FWA Q&A: Neil AshtonThe Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton on clapping Palace fans, Iniesta’s goal and a whopper in Buenos Aires...
Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
Yes, I worked in my mother’s restaurant when I was about 16/17. I loved it, particularly as I set out in each shift to earn more in tips than I did in salary (which wasn’t difficult on my mother’s rates). I also worked for a corporate events company in golf, which allowed me to travel around the world and in return I rarely got paid. It didn’t last long, much as I enjoyed it.
Finest achievement playing football?
When Steve Coppell turned to me and said: “You’re on” in Geoff Thomas’s benefit game at the Colosseum between Palace and Manchester United in 2006. To play in the same team as my boyhood heroes – Geoff, Mark Bright, Ian Wright and Andy Gray and to play centre-half against Mark Hughes – was something I didn’t imagine could ever happen. Shaun Custis from the Sun was on the phone the next day and he said: “Right, you’ve got two minutes to tell me everything and then I never want to hear another word about it again.” Somehow I forgot to tell him I had clapped the Palace supporters in the Holmesdale Road when I walked off the pitch – unfortunately for me it has now become part of Matt Lawton’s entertaining dinner party stories.
Most memorable match covered?
On the rare occasion when I need to remind myself of the reasons why I love the game, I think of the unique roar that went up from a corner of Barcelona fans when Andres Iniesta scored that remarkable stoppage time equaliser at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2009. I’ve never heard a sound like it and I was transfixed by the celebrations that
followed by the corner flag.
The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Professionally it has to be Iniesta’s goal against Chelsea – the moment it left his boot, it was destined to beat Petr Cech. Personally it’s John Motson’s commentary of Mark Bright’s hooked, left foot equaliser against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. On the Holte End we momentarily stood in shock each time Palace scored and it was only a second or so later when we realised the linesman’s flag hadn’t gone up, it was bedlam.
The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is magnificent. For historical significance, then it’s tough to beat Camp Nou or the Bernabeu.
...and the worst?
None. I still get a knot in my stomach on matchday, a real sense of anticipation and it doesn’t matter which game I’m going to. I got the same feeling in the days when I covered Crewe v Port Vale as I do for the Champions League final – to the supporters it means just as much.
Your best ever scoop?
I’m not one for patting myself on the back. I prefer to look ahead and would like to think that my best stories are still ahead of me.
This question brings me out in a cold sweat. I once got an introduction to a property developer who wanted to buy Elland Road at the height of their financial troubles. The developer wanted to pull down the stadium – Billy Bremner statue and all – and suggested that the mighty Leeds went to groundshare with Barnsley while they redeveloped the site for a supermarket. It didn’t go down well with Leeds fans.
Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
No, although I’ve been told AVB looks like me.
Favourite football writer?
I would love to be able to write with the touch or poise of Hayward, but it’s never going to happen. In terms of emerging talent, Sami Mokbel at the Daily Mail has the fearless qualities that are required of news reporters. Good on him.
Favourite TV commentator?
Has to be Bryon Butler, painting a picture and mesmerising the radio audience with that incredible change of pace. His description of Maradona’s second goal at the 1986 World Cup - Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble, little squab man, comes inside Butcher and leaves him for dead, outside Fenwick and leaves him for dead, and puts the ball away...and that is why
Maradona is the greatest player in the world...’ is broadcasting at the highest level.
Most media friendly manager?
Harry. Doesn’t everyone say this?
Best ever player?
Zizou. I still marvel at his ability, La Roulette trick that took two or three players out of the game in one spin of those magical boots. The guy was something else.
Best ever teams (club and international)
CLUB: Current Barcelona team, although Ajax’s 1995 Champions League winning team would give them a game. INTERNATIONAL: Spain in 2008 and 2010. The football’s breathtaking at times.
Best pre-match grub?
Wembley, provided it’s an FA event. They really know how to look after the media.
Best meal had on your travels?
Carlos Tevez’s two best friends in Argentina took me into Fuerte Apache and in return I told them to book the best restaurant in Buenos Aires – they got the driver to take us Burger King and they dined out with whoppers, fries and genetically-modified Sprites. Respect
...and the worst?
Any time I have to eat food on the run or from an airport.
Best hotel stayed in?
The Faena in Buenos Aires. England’s general manager Franco Baldini could have a nice sideline business in hotel recommendations around the world.
...and the worst?
When I put my bags down in my room at the Cabanas in Sun City for the World Cup in South Africa, I wondered how I would ever get through the next 42 days and nights. The only thing that spared me was the company of the Independent’s Sam Wallace and the Sunday Telegraph’s “foot corr” as he calls himself, Duncan White.
If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
I wouldn’t really, they do a solid job in tough circumstances. Perhaps I’d probably remind them that they are employees of the club and are not part of the management or squad. I’ve seen press officers walk on to the pitch to high five players and pat them on the bum at the end of a game and I’ve seen players kissed on both cheeks by female press officers when they come out of the dressing rooms. It’s unnecessary, but can understand why it happens when people are caught up in the moment.
One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
Has to be the US Open at Flushing Meadows.
Favourite current TV programme?
What is this, Shoot! magazine? I flick through the channels and find some football. If there’s nothing live, then it’s Football Greatest Managers on Sky, or FA Cup Legends on ESPN.
Last book read?
I’ve been reading A Life Too Short, the tragic story of the German goalkeeper Robert Enke, since the start of November, but the poor guy had so many demons I can only read it in short passages.
Your most prized football memorabilia?
I paid an absolute fortune for Crystal Palace’s famous adidas sash kit from the 1980/81 season worn by the No7 at the time David Giles – it’s an absolute beaut and I wouldn’t sell it for a million pounds. Mark Bright’s No9 shirt from the 0-9 defeat at Anfield in September 1989 and Ian Wright’s No10 shirt from 1987/88 are also up there. I collect match-worn Crystal Palace shirts and have told the chairman Steve Parish he can put the entire collection on display in the grand entrance hall to their new stadium when they finally move there.