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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