Vanarama National League Column Oct 25th

VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE COLUMN – Craig Harrison, by Glenn Moore

Some coaches begin preparing for life on the training pitch while they are still players, making notes about sessions put on by their managers, mentally filing behaviours, and taking their qualifications. Others fall into the job by accident. The strange thing is that sometimes it is the latter who are more successful.

Among them is Craig Harrison, coach of Vanarama National League side Hartlepool United. Harrison had quit football after suffering a career-ending broken leg while playing for Crystal Palace reserves in his mid-20s. He struggled with depression, came through that, but remained disenchanted with the game opting instead for a career in property development.

Then, for his 30th birthday party, wife Danielle booked a band. The guitarist looked familiar. He was Gareth Owen, formerly of Wrexham, whom Harrison had played against when on loan at Preston. Owen was player-manager at Welsh Premier League club Airbus UK and seeking an assistant. He asked if Harrison was interested.

“I said, ‘No, I’m not interested. I’ve moved on from that’,” Harrison, 40 this month, told the Non-League Paper earlier this season. He added: “A couple of weeks later I saw in the local paper they still hadn’t filled the post. My other half persuaded me to give Gareth a text to see what was going on. He said he was still looking so we had a chat and he offered it to me. I took it. That was in December. By the end of the season Gareth had moved on and they gave me the manager’s job.”

By then Harrison was smitten. His biggest problem was persuading part-time players to be as committed as he was. He rapidly acquired his badges and now holds the highest qualification, Uefa Pro Licence. In late 2011 The New Saints, after a rare season failing to win the Welsh League, moved in. With them Harrison won six successive league titles, four Welsh Cups, and played clubs such as Slovan Bratislava and Legia Warsaw in Champions League qualifiers.

Despite this success the chance to join Hartlepool was irresistible for Harrison, Gateshead-born and a former Middlesbrough player. It is not an easy job. Harrison is Pools’ sixth manager in four years, which underlines the instability at the club. Yet though relegated from the Football League last season they still attracted more than 50 applicants for manager.

The opening rounds of the Vanarama National League were a shock. Having lost their opening match at home to Dover Athletic, Hartlepool had two points after six matches. A 13-point haul from the next five games dispelled fears of back-to-back relegation and rekindled hopes of an instant Football League return. They are now in 14th place, only five points behind second-placed Wrexham in a tightly-contested promotion race.

“Looking back with a clear head, what’s probably happened is the four-five weeks at the start of the season has been vital,” Harrison said last week. “When it hasn’t gone for us you either go your separate way and the group fragments or you come together. What went on early season is probably one of the best things to happen for team spirit. It has come together over the opening weeks of the season.”

Harrison, who knows better than most how unpredictable football be, added: “Maybe the start was a blessing in disguise.”

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

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Vanarama National League column – Awaydays

The Long Away Trip – by Luke Coulson of Ebbsfleet United 

In July, when the fixtures are announced for the upcoming season, players in every team immediately scan the matches. The dates of the heated, local derby, the league favourites and when a player will return to their former club are all quickly noted down. However, everyone in the squad keeps an eye out for the dates of the long, dreaded away trips.

Fortunately for us, the 400 mile round trip for our game against Macclesfield fell on a Saturday, not a Tuesday night.

After a short, sharp training session on the Friday morning, the bus was loaded up and the journey north started as usual. Staff sat at the front with the players behind in their usual, season long seats, which were simply pre-empted on the very first away trip. Coffee from the local Costa wafted down the aisle, the slow RnB music began, newspapers rustled, sweets emerged and laptops were switched on.

During a long, mundane journey, some aspects will never change. Some players will fall asleep; a few will intently watch the latest TV shows such as Power and Game of Thrones and the youngest player will have to make the hot drinks. An added constant occurrence is when I win the UNO tournament at the back of the bus, which is when I have the time between watching films and writing blogs.

The journey to Macclesfield took five hours and upon arrival at the hotel, room keys were handed out and every player arrived early for dinner due to hunger and the fear of a fine for being late. Towards the end of the meal, the sound of a glass being hit brought laughter to the room as it signalled an initiation song. Due to the tradition of every football club, our new signing, Antonio German, had to stand on a chair and sing to us. Antonio sang ‘Burn’ by Usher and it wasn’t a bad attempt. However, after my rendition of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley, he was never going to sound amazing.

Similar to our previous away trips, the rest of the evening and the following morning is then free time that our manager entrusts us to use wisely, to make sure that we are prepared for the game. On the day of the match, a team meeting is always held prior to our pre match meal before we depart for the stadium and the three o’clock kick off creeps ever closer.

Each football club is different to their approach of a long distance away game. It is not uncommon for teams to set off early on a Saturday morning or travel down via train. However, our gaffer, Daryl McMahon and his backroom staff want to give us every advantage of winning, which is why no expense is spared and every need is catered for.

Although our preparation was faultless, we suffered our second loss of the season and our first away defeat. The result kept Macclesfield top of the table as we now sit in 14th, only three points off a playoff spot. 

The journey home after a defeat is always miserable initially. Yet, as with a pre-match routine, every player deals with a defeat in their own way. Personally, I separate myself for a while, listen to music and self reflect on my own performance. However, it is important to make sure the journey home doesn’t remain a sombre affair as another game could be just days away.

The tedious journeys away from home make you appreciate playing in front of the home crowd that much more. Which is why, we might only be in October but I simply can’t wait for March 17th, Gateshead away.

See more on the Vanarama National League here: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

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Vanarama National League column – Luke Coulson

Luke CoulsonVanarama National League column by Luke Coulson of Ebbsfleet FC

The baggy, yellow shirt of Beechwood Juniors hung loosely on my shoulders and was tucked into my oversized, green shorts as I ran around my first football pitch at the age of six. A year later, I shook the hand of Kevin Keegan before walking around Maine Road at half time to the sound of 30,000 fans applauding the new Manchester City academy recruits.

Since that day as a star-struck seven-year-old boy staring up at a sea of blue, my journey in football has been ever changing.

After ten years, a scholarship and appearances in the U19 Champions League, my time at Manchester City came to an end. After a brief spell in America, I signed for Cardiff City where I enjoyed two years of U21 football in the Welsh capital.

At the age of 20 and desperate to prove myself, I went off into the world to find first team football, yet only found rejection and six months of being a free agent. My perseverance prevailed, however, as I joined Oxford City in the Conference North. A year later, I was bought for the first time as Eastleigh negotiated a deal to take me into the Vanarama National League.

Three managers and 12 months on, I was bought for a second time as my career moved forward once more and I signed for Barnet in League Two.

After two managers in only six months and a lack of playing time, however, I returned to the Vanarama National League this summer and now wear the red and white of Ebbsfleet FC.

Fourteen games have passed since the opening day of the season and only eleven points separate the playoffs from the depths of the relegation zone. So it is no surprise that thousands of fans decide to spend their Saturday afternoons watching such an exciting league.

Our campaign began with a nine game unbeaten run which included our first home win of the season against our local rivals, Maidstone United. A recent run of three consecutive wins against Boreham Wood, Halifax and Solihull has propelled us forward and despite lying in 11th position; only five points separate us from Macclesfield at the top of the table.

Having only lost one game, we have proven difficult to beat as our resilience, team spirit and togetherness have shone through. It is credit to our manager, Daryl McMahon, who has created a team with a balance of young, talented individuals and experienced players whom have tasted promotion in their careers before.

With the league so closely fought and the strength of our squad, we are confident that we can make a big statement in the Vanarama National League this year.

Watch out for more stories and reports from the Vanarama National League every Wednesday.

Oliver Holt Q&A

Oliver Holt the Mail on Sunday’s new Chief Sports Writer gives a Q&A on Jose Mourinho, Mario Balotelli and whether Lionel Messi is better than Cristiano Ronaldo.

oliholtReproduced courtesy of @MailOnline

Oliver Holt joins the Mail On Sunday

Oliver Holt Q&A for @MailOnline

Q. What do you think of Jose Mourinho? Mo, north London

I admire him greatly as a manager. I’m not sure what I think of him as a man because I’m not sure he ever shows his true face. He’s an accomplished actor as well as an accomplished manager.

I find it hard to see how you can’t admire him as a manager, though. He is one of the most successful bosses there has ever been. He has won the Champions League with two teams who were underdogs without the financial might of their opponents and he provokes great loyalty among his players. It’s hard not to admire that.
Jose Mourinho gestures to fans after Chelsea’s victory over Aston Villa

Q. Ronaldo or Messi – and don’t sit on the fence, we all know they are both great. Alejandro, Valencia

Until recently, I would have said Messi fairly confidently but I’ve begun to change my mind.

I like Messi’s unassuming style more and he is a wonderful, beguiling player to watch. But Ronaldo is such an amazing all-round player, powerful in the air, lightning quick, great with the dead-ball, a fantastic dribbler.

It is hard to separate them because they are so different but if I had to say now who was more valuable to a team, I’d say Ronaldo.

Q. Who is the best goalscorer you have seen play? Charlie, Bristol

Ronaldo, the Brazilian one. I sometimes feel that we have forgotten too quickly how mesmerizingly brilliant he was. He had that combination of speed, trickery and close control that often made him unplayable. It was always a thrill to watch him play.

Mario Balotelli finally broke his Premier League duck (against Tottenham) – what do you make of him as a player and person? And can he be a hit at Liverpool? Gary, Bebington

When Balotelli signed for Liverpool, I thought Brendan Rodgers had got a bargain for £16m, something I’ve been reminded of every now and again on Twitter as he’s struggled to get anywhere near justifying that fee.

I always like to think of the Balotelli who played so brilliantly for Italy at Euro 2012. That showed what he’s capable of. It showed the extent of his talent. But he has been unable to get close to replicating that kind of form ever since and manager after manager has written him off as more trouble than he is worth.

I hope that the winner against Spurs can rescue his career at Anfield because I don’t think there’s anything malicious about him. He just seems like an immature kid who hasn’t quite grown up yet.

He has the talent to be a hit at Liverpool but he needs to buy into Rodgers’ work ethic to have a real chance of making the move a success and so far there has been scant evidence he is prepared to do that.

Q. What is your view on The Open going to Sky? Should the BBC have fought harder? Joe, Haverfordwest

Instinctively, I want The Open, in particular, to be available to the biggest possible audience but the viewing figures on the BBC weren’t great and no one can deny that Sky do a fantastic job with their coverage of golf.

I would like the BBC to devote more time and money to sport in general because I think they usually do a fine job but I suppose that, like many of us, they are in thrall to the fact that everything comes a distant second to football in this country and they have spent most of their budget on retaining the rights to Premier League highlights.

Q. I read that your mum is in Coronation Street. Do you have any stories of your own from the cobbles by the Rovers Return? Did you ever come close to joining the cast? Clare, Plymouth

I was way too shy and self-conscious ever to consider becoming an actor. I used to go in to the Granada Studios with my mum (who has played Emily Bishop since 1961) now and again when I was a kid but it seemed to involve a lot of waiting around for her to do her scenes.

There was one time where I was desperate for her to get away early so we could go and buy tickets for a Manchester City cup match before the ticket office at Maine Road closed. I moaned and moaned about it for so long that even my mum’s patience snapped in the end.

Q. What are you most looking forward to covering in 2015? Jake, Birmingham

The US Masters and the Rugby World Cup. But sometimes the best things are events that are off the radar, jobs that you do on your own in strange places away from the glare.

Sometimes, they can demand more of you and bring you more satisfaction. I went to watch Michael Jordan playing baseball once in Birmingham, Alabama and managed to snatch a very quick conversation with him. Those kinds of pieces are often the most enjoyable and satisfying to write.

Q. Other than football, what are your three favourite sports? Tommy, Prestwich

Boxing, tennis and cricket.

Q. Are you pleased to see boxing returning to mainstream TV, with the Carl Frampton world title fight? Can we expect to see you in Belfast for the event? Ian, Ballyclare

I am pleased that boxing’s back on mainstream TV. I used to love watching it on Sportsnight in the 1970s and it’s great that the Frampton fight is on.

I don’t think I’ll be at the fight this time but I would love to get over to Belfast for a future bout.

Q. What advice do you have for any youngster wanting to become a sports journalist? Rachel, Greenwich

First of all, if you love it, you’ll be good at it. Because if you love it, you’ll want to work hard. And you’ll need to work hard to be successful. So work hard and be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer and try to get on with people. People don’t want to talk to people they don’t like.

Q. Which sporting stars best lived up to their star billing when you’ve met them/interviewed them in person (and who didn’t)? Brad, Tennessee

He didn’t like me very much but the only time I ever interviewed Sir Alex Ferguson one-on-on, back when Manchester United trained at The Cliff, he was fascinating to listen to.

The boxer Bernard Hopkins is probably the most articulate sportsman I’ve ever interviewed. And he can talk and talk and talk.

As for disappointments, I loved Zinedine Zidane as a player but the only time I ever interviewed him, he was sullen and almost monosyllabic. I didn’t particularly hold that against him, though. It was towards the end of a day when he had done about 50 interviews and I think by the time I got to him, he was making it plain he just wanted to be somewhere else.

Q. Have you ever had a major row on Sunday Supplement when the cameras were off? Terry Vaughan

Actually, no. We tend to have most of our major rows on screen, which is probably one of the things that makes the programme good. I have been party to – and maybe even involved in – some spectacular rows on various trips to cover sporting events.

I remember one, in particular, at a restaurant in Las Vegas where two journalists I have always admired tremendously, Jim Lawton and Jeff Powell, were engaged in a verbal battle that left me in awe of their conviction.

Q. What was your first published article in a national newspaper? Michael, Oxford

I joined The Times as their Motor Racing Correspondent in 1993 after working at the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post for three years. The first job I did was to attend the launch of the new Lotus F1 car at Claridge’s in London. Johnny Herbert was driving for them then and I wrote a piece about him. I felt a bit out of my depth at the time. Some might say I still am.

As an addendum, the first trip I did for The Times was to cover the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami. From there, I went to Australia to see Nigel Mansell racing IndyCars on the Gold Coast and from there I went to Brazil to see the second GP of the season. Until then, my idea of a work trip had been going through the Mersey tunnel to cover a game at Prenton Park. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.

Q. Are you allowed to tell us what football team you support? I think I read somewhere that it is Stockport. Brian, Leek

That’s right. I’m a Stockport fan. My dad’s from the Heaton Chapel area of Stockport and he used to take me to Edgeley Park as a kid (we lived a few miles away from the ground). In those days, County played their home games on a Friday night so I would go and watch either City or United at home on Saturday afternoon.

There was a spell when I went home and away with United and I went to plenty of City away games, too. One of the United fanzines called me a Purple once because I’m a mixture of red and blue but Stockport have always been my first team.

Q. If you had a dinner party for six sporting greats – dead or alive – who would be on the guest list and why? Helen, South Shields

Muhammad Ali, because he is one of the greatest sportsman who ever lived, because he had political convictions and because he was not afraid to say what he thought.

Ayrton Senna because there was a mystery about him as well as the fact that he was a sublimely talented driver. I had been lined up to do an interview with him at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1994 but he was killed a few weeks earlier at Imola.

Cathy Freeman, because her gold medal run in Sydney in 2000 is my most vivid Olympic memory and because I admired the way she represented indigenous Australians.

Babe Ruth, because I’ve always been fascinated by his legend.

Bjorn Borg because he was my idol when I was growing up.

Sir Bobby Robson, because I feel like I owe him a lot, I always felt privileged to be in his company and it would be lovely to see him again.

Q. Our first question is from Dave in Nottingham who asks: What do you consider to be the golden ticket in sport, the one event you would choose to attend above all others?

That’s one of the toughest questions to ask a sports writer because there are so many great one-off sporting occasions that are a huge thrill to attend and make you feel incredibly lucky to be doing the job.

I’d put the Indianapolis 500 up there, although it is somewhat reduced now. The Champions League final always feels highly charged and there is always an adrenaline rush about covering a big world title fight. I was lucky enough to be at the Maracana for the World Cup final last year and covering that match in Brazil was as good as it gets for a football fan.

But if I had to plump for one event, I’d say the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final. I’d choose that because I have always loved tennis and when I was a kid I thought it was an impossible dream that I might one day be able to be on Centre Court to watch the men’s final. It felt like something that was totally out of reach, something inaccessible and exotic that I could never even hope to gain entrance to.

So every time I have been to a men’s final, I have felt incredibly fortunate. I still can’t get past the wonder of being at that event. I’ve got a picture on my wall at home of Andy Murray at the moment he won the final in 2013 and I can pick myself out in the crowd in the background. That was right up there with the most memorable sporting events I have ever seen.

:: Reproduced courtesy of @MailOnline

Drogba honoured by FWA accolade

Chelsea forward Didier Drogba spoke of his pride at joining the list of prestigious winners of the Football Writers’ Association Tribute Award at a gala dinner in London.

The Football Writers Association Award presented to Didier DrogbaThe Ivory Coast forward, 36, was guest of honour at the January 2015 event, and was presented with the long-running accolade from FWA chairman Andy Dunn.

Drogba, who returned to Chelsea for the 2014/2015 season, having left after scoring the penalty which won the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, admitted it was a humbling experience to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Ryan Giggs, Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham.

“I am really proud for this award, in the list of previous winners there are a lot of players whom I really respect and grew up trying to reach their level, so for me this is a great honour,” he said.

“When I came to England, things were difficult, there was the language barrier and culture change.

“With time, we managed to learn more from each other and today I am really happy that the football writers not only understand me a lot on the pitch, but have also helped me with my foundation work.”

DrogbaCech England manager Roy Hodgson was among the guests at The Savoy Hotel to hear tributes from current Chelsea team-mate Petr Cech and ex-Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who first signed Drogba from Marseille for £24million in 2004, wrote a personal tribute to the Chelsea striker in the FWA event programme, hailing the forward as the club’s “best-value Chelsea player ever”.

He said: “Throughout my career, I have always refused to say which is my favourite player or the best person, because so many have given soul and blood to play and to fight with me, but if I have to choose one who represents all the good things you want in a player and a man, I think in this moment I would choose Didier.”

DrogbaHenry“I know what he means as a player and as a person. That is why this combination of the player and the person is so amazing, and I can say that he is a phenomenal person.”

FWA chairman Andy Dunn, of the Sunday Mirror, added: “Didier has been one of the most reliable big game players of the modern era.

“I often wonder if Didier Drogba has ever received the credit he deserves for a remarkable career in English, European and world football.

“I am thrilled we have the chance to put that right this evening.”

Read Jose Mourinho’s tribute in full here

DrogbaAwardStage

Mourinho Tribute To ‘Phenomenal’ Drogba

Chelsea forward Didier Drogba will be the guest of honour at the 2015 Football Writers’ Association Tribute Night at the Savoy Hotel, London.

Here, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho reflects on Drogba the player and the person.

Jose Mourinho Football Writers Association Tribute Dinner

“Didier arrived at Stamford Bridge for £24million, but he is probably the best-value Chelsea player ever, and I remember clearly how it happened.

“I came to Chelsea in the summer of 2004 and in my first written report to Mr Abramovich in relation to my plans for the club, I gave the names of some players.
“Big names were arriving at Chelsea in that period. The previous summer, for example, Claude Makelele came from Real Madrid and Hernan Crespo came from Inter, among others, but Didier was unknown and the price was very, very high.
“Yet I knew as clearly as I have ever done that he was the player I wanted.
“I was very strong to persuade my club to pay such an amount for him and I think we can already say he was the best-value signing for Chelsea in relation to what he has done for the club over so many years, and he is not finished yet.
“My story with him started after I got Marseille in my Champions League group when I was manager of Porto. “Before we played against them, I travelled to Marseille to watch them play Paris Saint Germain and I was amazed with the potential I saw in him.
“When we played against them, I met him in the tunnel before the game and I told him, “I don’t have money to buy you, do you have a cousin like you who is lost in Ivory Coast?”
“That was the first time that the big guy put his arm around me. He told me, “In Porto, you don’t have money to buy me, but if you move to another club where you do have money to buy me, then I will go with you.”
“After the Champions League final with Porto at the end of that season, I moved to Chelsea and immediately began the process to sign him.

DrogbaDunnAward

“Reflecting on our relationship, I have three moments in my mind that best characterise the man – because Didier the man is just as great as Didier the player.

“The first one was when I met him at Farnborough Airport when he was landing to sign for Chelsea. The way he hugged me, and the way he thanked me was not normal for a player towards a manager, immediately after signing for a new club. Chelsea were changing his life forever in that moment, and he knew that.
“The second moment was after we won the 2007 FA Cup at Wembley against Manchester United. The game finished and I went to the dressing room, leaving the players to enjoy the moment and to celebrate on the pitch.
“I was on the phone with my wife, when suddenly a big monster ran into the dressing room and told me that if I didn’t come with the players, they wouldn’t collect the cup. They would only go up there with me.
“I told him that I wanted the players to go and enjoy the moment together – that I didn’t need to be there – and he said, “We are only one. You can come by your will, or I will carry you there!”
“The third moment was when I left Chelsea in 2007 and I saw the big man crying like a baby.

DrogbaStage“So I can say that he is a phenomenal person, and I have also had the privilege to visit his country and to see what he means, not just to the people of Ivory Coast, but to so many African nations in that region.
“I know what he means as a player and as a person. That is why this combination of the player and the person is so amazing.
“Throughout my career, I have always refused to say which is my favourite player or the best person, because so many have given soul and blood to play and to fight with me, but if I have to choose one who represents all the good things you want in a player and a man, I think in this moment I would choose Didier.”

 

Silver lining finale to FWA Golf Day at Stoke Park

FWAgolfheader

Images courtesy of Vauxhall, the sponsor of Home Nations football

Neil Silver collected the prestigious Joe Melling Trophy at the Football Writers’ Association’s annual Golf Day at Stoke Park.

Neil, former Press Association senior Sports Reporter who now combines covering matches for The Sun with teaching young journalists at Harlow College, scored an impressive 38 points around the magnificent Buckinghamshire course.

As well as the trophy, donated in memory of the former Mail on Sunday chief football writer, Neil also won a chance to play on Wentworth’s West Course later this year on a golf day held by VPAR, who ran the automatic scoring system.

Ex Sunday Times writer and now Aston Villa head of media Brian Doogan finished second with 36 points ahead of the Birmingham Mail’s Gregg Evans.

Some 76 golfers competed in the Vauxhall sponsored event, including Scotland manager Gordon Strachan and Wales boss Chris Coleman.

Strachan-Golf-225x300A host of other big football names also played, including Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee, ex-England stars Cyrille Regis, Mark Bright, Luther Blissett and Paul Walsh, as well as Northern Ireland’s record appearance holder Pat Jennings.

Neil’s fourball with Glen Ward, Tony Bloom and Alan Marcelis also won the Vauxhall Trophy for the team competition, held in stableford format, with the best two scores on each hole counting to the prize.

Brian Doogan’s team finished second, with third prize taken by Sun writer Mike McGrath’s team.

Tom Breese, part of the William Hill team, won the Longest Drive prize while freelance Ralph Ellis, who writes for the Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail and Daily Star, claimed the Nearest The Pin title with a hole in one.

Traditionally one of the highlights of the football golfing calendar, the annual FWA Golf Day, returned in 2011 thanks to the support from Vauxhall, the sponsor of Home Nations football.

Ralph Hits The Wrong Hole-In-One

A hole-in-one is usually a cause for celebration in golf, but one of the journalists had mixed emotions when he sunk a rare shot at the FWA Golf Day.

Ralph Ellis, freelance sports writer for the Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Star and BetFair columnist, won a Titleist SM5 Vokey sand wedge as the Nearest The Pin champion – but it should have been a Vauxhall Cascada!

All of the golfers were given the chance to win the vehicle on hole 21 and all they had to do is hit a hole-in-one.

However, Ralph missed that shot and landed it on the 11th hole instead.

“When it went in, we all went berserk running around celebrating – Ryder Cup style,” Ralph said.

“The good side of it was that it was the Nearest The Pin competition, though it’s a beautiful car and I would have preferred to do it on that hole.

“The golf club will do and I’ll work on it for next year so that I can score at the right hole.

“It was a unique experience and all part of a very good day that Vauxhall contributed to.”

“Can you do 30 seconds, Mike?”

Henry Winter, Football Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, looks back on the career of BBC chief football correspondent Mike Ingham, who retired after the World Cup.

Football hurtles back with indecent haste, but a friendly face – and familiar voice – will be absent from the Press room for the first time in 30 years.

Mike Ingham, the revered BBC chief football correspondent, has retired and his professionalism, perspective and journalistic principles will be missed by reporters, commentators, managers and players alike.

“I never intended to be a commentator,” recalled Ingham, who moved from Radio Derby in 1979 to BBC Sport on Two which evolved into Radio Five Live. “I wanted to present Sport on Two and then maybe Grandstand. For the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 they told me there wasn’t a role for the presenter on Sport on Two. People like Terry Wogan presented it. I was devastated. Mike Lewis, the head of radio sport, rang me just before he got on a plane for LA and said: ‘Mike, next season, we’d like you to go out on the road to be a football commentator.

“So I took a tape recorder to a few non-League games and sat at the back of the stand, practising. The first game I did that season was Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United against Watford with Graham Taylor, who became a great friend. The end of that season ended with me going to Heysel with Peter Jones and Emlyn Hughes for the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus. Heysel was horrific, a very numbing experience.

“My sister married an Italian. When I got married, half of the people there were Italians and I felt very close at that particular time to the Italians. That made it doubly hard for me to cope with. Peter was anchoring the whole thing. I had to keep going downstairs. This is a horrible thing to say, but I was counting the bodies, and had to keep coming back and say this is the latest figure.

“I saw blankets being pulled over people’s faces. A lot of the people I saw were built like weightlifters, huge stocky men, but they had still had the life crushed out of them. I don’t think the game should have been played. I was expecting the game to be called off but apparently they (Uefa) were worried about security.

“Peter grabbed my arm and said: ‘This is still a European Cup final.’ We did it. I don’t remember anything about the game. It was my worst moment in football without question. I wasn’t at Hillsborough. I was at Villa Park in 89, covering the Norwich-Everton semi. I remember interviewing Pat Nevin, who scored the only goal. Neither of us could really focus on doing the interview. We’ve often talked about it since.”

They worked together in Brazil where Ingham bowed out from the BBC after the final, drawing on all the expertise acquired during an ‘apprenticeship’ learning under masters like Jones and Bryon Butler. “Peter always said to me: ‘Light and shade’ and ‘don’t try to mention every player’s name, just an overview’. Bryon said: ‘Gears, gears, gears; just use the gearbox to build up (a move)’. Alan Parry was always fantastic on the radio doing the guttural. He said: ‘I always take a deep breath if I think something (like a goal) is on. Then I have the lung-power.’ Cliff Morgan always used to go on about ‘breathing, son, breathing, like the great opera singers’. He used to punch me in the stomach and say’ that’s where it comes from’.”

Ingham noticed a particular broadcast technique in Brazil. “One of the reasons why some of the commentators go “gooooooooaaal’ is so they can work out who scored. It gives them thinking time. My worst mistake was the last Euro final (2012) when I gave one of the Spain goals to Cesc Fabregas and not Jordi Alba over on the far side. I called it too soon.”

A rare mistake. Ingham has played eloquent witness to so many historic footballing events. “My best moment? Probably Liverpool in the (2005) European Cup final in Istanbul. They were out of it. We even said (Hernan) ‘Crespo wins the European Cup for AC Milan’. We had John Toshack in the commentary team and at half-time John said: ‘This is what he (Rafa Benitez) has got to do now tactically’.”
Toshack suggested Benitez should bring Didi Hamann on and push Steven Gerrard on. “He did,” continued Ingham.

“Alan (Green) and I took turns (22-and-a-half minutes each per half). I started the second half with it 3-0 to Milan and in my period of commentary, I got the three Liverpool goals. It was quite staggering. After the first goal, I said something like ‘Gerrard has given Liverpool a lifeline, something to believe in’. I remember the scenes afterwards. Although I’m not a Liverpool fan, there was an old tear in the eye that night.

“We then flew straight to America for England’s tour. We were in Chicago when Kieran Richardson scored (twice against the US). It was the only time when I finished commentating the first half and started the second half because I was so jet-lagged. I thought unless I get my bit out of the way I’m going to fall asleep!”

As well as chronicling historic times, Ingham also elicited the opinions of the history-makers. “I did the last radio interview with George Best. I went down to Champneys to see him. We’d always got on well. George was great mates with Denis Law and he knew I knew Denis. One day, I was covering the Scotland-West Germany game in Mexico (86) with Denis and we were walking up the stairs in the ground. There was this big kerfuffle on the stairs behind me, and I turned round and there was this guy giving Denis a big bear-hug. We walked on. I said: ‘Who was that?’ ‘Alfredo Di Stefano,’ said Denis. One of the great kicks for me was to sit next to people I grew up admiring.

“Which manager have I enjoyed interviewing most? Probably Cloughie simply because you had to wait about seven hours for the interview. If you had an appointment with Mr Clough at 11am at the City Ground you took that with a pinch of salt. He’d finally appear at 6pm with a squash racket under his arm and say: ‘Are we working?’ That was always his first line: ‘Are we working?’ With virtually any other manager you’d have given up but you knew it would be worth your while. Cloughie was always going to give you gold-dust.

“Cloughie’s probably the only manager – I guess also Fergie to an extent – where you had to think through every word of your question. You had to be so aware. If you said to him: ‘Brian, people will say…’ He’d say: ‘What people?’ Cloughie didn’t have any journalistic background like Graham Taylor (whose father wrote for the ‘Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph’), but part of him thought: ‘I could do your job, I’d be brilliant at doing what you do.’

“I always remember when he was doing a column in Derby and a local journalist, Mike Carey, was sent to ghost-write the piece for him. Cloughie was always thinking of what he was going to say. At the end of the second or third week, Carey walked in on the Thursday for the Friday edition and Brian looked up and said: ‘Michael, I’ve got your intro for you this week. Have you got your pen? I want to you to say for the first line: ‘What a week it’s been for saying ‘Bugger me’.”

“The managers I loved were the ones like Jim Smith at Portsmouth and Billy Bremner at Leeds who would sit and talk to you for an hour after the interview. And not just talk at you either but have a proper conversation. Graham Taylor was like that.

“Who was the most awkward manager to interview? That’s a difficult question.” Kenny Dalglish? “The thing about Kenny is I love him to bits. I’m a huge fan of Kenny and I know he listens to the radio as well! He was a challenge.” So was another Liverpool manager. “Joe Fagan was a lovely bloke, but was not going to get involved in any hyperbole. I remember interviewing him after they beat Panathinaikos to get to the (1985) European Cup final, saying: ‘What a moment for the club, Joe, and what a moment for you.’ He said to me: ‘Well, we’ve got to beat Ipswich on Saturday first’. That was hopeless for the morning interviews!”

Players? “I’ve enjoyed being host broadcaster at the World Cup and being able to meet the England players in a very intimate environment (around the hotel) and being able to scratch the surface with them. David Beckham always used to light up the room when he came in. Stevie G really, really grew into it. He has that charisma to him.

“One of the most interesting characters to interview, who opened up more when you got away from football, was Ashley Cole. We’d talk about music. Yet Ashley was always reluctant to do the interview.”
He wasn’t the only one. “Charlotte (Nicol, BBC producer) was always trying to get Scholesy to do interviews. It was like pulling teeth. She once said to Scholesy: ‘Would you rather have a tooth out or do a radio interview?’ ‘I’d rather have a tooth out,’ Scholesy said.'”

Wayne Rooney was always more forthcoming. “I remember interviewing Rooney for the first time at the Lowry in Manchester before Euro 2004. He was being almost minded (by five PR people). I’ve said to him since about the strides he’s made and the way we’ve seen him change each tournament. He’s a future England captain. He’s matured. He’s never, ever shirked his media responsibilities, certainly not with us.”

Ingham was present at England’s Baden Baden hotel before the 2006 World Cup when Rooney returned from a scan to declare himself fit for action. “I was slightly compromised. I was in a privileged position. We are in the England hotel. Are we supposed to be reporting on things we see? But it was such an instinctive thing. We were aware he was coming back. Sven (-Goran Eriksson) had said to Charlotte: ‘I think we’re going to have some good news.’ We knew Rooney was on his way.

“When he walked in, the kit-man was waiting for him. I was there, in reception. No one else was there. The kit-man put his arms round Rooney and said: ‘The Big Man is back.’ And then Rooney said: ‘The Big Man is back in town.’ He added that line. We had our little studio around the corner, we were live, and I went on and gave that quote. I know Rooney is slightly embarrassed about that quote. He’s possibly even tried to deny it but it was there.”

Ingham sighed when reflecting on England. “My first tournament with them was 1990 and they’ve gone backwards each tournament. I’m not sure how they’re going to turn it around. There’s a Catch 22. Every time there’s an under-achievement it makes it worse next time round. They’re not used to succeeding like the Germans. The problem in Brazil was that we went to Portugal and Miami with everything geared to the first game. It was such a kick in the stomach when they didn’t get anything against Italy. When I looked at them close up in the tunnel against Uruguay before the second game, I didn’t fancy them.

“England teams of the past had substantial characters like ‘Butch’ (Terry Butcher), Peter Shilton and Bryan Robson and you could never have accused their England teams of a mental fragility. There are few characters there now and we expect it to get worse with Gerrard and – we expect – Frank Lampard calling it a day.

“The hope coming to Brazil was that the younger guys would not be carrying that baggage from previous tournaments. I fear now that having been scarred by this tournament whether they can get it out of their system.” They need to become fearless. “Look at the way Costa Rica stepped up to take the penalties in the first shoot-out against Greece: bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

“Look at the way Italy recovered from losing a semi-final and a final on penalties (90 and 94): they then won a World Cup final against France (in 2006). If they can do that, why can’t we? I always remember Terry Venables saying to me when he was managing in Spain that ‘the difference between Spain and England is that England have this mental strength, Spain sometimes don’t’. It’s a complete role reversal.”

As he starts his retirement in the West Country, Ingham admits to certain concerns about the profession he graced for so long, such as the occasional haste and excitability of some behind the microphone. “With commentary now, there’s a tendency sometimes to treat every game like the World Cup final. If you do that, there’s a credibility factor because when you get to the World Cup final where do you go?”

As for the BBC, Ingham mentioned: “I mourn the passing of the correspondent editorial at the end of Sports Report. It was two minutes on an important issue. Like Paul Hayward with a column, I’d go away and write and it was the final word. Everything now is 30 seconds. It doesn’t matter what the story is. It can be ‘Alex Ferguson has left Manchester United, can you do 30 seconds, Mike?’ Or ‘the Grimsby manager has resigned, can you do 30 seconds, Mike?’ This mythical 30 seconds. There’s never been more air-time now to talk about sport and yet I never hear that considered voice piece.

“I will also miss the camaraderie with the Press. To an extent we were competitors with the Press but right from the start, from the days of Jeff Powell and Steve Curry, I was embraced. I’ve always been grateful for that.”

Just as the Press has always been grateful for Mike’s wisdom and company.

Brazil 2014 – a reporter’s guide to safety and security

Essential Do’s and Don’t’s For Reporters Going to Brazil

brazil2014(by Mike Collett, Reuters global football editor who has visited Brazil six times in three years)

There is no doubt Brazil is a beautiful country, but it is a country with a dark side. We all know it has wonderful beaches, samba music and a fantastic football tradition, but they will count for little if you are held up in broad daylight by some knife-wielding, wild-eyed scumbag lowlife demanding your wallet, mobile phone and laptop.

So to try and help you avoid becoming a victim while you are out there, I’ve put together a guide based on my own experiences with some tips that Reuters journalists have been asked to observe while in Brazil:

1) Most importantly do not resist a robbery attempt. Turn over your valuables quickly and without comment. To try to minimize becoming a target, do not  carry or wear valuable items that will attract the attention of thieves. Try to dress down in public and avoid using your phone while walking around in the streets. To minimize your chances of being attacked, please try and follow these tips too:

2) Keep your wits about you. Do not wander around listening to music through your headphones. Do not relax in the street. As Shaw Taylor used to say: “Keep ‘em peeled”

3) Be very careful when withdrawing money from ATM machines as debit card fraud is very common in Brazil at the moment. Avoid ATMs in the airports. Many airport ATMS have been tampered with because so many foreigners use them and often don’t realize until much later their cards have been copied etc.

4) Apart from when you are collecting your accreditation, you should not have to keep your passport on you all the time. Carry a copy instead and leave your passport in a hotel safe or other safe location.

5) Don’t carry around credit cards you don’t need or an excess of cash. Have enough to pay your way for a day and to satisfy a robber if you are held up, and keep the rest somewhere safe. In fact keep a “second wallet” with just cash in it. Leave your main wallet in your hotel safe.

6) Be alert if you go out at night. Maintain control of personal effects like phones and bags in bars and restaurants. Try not to get too drunk !

7) Keep to the main roads: Wealth and poverty are intermingled in Brazil where some of the most dangerous slums are next to the most expensive apartment blocks, and taking a wrong turn can get you into trouble.

8) Try to take taxis from your hotel or from a taxi stand if you need one. Take official taxis at airports.

9) Be wary of pickpockets working a crowd or on public transport.

10) Try not to drive at night, especially long distances. Avoid driving on your own.

11) Don’t open your hotel room door until you positively confirm who is on the other side. Regarding hotels: you can ask whom you like back to your room, and without being silly or sexist about it watch out for this scam. You may meet a very attractive person and invite her back to your room. What you don’t know is that she is working in league with a gang, texts your room number to her accomplices downstairs and she lets them in  to your room, so you end up with rather more than you bargained for.

12) Do not walk on beaches or in parks after dark.

13) Be careful about using public wifi. Brazil has the world’s second highest incidence of online banking fraud.

14) Do not use a laptop, iPad or iPhone in the back of a taxi as thieves on motorbikes habitually weave through traffic jams looking for robbery opportunities.

15) Take care in stadiums and in press tribunes in stadiums and keep watch over your gear – especially in media work rooms.   Professional gangs may have managed to get accreditation or stadium passes, as they have succeeded at doing in many international sporting competitions in Latin America in the past few years. BE VERY ALERT TO THE POSSIBILITY OF THEFT IN STADIUM – IT IS A MAJOR PROBLEM in LATIN AMERICA.

Bear in mind that although we will be in Brazil in June and July, it is the Southern Hemisphere winter and with Brazil being so close to the equator, it gets dark very early in the evening, around 6pm in Rio …. and that makes for a very long , dark evening and night. It takes a bit of getting used to. It can be very sunny and warm with the sun high in the sky around 5.15pm or so, but gets dark and can get  very   chilly very quickly, so if you are going to be out late afternoon and into the evening, make sure you take some warm clothing with you. 

Suarez Humbled by FWA Accolade

Pictures: Action Images

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Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014

Luis Suarez came full circle when he was voted the Footballer of the Year for 2014 by the Football Writers’ Association, who recognised the rehabilitation and dedication of the Liverpool forward.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers collected the prestigious accolade, which has been running since 1948, on behalf of the Uruguay forward, away on holiday ahead of the World Cup, at a gala dinner at the London Lancaster Hotel on May 15.

Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014The 27-year-old topped the poll of 300-plus journalists ahead of team-mate Steven Gerrard, with Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure third.

Suarez netted 31 goals in a remarkable campaign which not only drove Liverpool close to a first league title in 24 years, but also saw the forward put negative headlines of the past firmly behind him.

“It is amazing for me and the club as well,” Suarez said in a pre-recorded interview broadcast on the evening.

“For many years, there have been a lot of big players who have won this prize.

“Thank you so much to all the Football Writers who voted for me because they recognised my work on the pitch, and they know that I try my best to help Liverpool.

“I know that it was a difficult time for me one or two years ago, but I accept that criticism, but then if you concentrate and focus to help the team, everything can be perfect.

“I am an easy guy outside the pitch, and on the pitch I know I changed, but because I love the football, I have fought so hard to stay at this level.”

Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014

FWA chairman Andy Dunn, of the Sunday Mirror, felt Suarez’s dedication to his profession was why he proved himself a worthy receipt.

“There are some members who remind quite frequently that in the citation for this award it mentions he is the Footballer of the Year by ‘precept and by example’,” Dunn said.

“Now that part of the citation is important, but I do think what better example is there of someone who maybe realised that they did have issues to address on the field of play and has addressed those issues?

“I think Luis Suarez has done that and I think that is why he fulfills that criteria.

“And, of course, there is that bit that says ‘the Footballer of the Year’ and what a footballer he is, what a footballer we’ve had the privilege to watch, particularly this season.”

Rodgers thanked Suarez – who was also named who was also named the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year for 2013/2014 – for making him a better manager.Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014

“On behalf of Luis and all of Liverpool Football Club’s staff, we want to say a big thank you to the Football Writers’ Association,” he said.

“I think everybody knows the struggles he had in the last year. It has been incredibly difficult for him.

“But rehabilitation is always respected in the country – people who want to change for the better and he is certainly someone that was at a real low point at the end of the last season.

“I know that better than anyone. It was a real, real difficult period for him but he went away and, after a difficult summer, the power of Liverpool and the club that it is convinced him to stay.

“Once we got the season under way, he concentrated on his football and we have had a number of outstanding players this season but Luis Suarez has been incredible.”

Rodgers used the speech to thank former manager Kenny Dalglish for signing Suarez, Liverpool’s communication team and managing director Ian Ayre.

First and foremost in the Reds boss’ praise, though, was Suarez, whose performances this season saw them come so close to the title.Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014

“When I came into Liverpool as manager, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard said to me this was the best player that they had played with,” Rodgers added.

“I thought about those two and all the great players they have played with in their career, so I was really interested to see what his play was like close up.

“For me, he has challenged me every day of my life, he’s done everything that you would need to do at the top level of the game as a player.

“Luis Suarez is a winner, his determination is unique, he is absolutely relentless. He is someone that trains every single day of his life – he doesn’t look for an excuse.

“And what people don’t see is that he is a very intelligent man. He is a winner when he crosses the line, but with great intelligence.

“For a young manager like myself coming into a club like Liverpool, I understand the pressures of the club and those pressures include everything that involves managing top players.

“I know for however long I am at Liverpool, whenever I leave I will have become a better manager and a better person because of Luis Suarez and for that I thank him so mBarclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014uch.”

 

Liverpool and England captain Gerrard, who was also away on a pre-World Cup break, is in no doubt where Suarez stands among his peers.

 

 

Writing a personal tribute for the FWA programme, he said: “I have been privileged to play alongside some great players during my years at Liverpool, but nobody comes close to Luis. He is not only the best, he’s the best by some distance.

“We have all seen what he’s done this season with his goals and his all-round brilliance and I think it has taken Luis on to a different level.Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014

“Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best players in the world and have been for the last four or five years, but Luis is tucked right in there behind them now.”

Suarez was also praised on stage by Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, who proposed the toast to the FWA.

Earlier in the evening, which was attended by a number of former winners as well as current players and managers within the game, Jeff Powell, of the Daily Mail, had recalled his memories of the late Sir Tom Finney, who was voted the Footballer of the Year twice, in 1954 and 1957.Barclays PR Shoot 15/05/2014

There were also FWA Lifetime Membership presentations to Tony Stenson, of the Daily Star Sunday, and renowned Sunday Times columnist Hugh McIlvanney.

 

 

 

 

Luis Suarez, the Footballer of the Year for 2014

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