My Week: Andy Mitten

Andy Mitten on no Wise guy…a dancing daughter…and Xavi, the best talker in football…

Sunday, May 27
Sunday starts with an early morning rejection in paradise. I’m in Barbados to cover the PFA British Airways Legends tournament. Last year was good – 17 interviews done over four days on a beach for FourFourTwo. It made up for the hours waiting in mixed zones throughout the season.

The chat with Gary Speed in which he spoke of his love for his family was published just before he died. One tabloid lifted it for their front page and described it as ‘Speed’s last emotional interview.’ Which wasn’t true.

An interview with an unemployed Roberto Di Matteo gained additional currency when he was appointed Chelsea boss, especially the line about him training as a butcher.

My brief this time is to get Gianfranco Zola, Gus Poyet, Alan Shearer and Dennis Wise. The big one will be Wise, in part because he does so little media and I’ve got a substantial list of questions, some close to the bone.

I don’t know Wise and have heard mixed reports, but he appears cheery as he walks along the beach alone at 7am. I introduce myself shortly afterwards and he’s all smiles. He does not, however, want to do the interview. Wise says it’s something about a past dispute with the magazine, which is news to me. And everyone at the magazine.

Players usually want to speak to FourFourTwo. They like it and respect it, the biggest names. Not Wise.

The tournament, which is played in the historic Kensington Oval, sees Manchester United retain their title after again beating a very strong Chelsea team in the final. The United lads are buzzing and celebrations go on late.

Monday, May 28
Bit of work, bit of sea and sun. It’s not normally like this. Interviewed Zola, Poyet, Yorke and Shearer last night. Wise didn’t do any media.

Share a brew with Bojan Djordic, who talks of his plans to find a new club. Football is a precarious profession and the Serb has no idea where he will be living in a month, let alone a year. He’s lived in three countries in the last year alone and the stress has contributed to the break up of his relationship with a Swedish model. If contracts were awarded for enthusiasm he’d back at Old Trafford. Los Angeles is mentioned. Bojan’s the sort of lad who would have Angelina Jolie’s number within a week of arriving. And also any expat Serbs’ with questionable backgrounds.

Fine meal at night with the eight other journalists on the trip. An interesting discussion between the young guns who are keen on football writers who obsess over tactics. And the older heads who think said writers have little right to analyse tactics when they’ve not played, managed or coached football.

“You’re missing out on some of the world’s great novelists to read about football tactics,” an old hand admonishes his junior. “Shouldn’t you being going out, getting drunk and speaking to girls?”

Tuesday, May 29
Up at 6am in rainy Barbados to write my weekly column for Yahoo-Eurosport. I spoke to Gaizka Mendieta, who is playing in the tournament on Saturday and got him to run through the Spanish team. I bolster his comments with a few words from Xavi, the best talker in football. I first interviewed Xavi in 2003 but he only gave me his number three weeks ago.

Spend three hours reading, editing and sending articles for the next issue of United We Stand to a designer and sub editor in Manchester. We’ve got the 56-page summer number to be done in a week. I was unsure whether to publish because the mood isn’t great among fans, but then fanzines can be at their best when all is less than harmonious and our readers are loyal. And we’ve had loads of quality contributions sent in and our line-up includes interviews with Rio Ferdinand, Louis Saha, Sir Alex Ferguson and one of the Happy Mondays.

Most days are spent in front of a computer screen in Barcelona or Manchester. I’ve divided my time between the two cities since 2001 and probably keep Monarch Airlines flying. I’ll typically attend 30 United and 30 Barça games a season, plus another 20 around Europe and beyond.

Speak to Quinton Fortune about Cristiano Ronaldo, Man United’s reserve team players and the ones most likely to make it. He trains with them every day at Carrington so he knows his stuff; he even has a locker. I first met Quinton in 2000 when I spent a week with him in his native Cape Town for a magazine article. We bumped into kids wearing United shirts in the townships who didn’t recognise him, despite him being a first team player from their neighbourhood.

Quinton is excited about playing for United’s veterans in the Bernabéu this Sunday night. A 60,000 crowd is expected. As the only Spanish speaker (he played for Atletico Madrid), Fortune will be asked to do the media in Madrid. He does impressions of key Real Madrid figures like Raul and Jorge Valdano and jokes that he’s going to mimic them in the press conference.

Fly from Barbados to Gatwick. Michael Carrick is on the plane with his family. I can’t understand why he’s not in the England team for the Euros, but then I rarely understand much when it comes to England selection.

Wednesday, May 30
Land at fogbound Gatwick at 0545 after an eight-hour flight. Sat next to Mark Irwin from the Sun. He’s cutting, dry and very funny. One reason why I only get an hour’s sleep.

I’ve been away from my wife and 18-month-old daughter for five days and miss both badly. Skype is wonderful for keeping in touch and my wife has uploaded a video of our daughter dancing. It melts my heart and keeps my tired eyes open.

I feel shattered, but I’ve got the UWS designer and sub-editor waiting for copy and spend most of the day working in a lounge at Heathrow airport before flying back to Barcelona. Steve Kean is spotted charging his phone in T5, while I speak to Andrew Cole about this week’s column for the National in Abu Dhabi. I’ve written four pieces a week, usually on European football, for the paper since 2008 and ghosted a column for Cole for two seasons. Cole’s a joy to work with: ultra reliable and never afraid to speak his mind. He was honest and critical of Di Matteo in last week’s column despite knowing he would come face to face with him the next day. They blanked each other.

Cole could be hard work with the media as a player, but I put it down to shyness rather than arrogance. He’s a private person but once you know him you know exactly where you stand. I’d rather that than someone who appears to be the life and soul but is actually moody and unpredictable like others I won’t mention.

Cole’s life story from a kid on a crime ridden Nottingham estate to a European Cup winner is fascinating – and very few people know it. He’s the son of a cricket-mad Jamaican who ended up as a Nottingham miner who refused to cross the picket line in the miners’ strike. And I’ll never tire of him talking about playing in the best game I’ve ever seen: Juventus 2 Manchester United 3.

Arrive home at 8pm. Dance with daughter. Sleep.

Thursday, May 31
Sell the Madrid idea to a couple of editors and check prices to Madrid. It’s €160 for return train and a night in a hotel – good value. Email Real Madrid for a press pass. They’ve always been fine deal with, Barça too. Benfica were the worst club I’ve dealt with, totally disorganised.

Ask wife if she wants to come and make a weekend of it as Madrid’s a glorious city. She reminds me that it’s our wedding anniversary and says she’d prefer to stay at home after the trip to Zaragoza last month. We went as a family on the faster-than-Kanchelskis AVE train, but daughter wouldn’t sit still and was practising her chicken and cow noises on the other passengers. There and back, nonstop. I managed to write a feature on Zaragoza v Barça in between.

A compromise is reached. I’ll spend Friday night and all day Saturday with the family, then head to Madrid and stay overnight Sunday.

Spend afternoon writing a column for the Manchester Evening News, a Manchester angle based around being face to face with Chelsea-bound Eden Hazard and Di Matteo in the last two weeks. I’m not convinced they will ever work together…

Friday, June 1
All the cheap flights and trains to Madrid have gone. Find a solution – a midnight flight back. It means not having the expense of a hotel and more family time.

A tabloid reporter emails for an update on Pep Guardiola’s situation and confirmation that he wants to spend time in New York. My source on that was a friend of his wife who had told her excitedly that she was looking forward to New York’s shops.

Write a piece on Cristiano Ronaldo for the National and edit more pages of the summer UWS. They’re coming in thick and fast. I started UWS when I was 15 in 1989 and we’re now on issue 217. I devote about five days a month to it. About 40 people contribute in one form or another – writers, sellers, sources, distributors and designers. It’s an eclectic bunch – from the Telegraph’s Jim White to former pro (and United fan) James Scowcroft, Mancunian poet Mike Duff to some high-flying talents who’d rather hide their identity. I doubt their employers realise they also work for a mere fanzine…

I’m very proud of the team and love it when a talented writer gets picked up and goes onto better things. I don’t like it when Royal Mail increases postal costs by 40% for our overseas subscribers.

Good news and bad comes in the space of an hour. UWS has made the shortlist for the fanzine of the year for the second successive season. And I’ve lost my dictaphone. Good job I backed everything up.

Saturday, June 2
The cover design comes back and I test reaction on Twitter. It’s good.

Family day in Sitges, where Bobby Robson and Gary Lineker both lived when they worked at Barça. Watch a little bit of England v Belgium and catch up on Spanish domestic play-off news.

Sunday, June 3
Work during a very turbulent flight to Madrid and then write a colour feature about the vets’ game. United lose 3-2 to a Zidane-inspired Madrid side. It’s good fun. Speak to Van der Sar, Figo, Helguera after the game, plus the several of the other United lads who are like star-struck teenagers when describing what it’s like to play against Zidane.

Laugh it as a Madrid journalist who had just been embraced by Figo sees Andy Cole and say: “I need a photo with Cole. He was one of my idols!”

“Blimey,” says Sid Lowe, the Guardian man in Madrid who can’t believe the welcome Cole also got in the stadium. Sid’s got a book coming out on Barça and Madrid which I’m looking forward to.

Run back to the metro for a short trip to the airport and a midnight flight to Barcelona. Get home at 3am with another busy week ahead with interviews to write up ahead up the Euros and UWS due at the printers on Wednesday. Eagerly anticipating my own brief version of the close season and a complete escape from football.

Andy Mitten is a freelance journalist who has been editor of United We Stand for 23 years.

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