The real-life tales of a football writer
If you don’t ask then you don’t get…
Manchester United officials are not adverse to criticism, so fair play to chief executive David Gill for issuing 14 free tickets to the loyal Reds who carried on from South Africa to support the team at the friendly against Portsmouth in Nigeria a week ago.
I returned from Africa and spent the week writing a piece on the Old Firm, preparing the first United We Stand of the season and dealing with calls from Spanish journalists.
On Friday, I received one from a Marca scribe. He was in Manchester and wondered why United were not being overly helpful with his requests to attend press conferences.
"We'll have none of those sods from Marca attending, ok..."
Ignoring the piece he’d written hammering my city of birth, I told him to expect no favours as Marca is seen as Real Madrid’s puppet publication, a protagonist in the tiresome Cristiano Ronaldo transfer speculation.
I advised him that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Friday conference as the Scot would humiliate him. As he should.
A few hours before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s testimonial on Saturday, the Marca writer got another journalist to text me to ask me to help translate the anti-Ronaldo songs.
I replied: “Tell him to f*ck off back to Madrid and speculate about who their next five managers and presidents will be. There will be no anti-Ronaldo songs. Seriously.”
I received the following: “Understood.” And there were no anti-Ronaldo songs.
I’ve got a new book out today about world football rivalries – Mad For It - which is advertised on this site and has been number two on Amazon’s football best seller chart for much of the last week. There will be no book launch and no signings are planned, which doesn’t concern me too much after the humiliation of my first book in 2001.
I wrote the ‘Rough Guide to Manchester United’ with Jim White, now of the Daily Telegraph. The largest book shop in Manchester’s Trafford Centre asked us to do a book signing, saying: “It will be a huge success, Daniel O’Donnell was here last week and hundreds of people came along.”
The publishers were delighted but as Jim was on holiday I had to go it alone. Bored at the prospect of spending four hours alone with people staring at me, I asked my mate Grant to come along.
The reasons were several-fold.
One, he was/is hard and would offer protection against any freaks – like the man who wanted to talk to us about United’s likely formation for the coming season. For an hour.
Two, he was/is good looking and would attract any female buyers. Three, he was/is a close mate. Four, he was skint and made good use of Penguin’s money and five, he was/is one of the biggest United fans about. We’d travelled around the world watching the team together, but considering that he wasn’t an odd ball, his United obsession often became worrying.
Like the time he bought figurines of all the United players – and turned them around to face the wall for a week as punishment for United losing their European home record to Fenerbahce in 1996.
We sold about 40 signed books. I reckon I knew 30 of the buyers. And that 20 of them were my mum’s mates. Shoppers would walk past, stare and say: “Who are they?” Grant would stare back.
With the four hours up, we walked away… then I saw David and Victoria Beckham walking through Selfridges nearby. He would have been useful drumming up interest half an hour earlier.
I did another book signing in 2006 at the same shop. With Frank Stapleton alongside me, 95 people bought the book in an hour. Which is 85 more than turned up for a Abi Titmuss book signing in Manchester on Friday.
I ghosted Paddy Crerand’s autobiography last year and a big Manchester store asked him to do a book signing. Paddy wasn’t up for it and asked me to go with him.
Bestseller: Paddy Crerand
“It’s you they are coming to see Pat,” I replied. “And anyway I’m away.”
He sounded uneasy but went along. Afterwards, I called him.
“Aye it was alright,” he said, but no more, so I asked to speak to his wife, the former 1958 Gorbals beauty queen Noreen.
“He sold 342 and was well chuffed that so many people came to see him,” she said. “There were queues of people. You should have seen it. I was so proud of him.”
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