The real-life tales of a football writer
Did you see the Eric Cantona quotes in the media earlier this week?
The ones where he told The Sun about how he feared for Manchester United’s future once Sir Alex Ferguson left the club? After being printed, the quotes were picked up by websites around the world. The BBC quoted The Sun, as did Manchester United’s official website.
Except Eric Cantona didn’t speak to The Sun. The interview he gave was to me, for FourFourTwo. The very interview that I’ve written about in past blogs.
I saw Neil Custis, the Sun journalist who wrote the story in Aalborg on Tuesday and asked him why his newspaper had not credited FourFourTwo. He said that he had in the piece that he had sent to his office, but a sub editor must have removed any reference to FourFourTwo. Ah, that old chestnut. I think they were taking the piss and told him so.
"I don't remember talking to The Sun..."
As I left Aalborg’s tiny Subbuteo stadium, my phone rang. It was M'bazo; aka ‘the Axe’ - Aaron Mokoena to his employees at Ewood Park.
He may play for Blackburn and be the captain of South Africa, but he’s a United fan who idolised Roy Keane when he was growing up in Boipatong, one of the roughest townships near Johannesburg. The pair met on the field and clattered each other when 'the Axe 'arrived in England in 2005.
He said he was concerned about me.
“Why?” I asked, waving goodbye to AaB’s cheery staff as I snaffled some left-over Champions League sandwiches.
“This girl you are seeing. I hear it’s all a bit serious already.”
"What's this I hear about you settling down, Mitten?"
“Aaron,” I replied. “If you’re going to try and wind me up, at least
tell my brother who has clearly put you up to it not to giggle in the
“It’s nothing to do with him,” he continued. “I’m just worried.”
Not half as worried as Jose Mourinho was after 'the Axe' cut Arjen Robben to size with an admittedly shocking tackle a few years ago. He always got on fine with Robben, whom he’s played against when he was at Ajax, and apologised.
But I could hardly blame him for trying it on. When he’d just arrived in England I told him that Blackburn’s most loyal fans were called ‘The Burnley Clarets’ and that he should make a reference to them next time he spoke to the press, saying how much he appreciated their support.
He and my brother did manage one successful blag on Tuesday – as revenge for Aaron’s business advisor ringing my brother Jonathan two years ago.
“Hi Jonathan,” he said. “Hertha Berlin have been watching you closely. They have had to cut their budgets right back and buy cheaper players, but they are looking for a big centre-forward like you. Would you be interested in playing in Germany and helping them push for a Champions League place?”
Mitten (L): "Hertha Berlin? Yeah... good one"
My brother was playing in the North West Counties League at the time, but believed the caller. Because he wanted to believe the caller. He even discussed the move with his girlfriend and they agreed that they would try and learn German and that he’d give up being a plumber. He was so devastated when he found out it was a blag that I actually felt guilty.
While the professional game may have passed him by, things are looking good for our youngest brother, who turned 14 on Sunday. Three games into playing for Stockport Country and, in the words of his coach, “playing with category A rather than category C players for the first time,” he’s the top scorer in his age group.
There’s a long, long way to go, but he’s giving himself a chance…
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