The real-life tales of a football writer
The offer to be an embedded journalist with adidas for the day at the launch of their new F50 boot sounded interesting.
I’d be shadowing two footballers - Lionel Messi and David Villa - around the Formula One track near Barcelona. They wouldn’t be racing, but two F1 cars decked out in adidas colours would deliver the new boots that both will wear in South Africa – the theme being ‘fast’ because they’re so light.
I’d have to speak to pit girls and take pictures of the day’s events. They didn’t have to twist my arm. For once, I was going to do what cockneys term ‘large it’.
Two days after the Spanish grand prix had witnessed a crowd of 100,000, I was on the train to the near empty circuit with a €3.20 return ticket. The world’s media were invited, but I was on the other side of the fence.
A lost looking Chinese journalist from Beijing was waiting at the station near the track. He was going to the launch too.
“Where are you from?” he asked.“Manchester.”“Ah, industrial,” he said.“Not at all mate. Manchester’s got the best beaches in Western Europe after Stoke.”
How the other half live indeed...
We shared a taxi to the circuit two miles away. I was allowed in, he wasn’t. How the other half live, eh? I stuck by comrade journalist and got him in. The National Union of Journalists would have been proud, not that they have such unions in China.
“You’ve done well,” said Graham Hunter, who was there for Sky, dryly. Other journalists asked me if I could get them more time with Villa and Messi. I explained that I was supposed to be a fly on the wall and that stuff was nothing to do with me.
As the hack pack waited by the finish line on the racetrack, I was ushered into the garages by the pit lane to meet Messi and Villa. I tried to look as if I wasn’t enjoying it.
“Ah, FourFourTwo,” said one of Messi’s agents.“Not today,” I replied.“What about tomorrow?” he asked.“Actually, I’m not really a journalist,” I lied, “I’m just doing this to raise money. I’ve been offered a trial for a team in Argentina called Newell’s Old Boys. They want an ageing Englishman with a big nose to inject a bit of fight into their club. So I’ll use the money to buy a flight.”
“Seriously?” said Messi, suddenly interested. I had his attention and he was on good form answering questions.
Villa was next. The two get on, which is good news as they’ve since been confirmed as teammates for next season, although at the time any questions from journalists about his future were deadpanned out of respect to his contract with Valencia.
He had a copy of FourFourTwo and was trying to name all the players on the cover. He got them all. I had a list of questions for him, but changed one word in one question to confuse him.
“Why is Cantabria renown as being the best region in the world?” I asked. Villa is proud to be from Asturias. Neighbouring Cantabria is definitely not Asturias in the same way that Manchester isn’t Liverpool.
He looked at my like I was mad before realising. If you’re a defender working out how to mark him and put him off his game, now you know a way into his mind.
I ask the pair to pose for a photo together. Pleasant, normal lads who just happen to be very, very good at association football. Then I told them what I’d do with it.
“I’m going to sell that picture to the Manchester newspaper with the headline, ‘United’s New Signings Spurn The Chance To Be City Mercenaries.”
“I dare you,” laughed one.
David and Lionel are already BFFs
Villa can’t speak English – and nor can Messi for that matter – but he had an English girl, Natalie, on hand, if he wanted to be converse in The Queen’s.
I’d not seen Natalie for five years. She used to work at Levante in Valencia and fixed me an interview with Levante legend Antonio Calpe when FourFourTwo did the More Than A Game derby feature on Valencia v Levante.
Calpe remains one of the best people I’ve ever interviewed. He was a big star at Levante in the 60s and played at Real Madrid for six years. He remained popular in Levante circles – probably their best ever player - but had never been interviewed by a foreign journalist when I asked him.
So he put a suit on and his wife baked some cakes to give to me. He was lovely man. I could have listened to him all day, though I’m sure Natalie had better things to do. His love of Levante was brilliant, and the way he slated Valencia, hilarious.
“Listen, Englishman,” he said with a cheeky smirk. “Valencia are thieves. They should not exist. You shouldn’t even be speaking to people from there for your article. You don’t know what you’ll catch. Levante is the team of Valencia, the pride of the city. Forza Levante!”
Villa might have similar thoughts about Cantabria, but it’ll be another 25 years before he can tell me, and not on adidas’s time.
Confessions of a Correspondent
is this an aticle
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