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, everything.about.football.  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…

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Soccer’s JT makes the Maui News
February 9, 2010, 3:04 pm
Filed under: Football in Hawaii, World Cup 2010 | Tags: , , ,

When I saw a column about the England captaincy running in the Maui News this week, I knew it must be a big story. Not famed for its soccer coverage, even our local paper told the tale of John Terry’s recent ‘away days’ and subsequent demotion as England captain.

For those of you not in the know – John Terry has a reputation that stretches beyond the confines of the football pitch. Like many footballers before him he has an eye for the ladies and has openly admitted to cheating on his wife, Toni Poole, at least eight times before they were married in 2007 (imagine the count of the ones he hasn’t admitted to!).

Footballers + kiss and tell stories = everyday tabloid fodder, but the column inches devoted to Terry’s latest misdemeanours are even more lurid than most.

Earlier this month Mr Justice Tugendhat, a high court judge, lifted an injunction which had been preventing details of an affair between Terry and the ex-girlfriend of his friend and England team-mate Wayne Bridge. Terry, 29, is said to have started the extra marital affair with Vanessa Perroncel, mother of Bridge’s child, while Bridge played for Chelsea and the pair were neighbours in Oxshott, Surrey.

All smiles at England training. Little did they know...

Bridge is said to be “in bits” about the affair, while Poole has  retreated to Dubai with Terry’s children – three year-old twins Georgie John and Summer Rose.

Okay, so it’s not the first time a player has had an affair and it certainly won’t be the last but seriously, of all the women to choose – why would you do it with a team-mates girlfriend? Ex or otherwise…?

I have never been Terry’s biggest fan. Perhaps as a Manchester United fan it goes with the territory, but I did meet him once, about four years ago when I interviewed him for a radio show. I actually found him to be a nice guy – very agreeable and polite – quite the opposite to what I had expected. We had an amusing conversation about the merits of horseradish sauce and yorkshire pudding (Not part of the interview, I hasten to add) and I was slightly taken aback by the woollen jumper he was wearing – it had knitted deer on it. No, seriously, it did. But I came away from it thinking he was a nice fella. That dissipated over the years, I must admit, especially whenever United faced Chelsea…

Anyway – quite rightly (in my view) Terry was stripped of the England captaincy this week. Fabio Capello, the England manager, lived up to his own reputation as a strict disciplinarian and told Terry the armband was no longer his, following a 12 minute meeting at Wembley.

Capello said: “After much thought I have made the decision that it will be best for me to take the captaincy away from John Terry.”

“As a captain with the team, Terry has displayed extremely positive behaviour. However, I have to take into account other considerations and what is best for all of the England squad. What is best for all of the England team has inspired my choice and Terry was notified first.”

Before the news of Terry’s demotion came to light I was wondering who would be a natural replacement as captain and it was quite alarming to think about how slim the pickings are.

There may be many natural leaders on the pitch – Terry, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, even Wayne Rooney, but honestly  – when it comes to role models the cupboard is bare. Terry – see above, Gerrard – in court recently for assault, Rio – we all know about his infamous ‘missed’ drugs test, Rooney – lewd tales of aging prostitutes. I’m not even going to start on Ashley Cole…

Even David Beckham. Becks, ‘Golden Balls’ oh how we all love him and how the sponsors love him, but even he has been embroiled in kiss and tells. Perhaps unfounded allegations, but who knows…

Role model or not, Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand will be our new captain, with Gerrard as deputy. Rio has done a good job as United captain, when injury doesn’t keep him on the sidelines, and hopefully he can command the national team with responsibility and vigour as they head to South Africa in June. And hopefully he can keep peace in the dressing room – it would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall when Bridge and Terry next meet.

I’ll be back soon, with a look at one of the most interesting football books I have ever come across. Until then, thanks for reading!



Finding Football
January 13, 2010, 1:14 pm
Filed under: Football in Hawaii | Tags: , ,

I have been thinking about this blog for a long time now and it’s about time I actually started writing!

There have been lots of stories in the football world over the last week – sadly, one that particularly stood out was the tragedy that happened on Angolan soil in the build-up to the African Cup of Nations. After travelling from neighbouring Congo, the Togo team bus was attacked by gunmen who reportedly opened heavy fire on the vehicle for 30 minutes. The driver was killed instantly and nine others were seriously injured. Manchester City striker and Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor  revealed that the team’s press officer died in his arms as he spoke to The Guardian newspaper about the experience: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jan/13/emmanuel-adebayor-ill-terror-togo 

This was going to be a big year for the African Cup of Nations – a huge competition in its own right and also a curtain-raiser for the World Cup, which will take place in South Africa later this year, and it couldn’t have got off to a worse start. It’s so sad that Africa’s chance to shine has been taken away by some opportunistic killers. Togo pulled out of the competition before their first game was due to take place and sadly, the death toll has risen to three. Let’s hope that the rest of the tournament can continue in peace, with some fantastic games along the way.

Finding football in Hawaii can be difficult. If I didn’t have the internet it would be pretty damn impossible. My early mornings normally follow the same routine: get up, turn on the computer – check out the BBC Football website and gossip column, check The Guardian’s football section and perhaps take a look at Football365 and some of the tabloid websites too. Just in case there are any important stories I may have missed. After that it’s time to head to the beach and check the surf. If it’s good then football all but disappears from my thoughts until later in the day, when I am all surfed out and check back at my favourite news sources to get updated.

Maui

Maui. Not too different from England, as you can see...

As luck would have it, I have just returned from a great surf (when I say great I don’t allude to my own skills in the water – I am pretty new to the sport, but it’s always an amazing experience – I really love it and maybe, just maybe, one day I will be able to make it look easy. Like the good surfers do…)  and I have run into some good news! Sorry to all you fans from the red half of Liverpool but, thanks to Reading FC, who registered a 2-1 win at Anfield, you have just been knocked out of the FA Cup. That makes it no Champions League and no FA Cup for you this season… I won’t crow about this too much but I have to admit, it did make me smile. What is going on? Surely Rafa has to go. There really are some problems at Anfield at the moment, something I will have to discuss/examine in a future blog.

So, I have my news sources saved in my favourites list and it’s easy to find out what’s happening in football around the world 24/7 but I have been a little concerned about where to watch games. With the World Cup on the not-too-distant horizon and plenty of Champions League and Premier League games on the menu in coming weeks, I had started to get a little concerned about where I could watch the action. After all, how am I going to write about football if I don’t see any? But, after a chance conversation outside a cafe last week, I was introduced to another big  fan who, as luck would have it, shows any game you like in his bar/restaurant right here on Maui. It’s about 10 minutes away by bike and just perfect – they show soccer all the time. Hallelujah!