The real-life tales of a football writer
Joe Jordan was waiting by the information desk at Liverpool Street station after work last Friday. The former Morton, Leeds United, Manchester United AC Milan, Verona and Bristol City striker had spent the day preparing Tottenham’s tactics against Manchester United. He didn’t let any slip when I interviewed him for my next book.
I’d arranged to interview Jordan in London a day after meeting his former teammate Lou Macari in Manchester. I planned to watch the Tottenham v United game too, my fifth match in a week in England, but the date was changed after I’d booked all my travel plans and I was committed to covering the Barca v Malaga game on Sunday night.
That left Saturday free in London and I accepted an invite to see Millwall v Ipswich with the former Ipswich player James Scowcroft. He was covering the game for BBC Radio Suffolk and while he talked tactics and about the club post-Roy Keane, I giggled as an announcement over the public address system told a man to report to reception as his “motorbike has been crushed against a wall.”
Millwall came from behind to win a poor game. Ipswich appeared shattered from their midweek endeavours beating Arsenal and the Lions, to use a footballing parlance, “got about them.”
Watching Barca a day later was like viewing a different sport to anything I’d seen in England. The Catalans were again sublime as they went a club record 28 games unbeaten.
That victory ended a week which started at the opposite end of the football spectrum watching Trafford against Chester in the Northern Premier League. The crowd of 726 was the second highest in Trafford’s history thanks to 550 travelling Chester fans. They’re going well after a turbulent recent history and their supporters are enjoying visiting new grounds around the north of England.
It was heartening to see groups of young lads going to the match together. Some Cestrians dressed like the cast from Away Days and spent more time comparing trainers than watching the match, but you don’t see enough young lads attending in groups with their mates in the Premier League.
Next up was United v Liverpool in the Football Association Challenge Cup, before Stockport v Rotherham on Tuesday. County are struggling and have won just once at home all season, but they put up a spirited display and led the high-flying Millers 3-1 before conceding two late goals in a cracking match.
Although much better supported, Stockport have much in common with Chester and words like ‘administration’ have entered their fan vernacular. Edgeley Park is less than 10 miles from Old Trafford and The City of Manchester Stadium, but it’s another world.
An agreeable, homespun world, I should add, because the fans enjoy a real sense of community and destiny. They buzz off away days at Hereford or Accrington and travel in great numbers as a percentage of their 4,000 average home crowd. Almost 1,700 went to Macclesfield to see one of County’s four away wins so far this season, while 1,141 ventured to high-flying Bury.
Percentage wise, that would be like United taking 40,000 to City or 15,000 to Liverpool. Which would actually happen if the allocation wasn’t limited to 3,000.
The next match was Man Utd Reserves v Bolton’s stiffs at Altrincham. I hope to see the debut of United’s new Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, but he missed the match with a touch of the Owen Hargreaves.
It was weird seeing players like Wes Brown and John O’Shea playing in front of less than 400, but I watched them closely and their played with the intensity of a Premier League tie.
Several championship managers and scouts were watching. Phil Brown tried to snaffle a shortbread I had my eyes on at half-time, but a compromise was reached where he received two six minute tokens for Go Bronze Sunbeds instead.
Denis Irwin’s lad Liam was a Bolton substitute. He’s slight and looks younger than a teenage Solskjaer, but he showed good technique in midfield.
Another, more established midfielder with excellent technique is Steven Pienaar, who moved from Everton to Tottenham last week. I went to Amsterdam in 2006 to interview the former United and Ipswich player Arnold Muhren and arrived a day early to see Ajax play.
Pienaar was at Ajax at the time and a mutual mate suggested that the South African took me to the game as he was injured. I sat in the stands with Steven, a quiet lad who was on his way to Borussia Dortmund. That move didn’t work out for him.
He asked about playing in England and soon found out for himself, though Everton were reluctant to take him on loan at first because they considered him too small. He excelled at Goodison and was their player of the year last season.
David Moyes had wanted to keep him, but Steven wanted to play in the Champions League and now he’s at Tottenham working with Joe Jordan. I wonder if they’ll meet by the information desk at Liverpool Street each morning…
Great piece as usual, Andy. Keep 'em coming.
A P.A. announcement of someone's “motorbike has been crushed against a wall.” is a good one. That's the kind of thing I'd half expect to hear at a Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians tie.
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