The real-life tales of a football writer
You never know what this job is going to throw up.
I have regular columns, magazines and books to write, but the news can change in a minute and a previously well planned day can be thrown in chaos.
I’ve never been busier than when David Beckham moved from Manchester United to Spain in 2003. I’m from Manchester and support United, but I also write about Spanish football. He was linked with Barcelona – where I spend most of my time – and then Madrid.
I later found out that Beckham had not even bothered to return the call to Barca. Unsure of how to get to him, the then presidential hopeful Joan Laporta even asked Jordi Cruyff to call his former team mate.
Laporta stood down this summer and history will remember him as Barça’s most successful ever president, while Beckham was stood down from England duty recently by Fabio Capello. The BBC called. Was I available for hire to their local stations for 16 x eight minutes interviews that afternoon? Why not?
So I sat in a studio in Barcelona as BBC stations from Humberside to Jersey called in. They had eight minutes each to ask me whatever they liked, well, about Beckham, as opposed to nuclear power plants in Iran. After a dozen interviews of similar questions, my throat began to go. You try talking continuously for two hours. And my mind also began to go. I’m sure the farmers listening in Suffolk heard a completely different opinion to those in Birmingham. One presenter introduced me as ‘Andy Hill’. Getting my name wrong was one thing, calling me a former City player another.
In Jersey, I followed ‘news’ of a traffic light playing up on the Esplanade. In Hull, I followed a Van Halen song. Don’t you love local radio?
The studio was in district 22 – a gentrified area of Barcelona which the city council promote as a media zone. I was back three days later to do interviews for FourFourTwo with Andres Iniesta and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Iniesta is polite and straight down the middle, Ibrahimovic is outspoken, opinionated, self-assured and fantastic. He does not want to leave Barcelona – though he may not have a choice.
Iniesta used to study with my friend, Arnau Riera. Iniesta was a first teamer at Barca and he went to college three afternoons a week, Arnau the captain of the B team.
Football can be a snide industry populated by frauds, phonies and thickos, so I like it when I hear stories which go against the grain. Arnau moved to Sunderland in 2006 and then Falkirk a year later. When Barca drew Celtic, Iniesta called Arnau and asked him if he wanted to come and meet him at Celtic Park. A little touch, but one which shows he does not forget.
Arnau did his cruciate last season. He has to start again and it has been a lonely road to recovery at home in Mallorca. There were times when we spoke about anything but football – his job which has given him so many highs and lows. Sometimes he just didn’t want to go there. His parents were worried and I know he considered knocking football on the head – four years after being Leo Messi’s captain for Barca B.
He had his operation, it went well and he’s knuckled down, going to the gym as often as doctors allow and for long runs on Mallorcan beaches. Granted, there are worse places to train.
He’s in the final stage of recovery but needs match practice and would like to play again in Britain. There are so many forgotten men in football, so fair play to three people for keeping in touch. Niall Quinn at Sunderland has invited Arnau back to train with the reserves to finalise his recuperation. He didn’t need to do that. Quinn signed him during his brief spell as manager in 2006. And Julio Arca, then at Sunderland and now with Middlesbrough, has invited Arnau to stay at his place.
Both Spanish speakers, they were close mates in the north east. I once went out with the pair and was staggered by how popular Arca was in Sunderland – despite moving to Middlesbrough. And to his agent Craig, who rather than forget about someone no longer making him money as some agents would do, encouraged him time and time again. Despite all the dirt which justifiably sticks to football, it is full of good people.
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