The real-life tales of a football writer
Aside from the hulking Table Mountain, Cape Town’s 75,000 capacity World Cup stadium is the most dominant sight as you approach the city by sea.
Cranes tower over the structure, a larger version of Arsenal’s Emirates. I’m sure it will become an iconic television image during next year’s World Cup, much like the high-board diver against the backdrop of Barcelona was in the 1992 Olympics.
As we left the ship, I said goodbye to people I’d met: the world traveller from Hyde near Manchester who has visited 189 countries and was leaving for a bus to Lesotho.
The friendly bat expert from near Cheltenham who had set up bat detection equipment in Antarctica - and found none.
"Look boss, I've found some..."
The retired gentleman of army background who kept using military metaphors – “Support coming on the right flank, opposition limited” – to do such mundane things as get a cup of tea.
He probably went to the ships’ museum in Cape Town, which, aside from anything else, showed what a glorious ship building industry Great Britain once had. Glasgow, Belfast, Birkenhead, Newcastle, West Hartlepool, Sunderland, Barrow - British shipyards built the finest vessels in the world until the 1950s.
Or maybe he went to Robben Island, two miles off the shark-infested coast, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years until 1990. They used to play football on the island and had a prisoner league. A book by an American writer has just been published on the subject.
Once ashore, a two kilogram package was waiting for me packed with the latest magazines including FourFourTwo and United We Stand, sent over by my 14-year-old brother, who is doing well at Stockport County where he’s the top scorer.
Packages of small mercies that are vital when you are away, even in the internet age. Aided by a trusted team, I’m still editing UWS and reading everything online, but it’s great to get a physical copy in your hands, to touch and smell the shiny paper and see the finished pages.
Then I had two days of catching up. The administration and hosting for many of Britain’s biggest football websites is done in South Africa, where labour is cheaper than the UK, so there were people to meet and emails to read.
One was from Andrew Dickman, a boss at Channel M whom I went to Tokyo with. The United players like him and always stop for him in mixed zones. Dickman’s not ashamed to admit that he’s got a 5,000 strong football programme collection in his parents’ garage – all neatly numbered and filed.
In fact he’s got the exact number written on a piece of card which he keeps in his wallet to show any females he may be looking to impress. At least the type turned on by a Connah’s Quay Nomads vs Bangor City programme.
Dickman interviewed Sir Alex Ferguson many times when he worked for MUTV. Once, he could see a bee buzzing around Ferguson’s head. The manager had not realised it so Dickman was unsure what to do.
What do you do? Say: “We’ve got to stop as there’s a bee making a beeline for your ear, Sir Alex?”
"Get that thing away from me..."
The manager eventually spotted it and saw the funny side. Another time, he pretended not to see the egg yolk on Dickman’s trousers after a pre-interview egg and bacon butty bought in a mobile van by Carrington spurted in his lap.
And it was a decent touch of the United manager to call him in his office when he left MUTV for a chat and to wish him well.
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