The real-life tales of a football writer
It happens three or four times a year.
A major story involving Manchester United which ensures that my phone rings continuously day and night. If there’s a Spanish angle then it’s even busier.
Last Thursday was one such day.
I had a demanding but manageable two days ahead, in which I’d booked to fly to Manchester to see various people. I was happy because we’d put the final United We Stand of the season to bed and the post European Cup final furore had finally died down.
Meetings ahead included one with a publisher from Rough Guides in London as I’ll edit the next edition of The Rough Guide to Cult Football. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into that in August and intend to assemble a team of quality contributors.
Anyway, I left home at 10:00, took a metro and then the airport train at 10:30.
At that precise moment, United’s website published a story that the club had accepted an offer of £80 million from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Five Live called at 10:32, always right on top of the news and straight to the point. They put me live through to Nicky Campbell in the studio, which would have been fine if the train wasn’t entering a large tunnel near Camp Nou.
The reception was lost, but they called straight back and went to air.
"Hello? Andy? Can you hear me? Sh*t"
Sky called, from the UK and Sydney. I then switched off my Spanish phone as it started to buzz continuously from Spanish radio stations. There wouldn’t be enough time for all.
At check-in, surrounded by people arguing about luggage excess, the BBC World Service called. A patronising posh lady seem surprised that I wasn’t devastated.
“But you are a Man U fan?” she queried after a while. Like many media organisations, she appeared to think that all “footie” fans wore jester hats and had nothing else in their lives.
If they wanted a clown, they would have found plenty outside Old Trafford. In the space of 15 minutes there were calls from The Times, The Independent, and The National in Abu Dhabi.
I gave priority to the latter pair as I work for both frequently. One wanted a 650-word news piece and a 400-word reaction, the Indy wanted 850 words… for Sunday. Phew.
BBC News 24 were next. Could they go on air in 15? They could, but I explained that I was at an airport and that final boarding was in 25 minutes.
After three missed calls and mates texting (sample: “A cheeky bid for Torres now?” Reply: “I doubt it.”) I went through the departure gate and waited in an air bridge as the aircraft boarded.
The pilot signalled to me to get on the plane from his cockpit. I knew one of the air stewardesses and explained the situation. She told me not to worry and said she would signal me when it was time to close the doors.
"Oi... are you getting on or what?"
As I listened to News 24’s studio through my phone, they said they’d be with me in one minute. Four minutes late they were still saying “one minute.”
“I’m getting on the plane now,” I replied, “We agreed 11:02 – it’s now 11:09. I have to go. Sorry.” I was put straight through, did the interview and boarded, where I put my laptop out and wrote until we landed in Manchester.
I emailed the pieces at the other end, then switched my phone on and saw there were 17 new messages. I turned it off and went to have a brew with my mum. Priorities and that.
I’d done enough for one day, well, except for an interview with Newstalk in Dublin later that night, delivered from a Holt’s pub in Manchester, where I’d gone with a mate who’d had a similar day.
We’d both spoken to lots of match-going Mancunian United fans throughout the day, yet we ended up sat in front of a group of tools with yonner accents and garish shirts talking about Ronaldo, while proclaiming loudly that there’s no “Man U scum fans from Manchester.”
We’d both talked enough to argue back.
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