If you’re a regular browser of Liverpool’s official website, then you may already be familiar with the name Jimmy Rice.
As the editor of the site he works to deliver the latest news stories, videos and oversee social media interaction with millions of fans around the world.
Despite being on tour with the club for the preseason campaign last week he kindly entertained my request for an interview to learn more about the man himself, his work, and experiences at Liverpool. Enjoy!
RW: Hello Jimmy. How are you doing? How’s your day?
JR: Hello. Great, thanks. I’m with the club’s tour party in Thailand and I’ve got up early to answer your questions.
I’m honoured! You spent about three years working as a journalist for The Spenborough Guardian and then the Sheffield Star before you got the job at Liverpoolfc.tv. What was it like making that transition? Were you confident after a good grounding, or nervous and starry eyed?
It was surreal. I didn’t expect a reply to my application. Then I was being interviewed in an executive box at Anfield overlooking the pitch. One of the questions was ‘Can you name your all-time Liverpool XI?’ Three weeks later I was on a plane to PSV with the team. I think it was my inclusion of Rob Jones at right-back that did it, and I’m still pinching myself seven years later.
You’re now the editor of the site. Is it true that it’s the Premier League’s most visited club website? Have you any idea of how the other club’s sites are doing in comparison?
Yes, that’s true. Manchester United averaged just over 60 million page views a month in their last annual report – we were 64 million at that time. We’ve broken 100 million several times and over the last few months it’s been about 80 million. Some clubs keep their stats in-house but I know they’re all quite a bit down on ourselves and United.
Why do you think it’s doing so well? What’s the secret behind the success?
You don’t get those hits without a massive fanbase – that’s the most important thing. But we have five good journalists who put a lot into the job, who work all hours to try and make the website look good. Three or four of the web team were season ticket holders when they got the job so you couldn’t get more dedicated people working for the official site.
We’ve recently seen the launch of the new Talking Reds feature where a selection of fans get to contribute articles to the official website. Are you planning any other new sections you can tell us about? Any exclusives, or even cryptic clues as to what might be in store?
That was my big project for the summer but we’re hoping there’ll be several new features for the season. Watch this space. We’ll also be doing something to mark what would have been Shankly’s 100th birthday, and you can expect plenty more international social media accounts from our head of international digital development, Paul Rogers. This tour – filling 95,000 and 80,000 stadiums thousands of miles from Anfield – has only highlighted to me the importance of engaging with the incredible number of really dedicated fans around the world.
You’ve stated before that 31st January 2011 remains the site’s busiest day, with fans swarming in to read up on the arrival of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. What other days score big on the charts?
Yes, more than nine million page views on the day. Our second highest day was the day after! Carroll and Suarez in and Torres out will be hard to beat but we’ll keep trying. Our third highest day was Meireles out, Bellamy in – deadline day in August 2011. Next after that is the first day of pre-season when Roy Hodgson had taken over – it was a newsy time with Joe Cole arriving, ownership issues etc.
It seems there’s an ever-expanding array of Liverpool based websites, writers, podcasts and social media accounts. What are your thoughts on this pulsating community? Does the mass of fan content force the official vendors to up their game?
My thoughts are that it’s more evidence that we’ve got the biggest and most passionate set of ‘hardcore’ fans in the world. Other clubs don’t have that kind of online community from what I know. And yes, of course we have to up our game. All the great sites and writers out there was the catalyst for Talking Reds – we wanted to bring some of the best fan writers on board. Some of the graphic designers doing Liverpool images are incredible and have definitely had an impact on how we approach social media. The club has also brought independent fan sites and bloggers into Melwood in the last year or two – an illustration of their stature in our eyes.
You have more than 40k followers on Twitter (@JimmyRiceWriter). What’s it like having so many fans following your personal account? Is it a nice platform to have, or does such attention bring difficulties with it?
No issues. Everyone seems to be nice. I fully appreciate I’d have between 12 and 17 followers if I didn’t work for Liverpool.
Has working for Liverpool changed the way you watch football? I studied filmmaking and now I find that I can’t help dissecting things as I watch them. When the action is unfolding are you already thinking of what articles will need to be written, or what questions you’ll have to put to the players in the post-match interviews?
Yes, I never get to watch second halves because we’re too busy writing the report, doing Twitter updates, text and audio commentary on the site, Facebook updates, live photos, SMS alerts. I could go on… It’s the best part of the job though. It’s become a cliché to say it, but sitting in the press box listening to You’ll Never Walk Alone and knowing that you’re a part of it – even in a small way – still causes the hairs on my neck to stand up after almost seven years.
Does your job change at all with each manager, or do the website and TV sections of the club keep working the same regardless of who’s in charge?
There isn’t an interesting answer to this, I’m afraid. Genuinely though, Brendan Rodgers has been a pleasure from day one. He’d been at Anfield for his opening press conference and had done loads of interviews afterwards. He was on his way out when he spotted a group of tourists being shown around Anfield down the other end of the main stand. He stopped, turned around and walked over to them, introducing himself and chatting. That’s very much been the tone since – he recognises every member of staff as making a contribution and you can’t ask for more than that.
Similarly, does the success of the team have an affect on your work? Is it great whilst the wins are pouring in, but tougher to pull things together if the team is struggling?
Almost all of us are lifelong Liverpool fans, so obviously the office is quieter after a defeat, but there’s a TV channel and website to fill. You have to get on with it. One thing we’re going to do this year is man of the match votes on Twitter – tweeting the name of four players and whoever gets the most retweets wins. Obviously people aren’t in the mood for that after a defeat but what do you do – only have a man of the match after a win? It’s tough.
Is it true that you have a clause in your contract detailing some kind of wacky scenario that would see you take the field for the first team? If not, there should be. In any case, which squad number would you take if you had free choice, and what position would you play?
Number nine. I’m more Diouf than Torres though. I remember Carra said in his autobiography that he used to worry when he came off the pitch that everyone hated him because he’d shout at everyone. That struck a chord, as I tend to gob off a bit. I’m not quite bring-shin-pads-to-a-kickabout-in-the-park competitive, but I’m not far off.
I know in your wider journalistic career you’re particularly proud of your interview with a former Prisoner of War while at The Spenborough Guardian. In pure Liverpool terms, however, what would you say are your most treasured moments? Could you name a top three?
Rafa demonstrating judo on me was funny. He was a brown belt but gave up because his arms were too thin. Interviewing Thierry Henry was one of those surreal moments where you wonder afterwards if it really happened. He was at Barcelona and it was only over the phone – it was an interview about Steven Gerrard to celebrate his 10 years in the first team. I kept saying ‘I won’t keep you long’ because it was only supposed to be five minutes but he didn’t mind – we were on the phone about 25 minutes. My third moment would be last week in Indonesia – seeing 80,000 people in a stadium, most in Liverpool shirts, going absolutely crazy, JFT96 banners, Anne Williams banners, the entire Anfield songbook worked though. All this 7,000 miles from Anfield. Still famous!
What does the future hold for Jimmy Rice? I know that you’re co-writing a novel with Laura Tait. How’s that coming along?
After three years of writing it’s finally finished. We’re in the process of signing a two-book deal with TransWorld (part of Penguin) and the first book should be out next summer, provisionally titled The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me. Me and Laura take it in turns to write chapters and it’s a male/female perspective on the same story. Two friends (he wanted more) who had all these dreams that never came true. They lose touch and we pick up the story later in their lives when they come back in to each other’s lives. Please buy it.
Finally, the real crux of the interview: can we please have an update on the mental wellbeing of your cat? Has Dr Steve Peters been called in?
Mildred? Don’t talk to me about Mildred. She is in the bad books.
Thank you to Jimmy for taking the time to answer our questions. Much appreciated.