I stayed in Saransk did an amazing job of hosting games.
What do you think about England’s performance at these tournaments?
England have always had it difficult because of the expectations from fans and media. At the last World Cup they were impressive and unfortunate not to progress to the final. However, I would say it’s just a matter of time before they end up in a final. The most important thing is stability and with Gareth Southgate as manager I think they have that. The youngsters coming through like Sancho really complement the likes of Sterling and Rashford. It’s an exciting squad with many possibilities.
Where did the idea of creating goonertalk.com come from?
I started Gooner Talk at the age of 14. I had made websites and blogs before that and loved writing about the club. I started to contact agents and chase transfer news – it gave me such a buzz. I then befriended some youth players and regularly spoke to them where they would give me team news ahead of games. It was a pretty crazy time and I really enjoyed growing my website over a period of many years.
How many people participate in the running of this website and what is its main idea?
We have a couple of news writers and one feature writer. The main idea is to provide all the regular Arsenal news collated from reports around the world, while every so often I will publish an exclusive piece. That’s the uniqueness of the site.
As an Arsenal supporter, I have to ask you this question. From when and why are you supporting Arsenal?
I started supporting Arsenal from the age of 7-years-old. I remember I saw a poster on my cousin’s wall and I asked who it was. He said it’s ‚The Ice Man’ and I had absolutely no idea who he was talking about until I looked closer and saw the name ‚Dennis Bergkamp‚. That gauged my interest and from then on I couldn’t stop watching the Arsenal games. I loved everything about the old Wenger teams from the attacking football to the international squad.
When I lived in London, I had the pleasure of being at Arsenal home and away games. The atmopshere at The Emirates stadium was always amaizing. I also took part in a job interview for Security Officer position at The Emirates and I must admit that all the people in the club I encountered on my way were incredibly friendly and kind. Do you think that among other things, this atmopsphere of one big family makes this club so special?
Definitely. Arsenal is a family club and there are still some people who have worked there for 20+ years, although many did leave when Wenger left a couple of years ago. I think the Arsenal values are known around the world. A classy club with classy values, respected by many in the game.
I would like to ask you what you think about AFTV which is considered by many as a controversial initiative but by many as something good?
My opinion is that AFTV saw a gap in the market and it completely ballooned into something that even they didn’t expect. It was important to change the name as I believe it was having a negative impact on the way the club were seen globally. That is a credit to Robbie and the guys there for creating something so big. People have accused them of profiting from bad results but you could argue the same is for any fan site (including mine). All the websites have adverts on across their pages, so I think it’s hypocritical to accuse them of promoting negativity. I still think Twitter is a better way to express your views as they are unfiltered, unedited and you can go into as much detail as you want.
In 2019 as I understand you founded your own company which is D2S Media. Tell us please, what exactly do you do, who do your work with and what are your future plans?
D2S is a social media and marketing agency. We manage the social media and PR for certain players. Sometimes it may be just offering advice on a consultancy basis, whereas other players we manage their entire social media and PR opportunities. Organizing big interviews, finding them sponsors and making sure they have a positive brand image long after they retire. I work with many players unofficially but the most recognizable current players are Sokratis, Mavropanos, Retsos and Kasami.
What to wish you in your professional and private life in the future?
I would like to make D2S one of the biggest social media & marketing agencies in the UK. I have a lot of experience working with elite athletes and I can see what they need and how they want it. Personally, I am still interesting in writing about football and Arsenal specifically. I still have contacts and it makes sense to turn Gooner Talk into the biggest Arsenal news source on the internet. With hard work and focus, anything is possible.