The real-life tales of a football writer
I arrived at Paddy Crerand’s house one morning when I was ghosting his autobiography to be met by a sight I’d rather forget.
“Well?” he asked, as he opened the door and pointed to his feet. “What do you think?”
Paddy, who is no longer 21, was wearing a lurid pair of Crocs - with socks underneath the hideous plastic ‘shoes’.
“They’re all the rage in Europe,” he proudly stated. “They were bought in Mallorca. All the fashionable people wear them. And you should know that living abroad.”
I shook my head and we sat down to talk. I spent a lot of time with Crerand in Tokyo in December. And there was no shortage of amusement.
When a Japanese journalist asked Sir Alex Ferguson how his players would contain the mercurial talents of Gamba Osaka’s Endo, Crerand shouted out: “F**king kick him.”
Endo: If in doubt... kick him
Crerand wasn’t allowed on a rollercoaster outside our hotel because the age limit was 64. Another time, in the bowels of the Yokohama Stadium, he shouted to me:
“Andy, don’t you be going!” as I made my way up to work.
“Because I’m by myself.”
This was a man who, along with Nobby Stiles, kicked seven bells out of midfields from Belgrade to Bolton. And he didn’t want to be left alone.
Another time, while waiting in the mixed zone, Crerand saw Cristiano Ronaldo. The pair get on well. “Cristiano,” shouted Crerand and the winger looked up.
“Real Madrid TV.” Ronaldo laughed.
"Tell us another one Paddy"
On a different occasion, Crerand was having a spot of bother over his accreditation with the officious Japanese officials. I slipped him the required pass and nodded to the officials, who let Crerand through. His reaction?
“You never told me you could speak Japanese!”
And at yet another time, I was interviewing the journalist Martin Samuel. The conversation was deep, when Crerand saw us and came over.
“Don’t worry, I won’t interrupt,” he said as he sat with us. “But I should say that the ginger ale is lovely over here.” Then he took over the interview!
Want another Crerand quote? “The food is lovely here in Japan. I’ve had the same thing every night.”
“Chicken.”I’ll save some more for another blog. But back to the Crocs.
I’ve never ever wanted a pair. They are uglier than Ronaldo’s boots. But on Sunday afternoon, for the first time in my life, I would have replaced my Adidas shell toes with Crocs. That’s how baking the heat was in Buenos Aires.
I’d paid £12 to watch River Plate’s first league game of the season. Their 65,000 capacity Monumental home, which staged the 1978 World Cup final, has no cover.
River Plate's melting Monumental
The sun was burning everyone and as I’d got into the ground an hour early I was starting to struggle as I had no sun cream. The rubber on my trainers felt like it was melting into my feet. Oh for the air conditioning of Crocs.
I sort of rolled my T-shirt up, to which a man shouted: “Take it off, you’ve not got breasts.” I smiled but didn’t speak. I wasn’t keen being outed as an Englishman by the River hardcore. Often, when I go to derby games, I go with a local. Here I was alone.
Some mates watched Boca a few years ago and found it very unnerving and threatening, though they did stand with the loons behind the goal. The atmosphere was incredible, they said, but they were often asked for the time by locals keen to suss out where they were from (they lied and claimed to be Irish) and what watches they were wearing (they’d left them at the hotel).
River Plate, as you’ll know if you read Daniel Neilson’s excellent blogs, are not having the best time of it. But they were the only big team at home in Buenos Aires so I went to see them play.
Before heading to Monumental, I visited La Bombonera (the chocolate box), the 50,000 capacity home of Boca Juniors. The area around the ground makes a trip to The New Den seem like a stroll through Euro Disney.
Boca street art near La Bombonera
In contrast, River play in one of Buenos Aires’ more affluent neighbourhoods and, sunburn aside, watching them was a brilliant experience, apart from one thing.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled watching United, but the football wasn’t anywhere near as good as I had expected.
What made the day so special, once again in South America, was the atmosphere. As in Brazil, it’s far superior to England and Spain. The singing is non stop and brilliantly orchestrated by the fans. There are hundreds of colourful banners. The drums and various other musical instruments only add to the experience.
The crowd was 40,000, and I estimate that 25,000 sang. One area in the middle of the terrace was kept empty. Then, five minutes into the game, a few hundred lads walked into the empty space. They were the main boys. With them in place, the terrace was full and exploded into more beautiful, melodic, anthems.
The 1,500 visiting Colon fans were on top form too, especially when they came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with 10 men.
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Great blog, Paddy Crerand's an absolute legend!
Another Great post.
there we go, a good interesting read, i knew you could do it.
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