The real-life tales of a football writer
One word can explain the madness of my job last week. Rooney. Although maybe ‘greed’ would be more appropriate.
When there’s a big United story, my phone doesn’t stop, especially if I’m in Manchester. I was fed some decent, accurate, information about the Rooney story. And some that was slightly misleading – which happens when two parties are briefing against each other. One of the most revealing was perhaps the most innocent – it came from someone who had bumped into Sir Alex Ferguson on Thursday afternoon at Old Trafford. He was whistling and singing away, seemingly without a care in the world. What was he so happy about?
Being in Barcelona meant I missed out on a morning spot on BBC Breakfast, hosted by the lovely Susanna Reid. And Channel 4 news, with the intensely brilliant Jon Snow. I once saw him getting ready to mount his bicycle in Soho, when he was approached by an even more intense fan/stalker/fundamentalist. Snow was polite, but quickly realised that he was talking to a fruit cake and peddled off.
The Rooney story brought fresh demands for work. I spent close on 12 hours on one 1,500 word piece looking at the future of Man Utd without Rooney and was about to press ‘send’…when it was announced that he was staying.
And a column I did for the Manchester Evening News was spiked in favour of two new ones on Rooney. That was a shame, because I enjoyed writing about Barrow and their 42-year-old player manager Darren Sheridan. In fact, I’ll put the piece at the end of this blog so it actually gets seen.
Stretford and Rooney discuss money, probably...
But the column I do with Andrew Cole for The National in Abu Dhabi each week was perfectly suited to the story. Paul Stretford used to be Cole’s agent. Most of the British papers picked up on the story and I got an email from the sports editor two days later saying that it had more hits on the paper’s website than any story in the history of the paper.
Cole was on holiday in Jamaica and said his phone hadn’t stopped either. He was also very, very happy because his son Devante had been called up to England’s U16s. Cole described him a week earlier as “a racehorse without a saddle, a wild stallion. When he puts it together everyone says ‘Wow!’, when he doesn’t it’s clear that he’s still growing.”
Sadly, a podcast with the on-form journalist Paddy Barclay recorded on Thursday afternoon was dated by Friday morning, which is when I got a call from Old Trafford. It was about my Twitter account.
The caller went onto explain that I was on Twitter with 500 followers. Call me a technophobe, but I’d never been on Twitter and didn’t have an account. A few friends and fellow journalists have been telling me to get on it, but I couldn’t see the point.
I contacted Twitter – who told me that I had to prove who I was. By fax. Who uses faxes now apart from football clubs? But I had to fax them my passport and they investigated, before banning the perpetrator. In the meantime I have joined and my address as @AndyMitten
And here’s the piece which was spiked because of Rooney…
Did you hear the one about the football team who train in Salford three times a week and attract crowds of 1,500?
Salford City can only dream of such crowds, but an isolated location means Blue Square Premier Side Barrow train in Greater Manchester.
The Cumbrians have just one Barrow-born player, the rest comprised of an unholy alliance of Mancunians and Scousers, with a smattering of Cumbrians.
Barrow, currently 22nd in non-league’s top division, will play FC United from two divisions below on Sunday at Gigg Lane in an FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round.
A first ever appearance in the FA Cup First round proper is the prize for FC, but they have to overcome a Barrow side who’s joint player manager is 42-year-old Stretford lad Darren Sheridan.
Sheridan’s career path was unorthodox, but the fact that he’s still playing makes up for a late start. His release aged only 18 after an apprenticeship at Leeds United - where older brother John was a star player – was hard to take.
“My world ended,” he says from his home in Urmston. “I gave up on football because I didn’t think I was good enough.”
Professional football’s loss was local football’s gain. Sheridan played for Flixton and Maine Road, Stretford’s Kendal Club and the Gorse Hill pub while finding work in warehouses or tarmacing.
Then Mike McKenzie, manager of legendary Moss Side Sunday team Astro, took him to high-flying Winsford United.
“Mike sorted me out, got my head together and got the best out of me at Winsford,” recalls Sheridan. “Then John Benson, the former City manager, spotted me. He was scouting for Barnsley and I had a successful trial there. I finally turned professional at 26.”
Sheridan in his Barnsley heyday
A six-year spell at Oakwell coincided with Barnsley’s implausible rise to the Premiership in 1997, where he featured in the shock FA Cup win over Manchester United and a league victory at Anfield.
“I’m a United fan who used to sneak into the Stretford End as a kid by waiting until the game started and the stewards went away,” explains Sheridan. “Then a mate would lift a bolt open and we’d squeeze in. So to walk out at Old Trafford as a player in a Premiership match was a dream. We lost 7-0, but got revenge in the FA Cup and we also beat Liverpool away.”
After Barnsley, stints at the Athletics of Wigan and Oldham followed. “Playing with my brother John at Oldham was another career highlight – he was a great player, our kid. I watched him everywhere when I wasn’t playing including the 1994 World Cup for Ireland.”
Then Sheridan played for Clyde and St. Johnstone in Scotland, before joining Barrow in January 2007. He was appointed joint-manager with Dave Bayliss later that year and the pair led the Cumbrian side to promotion in 2008, to two FA Cup 3rd round ties against Sunderland and Middlesbrough and to an unexpected FA Trophy victory at Wembley in May.
And as the years ticked by Sheridan continued to play.
“I’m 43 in December but I feel fine,” he says. “It’s knowing when to run at my age. I keep fit by doing most of the training with the lads and running after my four daughters. Then I run after the lads chasing them.”
Sheridan spends most Saturdays on the road. A home game necessitates a 200 mile round trip, while away games can take him as far afield as Eastbourne, Gateshead and Crawley.
“I was glad when we drew FC United in the FA Cup because it’s round the corner,” adds Sheridan. “I might go on my scooter.”
“We know it will be tough against a side like FC with their support, but we’ll bring five or six hundred fans ourselves. We’ve been underdogs in other games so we know they’ll be thinking.
“I know their manager Karl (Marginson) and he’ll be hoping to get one over us, but we’ll be ready. We’ve had a lot of fun in the FA Cup and we want some more.”
Postscript: FC United won and will play Rochdale away in the first round, a superb achievement. The game will be played on Friday 5th November and will be screen live by ESPN.
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