The S – Word

Brown, Benali and years of geekdom…

There was once a time when I knew everything about football. When I was in my early teens I started going to games on my own and I started to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of Manchester United and the Premier League. It bordered on the obsessive, to tell you the truth. I could have told you in great detail about any player at Old Trafford; their career statistics, which was their best foot, what were their strengths, weaknesses and a minutae of detail about various stadiums around Europe where they played. Hell, I could have even reeled off players’ middles names, ages of their children and their favourite foods without too much thought. Not many people were beating down my door to hear this information, I hasten to add, but to me it mattered.

I collected match programmes, read every report and filed away almost every back page from The Manchester Evening News with great diligence. I must have contributed a pretty big large share of my pocket money to buy various pieces of memorabilia and merchandise too.

It was out with the pony stories and Enid Blyton books and in with the football reading material. It wasn’t just Manchester United though, it was everyone, every team, every player,  I collected Manchester United magazine and Glory Glory Man United and would read them over and again until I knew every fact but I soon started collecting others; GOAL, Shoot, Match, Total Football, Total Sport, FourFourTwo, Premier League sticker books. My addiction was growing…

Also (I don’t know if I should admit to this) when I was younger I used to watch Match of the Day and take notes. I was determined to become the show’s first female presenter and I thought it best to chronicle the information. I kid you not. I used to write down the goalscorers, the names of the referees, bookings and more. Then I would file them in my MOTD box.  Ha! I was a geek, through and through. And my poor dad, I used to ask him (or is that make him I wonder?) quiz me on the previous night’s programme. Any car journey, long or short, was an opportunity to be challenged. Ask me about football dad, ask me, ask me, ask me. Or, Dad!! Peter Schmeichel is going to be opening a menswear shop in Deansgate on Tuesday. I HAVE to be there. How I knew these things I have no idea, but I’d always be there – nervous, sweaty-palmed, probably blushing, standing in various Manchester menswear shops, clutching my autograph book and waiting for one of my heroes, positioned awkwardly somewhere between the briefs and man bags.

My mum suffered the same treatment. She was frequently met with requests to drive me to watch reserve matches at Gigg Lane in Bury or to the Cliff – Manchester United’s old training ground. At the Cliff you could hang around in the car park, meet the players and they’d happily sign autographs for you. Back then players drove Renaults and Volkswagens. Now, at Carrington, you’d be lucky if you got a glimpe of one of them behind the tinted windows of their Bentley and extremely lucky if they stopped to autograph something.

I wonder how many other 13 year-old girls there were in Cheshire at that time who thought they should know what Southampton’s Francis Benali looked like or what Ruel Fox’s goal to game ratio was? Lessons in school became opportunities to talk football with the boys in my class. Hey – where do Galatasaray play their home games? I’d ask. This was far more interesting than physics. (it’s the Ali Sami Yen by the way…)

Francis Benali

There's only one Benali. Erm...

Throughout my teenage years and into my twenties this fanaticism grew and my love for football continued. Admittedly, it dipped a bit as I started university, did my fair share of partying  and developed a love for travel but it was always there. My capacity for remembering small details about players and their teams probably diminished a bit around this time and I refrained from keeping notes about Match of the Day, But I never fell out of love with the game.

These feelings never changed and that’s what led to my career in football journalism. Thank God all that information was actually used for something! Those hours spent poring over books and magazines were not in vain. Hurrah! Football journalism was heaven on earth for me and not just because I got to work with some of the best fellow geeks around. All day was spent either watching games, talking about them, writing about them – or being out and about interviewing players and managers and negotiating the slippery world of football agents. Morning duties included reading every back page and soccer supplement and Sky Sports News became a permanent fixture in my life. It was on in the background for up to 9 hours a day, we really had to know everything as soon as it happened.

And this is precisely what motivated me to write this entry. Back then I had to know everything and now, well… my knowledge is diminishing. I don’t know how many people in the world were affected by Phil Brown’s recent sacking at Hull City. Not many, I’d wager. For those of you not in the know, the perma-tanned and aptly named Brown was relieved of his managerial duties on March 15 and promptly made his exit from the KC Stadium and into gardening leave. Now, it’s not the sacking that bothers me. Sure, Brown seems like a nice enough guy and it’s not nice to see anyone get fired but what really gets me is that I DIDN’T KNOW!!!!

Former Hull boss Phil Brown

Former Hull boss Phil Brown

This must be how Samson felt after Delilah’s betrayal – his locks were shorn and his superhuman strength left him. The muscle-bound Isarelite was a changed man and that’s how I feel. Ahem, apart from the fact I am not superhuman, I’m not a man and I wasn’t deceived by a woman called Delilah, but you get my drift.

I moved to Hawaii. Quite possibly the best decision I will ever make. My days are spent on a beautiful island, in the sun, surfing and canoe paddling, life is truly perfect. I have to pinch myself regularly to make sure this is real. But it is a life with little football. I try hard to monitor all my favourite news sources and my friend, former editor and ex- Arsenal player Adrian Clarke has a great podcast that keeps me informed but many, many stories just pass me by. 

It made me chuckle, when I was thinking about this situation, that I was so affected by Phil Brown. I mean, really, of all people! But it wasn’t Brown, he is merely the poster boy who represents the growing gap in the knowledge I once had. A brown, slightly leathery, northern poster boy, with a penchant for odd half-time ‘motivational’ team talks, but a poster boy nonetheless.

So, I am not as up to date with English football as I once was – I don’t watch Sky Sports, I rarely see games and, with a tear in my eye, I gave away my  magazine collection when I left the UK. But life here is good, no – life here is fantastic and I still get to write about the sport I love. What could be better than that? Maybe I should start paying more attention to the smaller stories in English football, maybe I should write more. But as soon as Phil Brown gets a new job, I’ll be damned if I am not the first to know.

Thanks for reading my ramblings! Aloha, until next time…


Mo Money Mo Problems at Crystal Palace
March 18, 2010, 8:34 pm
Filed under: The Championship | Tags: ,

Every now and again there is a story in football that is just too good to be true. This is one such story, no question about it.

Rapper/producer/entrepreneur P-Diddy, aka Puff Daddy, aka Sean Combs is apparently tabling a £360m ($548m) bid for Crystal Palace. That’s right, Crystal Palace – the South London team who are currently occupying bottom spot in the English Championship.

P-Diddy. A big lover of Championship football.

Soccer doesn’t get a whole lot of coverage here in the United States and I can say with a good degree of certainty that Palace are not a team you could stumble across on ESPN. 2010 has not started well for the club – they’re facing relegation, they have been docked ten points for going into administration and earlier this month they lost manager Neil Warnock to London rivals Queens Park Rangers.

So, just how did Puffy come across the Eagles? Does he harbour a secret penchant for mediocre English football teams? Could he have been enticed by wet Wednesday night games down in sarf London? Or perhaps he thinks that the chance to work with manager Paul Hart and his assistant Dougie Freedman was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Wrong. He is considering a bid because he likes the club’s name. I kid you not.

“Sources” told The Sun newspaper: “Diddy was in London meeting football fixers a couple of weeks ago. The finance is in place, he’s just deciding who he thinks he’ll make a bid for. Portsmouth were mentioned but he thought Palace were a better idea. He could cover their debt and bankroll a return to the Premier League. He liked the name as well.”

I can see it now – Diddy relaxing by the pool, having breakfast in the Malibu sun, the light dancing off his many diamonds as he’s hand-fed eggs benedict by two oiled and voluptuous women in bikinis. Naturally his thoughts turn to soccer. Hmmm, he thinks, I want in to the EPL, maybe I’ll buy a club. He gets one of his lackeys to bring up a list of available English clubs on his iPad and Crystal Palace catches his eye. “Hey… Crystal!?!” he exclaims, “Is that like Cristal, my favourite champagne?” and “Palace? This team plays in a palace?” Upon reading this Puffy, I assume, was sold.

Puffy - your Palace awaits. Glamorous isn't it!

Cue a headline writer’s wet dream and puns aplenty. Today The Sun ran with “Palace fans giddy over bid-dy by Diddy.” Others went along these lines: “Diddy to be king of the Palace?” , “Cristal Palace”, the list goes on…

I don’t know if there’s any truth in the rumours but what the hell, it makes for an amusing piece of news. Anyway, whoever let truth get in the way of a good story? In football journalism it goes with the territory. It’s probably only a matter of time before the club comes out and denies all knowledge of the bid (-dy by Diddy, sorry…) but in the meantime it’ll bring Palace some positive press and some much needed escapism for the fans, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Still Special – Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge
March 17, 2010, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Champions League | Tags: , , ,

Jose Mourinho was on familiar ground when he made his return to Stamford Bridge this week – to a key clash between two European sides in the Champions League, to an eager press pack – full of expectation and hungry for the kind of soundbites that only he can deliver, and also to tabloid tales of Chelsea defender Ashley Cole’s most recent philanderings. Nothing new there then.

When Internazionale were drawn against Chelsea in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League, it was a fixture that couldn’t have been more beautifully scripted. Mourinho, a god in the eyes of the Blues’ supporters, was to return to Stamford Bridge. However, it wasn’t to be the return that fans of the club have dreamed about and yearned for since he was ousted in 2007. No, he was to return as manager of the Nerazzurri.

Inter have been knocked out of the Champions League at this stage for the last two seasons running, at the hands of both Liverpool and Manchester United, so this year the need to get past the last 16 and past English opposition must have been stronger than ever, especially with Mourinho facing up to his old employers.

Add to that the fact that Chelsea’s newest manager is the former AC Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti – he who presided over the Rossoneri for eight years and won two Champions League titles in his time with Inter’s biggest rivals – and you have an intriguing sub-plot to a game that is already sparkling with promise.

Okay, I have to admit at this stage that I am guilty of being a little bit in awe of Mourinho. Either that or a little bit in love with him. I know plenty of heterosexual males in the United Kingdom who would admit the same thing. What is it about him? His Clooney-esque good looks. his brooding temperament, his success?! I don’t know exactly but Mourinho was a breath of fresh air when he arrived in the Premier League in 2004. He was funny, he was charming, he was mischevious and most importantly he was a fantastic manager. I hate to admit it but Chelsea were outstanding when he was in charge. Likeable no, impressive yes.

The self-styled Special One.

And oh how we missed him when he left England, especially us football journalists – nothing was the same, no Jose-quips to look forward to in press conferences and Match of the Day, no exciting quotes to look forward to in the dailies, just more weary cliches from Premier League managers or their right-hand men. I think I can speak for almost every football fan at that time when I say there was a real sense of mourning when Mourinho departed. Love him or hate him, you missed him.

For those of you who may not already know what set Jose Mourinho apart from the rest, watch this Ahem, sorry about the music… 

Back to the Champions League. When Inter travelled to England for Tuesday’s game, they came with a 2-1 lead from the first leg at San Siro but progress to the next round was going to be far from easy. Chelsea, of course, had not been beaten at home in the Champions League for 21 games and have history of doing well against Italian teams at this stage in recent seasons.

But, in Mourinho’s words, his return was ‘almost perfect’. Thanks to Samuel Eto’o’s second-half strike, Inter ran out as victors with a 3-1 aggregate victory. Didier Drogba was also given his marching orders in the closing minutes of the tie. Pleased? Moi? Just a bit.

“I love Chelsea, I love this stadium, I love these people but I am a professional,” said Mourinho.

“I celebrated a lot in the dressing room when the game was over. It was a big victory for my team.”

It was almost like going back in time, we got to see Mourinho, we got to hear Mourinho and, just like old times, he celebrated a win at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps it’s easy to admire him when he’s not in charge of Manchester United’s Premier League opposition but it’s clear to me that Jose is still special and he’s still very much missed.

Thanks for reading!