The real-life tales of a football writer
Never trust Wikipedia.
Any journalist who relies only on the online encyclopaedia should be accused of dereliction of duty.
Several reporters have been caught out, including one at the Daily Mirror who, when researching a line about Manchester City’s opponents Omonia Nicosia, swallowed the story that their fans are known as ‘The Zany Ones’ and “wear hats made from shoes.”
I used Wikipedia last week. With 17 players to interview in five days, I needed to, but thankfully I also looked up several other sources - because it could have been very embarrassing had I relied solely on it.
Take Shunsuke Nakamura. When I looked last week, it said that he played for Middlesbrough – who were interested in him – when he plays with Espanyol.
That he was a regular drinker in a pub called Bongo Club International in Middlesbrough town centre and that he was a mad baseball fan. There were other dubious ones.
I didn’t want to waste minutes with Nakamura. We were already using a translator and he's renowned for taking time to think about answers.
One journalist asked him what his favourite drink was last year. Nakamura thought hard and then gave a 70 second answer in Japanese. The translator rendered it as one word: Fanta.
I did mention baseball and he went on for a minute or so, which was translated back as: “I don’t like baseball.”
Not the best interview I’ve ever done, but nearly all the others were good.
Kaka was spot on, as was David Villa. He’s my little brother Sam’s idol so I was tempted to ask for Villa’s autograph for Sam, but no, it’s not the done thing.
(By the way, for those watching his career: young Sam has been fast-tracked into Stockport County’s youth team, two years above his age group. He played his first game for them on Saturday against Oldham Athletic, coming on for eight minutes and scoring. His name was written in a match report for the first time in his life).
A big surprise was Karim Benzema, who was enthusiastic and flicked through a full issue of FourFourTwo, even though he doesn’t speak English.
Shame his France team-mate Yoann Gourcuff wasn’t. Life must be such a chore when you're compared to Zidane, were voted the best player in France and are a good-looking lad to boot.
One of the funniest was Maynor Figueroa, the Honduran defender at Wigan. He speaks no English but likes pies.
I told him that my Uncle Dave was kit man – fair enough, given that he sees him every day.
“You know Dave? Really?” he asked, all excited. “Of course I do, he’s my dad’s brother and my godfather.” After that, he was brilliant.
“Dave won’t believe me, so write him a note and I’ll give it to him in training tomorrow,” he said. I did and he did.
Dave puts his heart and soul into that job so it’s good to see the players appreciate him.
On a totally different note, West Ham signed Benni McCarthy last week.
It nearly happened in November 2005. I know because I passed through London after watching United lose in Paris against Lille.
It was probably the worst United performance of the noughties so I was in a foul, if mischievous, mood.
A mate who advises footballers was in London meeting West Ham’s chief executive, who wanted to sign Benni.
He invited me for a drink and when I met him in the hotel I heard him on the phone to a "Scott at West Ham" who was about to arrive.
Scott Duxbury was the club secretary. He also went to my school and was a year above me, a bright and popular lad whose parents owned a discount store in Urmston.
He went into law and then to work for West Ham, first as club secretary before rising to Chief Executive, which he only left last week after the change in management at West Ham.
Anyway, I’d not seen Scott for years but when I heard my mate on the phone, I quickly sussed the situation.
I briefed my friend, disappeared to let them talk transfers and when West Ham arrived, the conversation went something like this.
Scott: “How has your day been?”
Friend: “Terrible. I’ve been in Manchester seeing lots of clubs in the North West. I caught the wrong train this morning and instead of coming to London, ended up some place called Urmst..."
An aghast Scott interrupted: “Urmston?! I’m from Manchester. From Urmston!”
Friend: “So I was stuck and walked into this shop to buy a map. But it was such a sh*t shop that it only sold discount products. Kingspot.”
Scott: “I can’t believe this, that’s my parents’ shop!”
Then their meeting began. An hour later I walked in, Beadle-style but with all my fingers intact.
Duxbury looked up, saw me and figured it all out. He was kind enough to call me a cult.
West Ham didn’t buy Benni, who went to Blackburn instead, where he scored 24 goals in his first season.
I wish him well at West Ham, and Scott well away from West Ham.
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Never trust the Daily Mirror. I read an article once about the Manchester United v AC Milan Champions League tie in 2009. The one where United were playing Inter.
I sometimes wonder how people get these jobs.
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