The real-life tales of a football writer
I left you with an amiable old drunk on a train between Crosby and Liverpool Central last week. The drunk who wanted my undivided attention but didn’t get it.
The three-toothed hero clutching a rucksack who said that there were “hundreds of better players than Rooney in Croxteth” who kept saying: “he’s the best one for you lot. Him. That one. Been there a long time. Him. Not Rooney.”
“Who?” I finally relented. “Him. You know. That one.”“Scholes?” I asked. “No.”“Giggs?”“That’s the best one! Giggs. The best thing about him. You know what the best thing about him is?”“Go on.”“He’s not a sh*t bag.”
The mother with kids opposite winced when she heard that, but there you go, Ryan - a drunken Scouser reckons you are the best player in Britain on account of you not being a “sh*t bag.”
Giggsy - not a sh*tbag
I was distracted, and not just because of I was thinking about Sir Matt’s Busby old house in Crosby, to which Peter Hooton had taken me.
Few know where it is, so fair play to a Liverpool fan for showing me. And he only knew because he’d studied an old Liverpool contract where Busby’s address was listed on Rosebery Avenue around the corner from Marine’s ground.
The house was a pleasant 1930s three bed semi, the type top footballers lived in until the 1960s.
No, I was distracted because the train passed The Strand shopping centre in Bootle. A place intrinsically linked with the death of James Bulger. A place I’d heard and seen through media a thousand times.
Despite the over-saturation from an all enveloping media, something still hits you when you see a place with your own eyes.
I had another flashback recently when I was asked to interview a World Cup footballer who was born in the former Bosnian enclave of Bihac.
I didn’t mention it to him because it wasn’t relevant, but in the summer of 1995 I went travelling and ended up on United’s pre-season tour of Malaysia. Not for the first time, United went in with some dodgy promoters and the tour was in doubt and rescheduled at the last moment – no use to me as I was already there.
This was before the internet and mobile phones working abroad so I listened to the BBC World Service every day for news. And the news was full of the war around the Bosnian enclave.
I was in a £4 a day beach hut with a mate. It was paradise, but every time I put the radio on there was news was of death, shelling and fighting in a far off land.
My mate, understandably, threatened to throw my beloved radio away if he heard any more.
I was reminded again of this on Tuesday when I went for a brew with Andy Kilner, the former footballer and Stockport Country manager. He was great company and full of daft tales.
Kilner - another mate of Mitten
Like when he went into Stockport and saw that a penny pinching employee had used the clubs franking machine to stamp all his Christmas cards. One was addressed to a former famous footballer who had recently fallen on hard times.
Kilner opened the envelope and put a fiver in, and scribbled the message: ‘I hope this helps you out.’ When the footballer received a Christmas card with a fiver from someone who is notoriously tight, he called him at 8am to offer his gratitude, getting him out of bed. The card sender didn’t have a clue what he was on about.
While at Stockport, Kilner gave a break to Shefki Kuqi, a Kosovar Albanian whose parents had fled to Finland before the war.
Some of the stories of what he had suffered at the hands of the Serbs were horrific.
Maybe I should write a piece about footballers displaced by the Balkan Wars. The Bayern Munich game at Old Trafford was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever seen. I had a bad feeling before it - and not just because of what happened before the game.
As I walked to the ground, a police officer called me over. He was friendly, a United fan and wanted to talk about my last book. Fine. Twenty minutes later, when I started selling UWS, another police officer came over who was anything but friendly.
“Where’s your pass?” he said.“We don’t need a pass. We’re registered at the post office as a newspaper. We are entitled to sell here, just as we have done for 21 years. Speak to your match day commander to confirm that.” “What name is it?” he continued.“What’s my name?”“No, what name is it?”“United We Stand.”
He then walked off and radioed – where what I told him was confirmed. He didn’t come back to confirm that I was right. That would have been too much, as it would have been to be polite.
Most of the police are fine with us and always have been. On one level, they accept the role of fanzines and know that commissions from selling UWS also help young lads watch Manchester United. On another, they know that we’re legitimate and a tax paying concern and not the street rats this copper took us for.
Tax which is used to pay for, well, things like the police force. This jobsworth was doing his best to destroy any trust. pr*ck.
I feared for United against Bayern and texted a mate to tell him so. But with United 3-0 up, that began to subside. When Bayern scored though (through a Croat, Ivica Olic), I knew the inevitable would happen. And it did.
"Keep it down, I'm trying to concentrate..."
The night before, I’d watched Messi destroy Arsenal in a Manchester pub with a Dutch football writer. It was the first Barca Champions League home game I’d missed all season and I’ll be back for the Internazionale semi final, now that United no longer have any interest in the competition.
The Dutch journalist is friends with most of their leading players, highlighting the different types of relationships the media have with players on the continent. He gets invited to weddings and spent the game swapping texts with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Bosnian and Croat parents) – who opined that Messi was “good.”
That’s as much as an understatement as the Scouse drunk’s assessment that there are hundreds of players better than Rooney in Croxteth is an over statement.
More Confessions of a Correspondent
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