My row with David Beckham – Because I gave him a six

The former Manchester United midfielder never forgave STUART MATHIESON for his match marking


TO MILLIONS of people around the world Stuart Mathieson, the Manchester United correspondent of the Manchester Evening News, has the best job in football journalism.

It is the dream job for any United fan, covering Wayne Rooney and company each week yet Mathieson admits he grew up supporting the noisy neighbours.

He said: “I was a City fan as a kid. I used to sell programmes at Maine Road as a teenager but when I became a football writer at 17 I realised there was a bigger picture. I can’t say I’ve lost my affinity for the club and still look for City’s results but I became aware there were footballers out there as good as the ones I hero-worshipped.

“My family are all City fans so my job makes it easier in that as much as I love covering United I don’t necessarily want to go out all the time and talk to my family and friends about work.”

Mathieson succeeded David Meek in 1995 and since then has reported on 10 Barclays Premier League titles, three Champions League finals, three FA Cup and three Carling Cup wins

There are few reasons to be critical of the most successful club in Barclays Premier League history but United are notoriously sensitive to what they perceive as negative coverage. As the local beat man Mathieson more than anyone must be aware of the line in the sand but he has still fallen victim to the Old Trafford media sanctions. While still on good terms with Sir Alex Ferguson, Mathieson has no special privileges.

He said: “When I started I had access to Ferguson every day. I would phone him at home, the training ground or on his mobile so to be too critical then was difficult because I had to pick up speak to him the next day. But over the last five years the relationship’s changed.”

The News’s coverage of FC United of Manchester, the club formed in 2005 by supporters opposed to Malcolm Glazer’s takeover, did not go down well with the Old Trafford powerbrokers.

Mathieson said: “It was a big story and had to be covered but Fergie didn’t like the way we continued to cover it. He told me it was nothing personal but the phone call every day went out the window. I only see him at press conferences now, usually twice a week. It’s not ideal because you don’t pick up updates on injuries though in some respects it makes it easier to be critical because I have nothing to lose.”

FWA members have been handed a one-game ban – or more – for what they have written and Mathieson said: “It is very much a treading on eggshells situation for anyone who covers United. I’ve discovered down the years that whatever I write some people will think I’ve got it wrong or that I’m biased against United or biased in their favour.

“I always write honestly – I couldn’t do anything else – and if it upsets people, what can I do?”

Probably the most touchy subject for players are the marks at the end of a match report. Few FWA members have not incurred the wrath of an indignant player who feels his display has been under-valued.

Mathieson said: “Some people wonder if I have a vendetta against a player which I haven’t. If I did some would have got zero every week.

“As with everything else I do the marks honestly, not being generous because someone has given me a good interview or whatever. I’ve had big fallouts with Peter Schmeichel and David Beckham over the years. I had a major row with Beckham in France once because I’d given him six out of 10, he went ballistic. He probably felt he should have got a seven or an eight. I stood my ground and we argued. He never spoke to me again after that. When he went to Real Madrid a couple of sports papers gave him a naught for one of two games so I wasn’t that bad, perhaps.

“The 6-1 home defeat by City was easy to cover because the defeat was so comprehensive there was no argument from anybody. No one complained about their marks, mind you, I doubt if any United players read the papers for a few days.”

Mathieson has covered the cream of the Barclays Premier League players over the past 16 years and for him two stand out. He said: “In terms of being helpful, Steve Bruce was magnificent even though I didn’t work with him for that long. He was always very good to me and since he left United it’s been the same. I spoke to him before United played Sunderland about Wes Brown and John O’Shea and as always he was brilliant.

“On the pitch it has to be Cristiano Ronaldo because of the things he could do. There were some parts of his game I didn’t like but he was a sensational player and United miss him. United had five years of Ronaldo which is all they had from [Eric] Cantona and he’s an absolute legend. I think Ronaldo is very close to that. He won two titles and the 2008 Champions League final virtually on his own. He was as close to a one-man band as you can possibly get.”

Mathieson is very aware how fortunate he is to cover every game of the biggest club in the world where success is virtually guaranteed,

He said: “Like all football writers I sometimes think ‘oh no, another spread’ or ‘another back page’ but whenever I go to a match and see how many people are there…the money they have spent…it’s ridiculous even thinking about moaning. The football I’ve seen over the past 16 years, and been paid to see, has been wonderful. I don’t think there is a provincial journalist who has covered the amount of success I have.

“People have spent their life saving going to the same games as me and I never lose sight of that.”

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