BY JOHN ANDERSON
COVER football and see the world at someone else’s expense. It sure beats working for a living. You visit new places and meet new people, yet sometimes things aren’t quite as the brochure indicated…well, initially at least.
John Anderson covers England for talkSPORT and in the updated version of A Great Face For Radio he recalls his horror at having to share a room with Terrible Tony at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
“AS I WAS the only representative from talkSPORT who was based with England, I had no obvious partner to share a room with at the media accommodation. By a process of elimination I was paired with another solo traveller, I learnt that he was a Eurosport website reporter I had never met called Tony Mabert who wasn’t due to join the party until a week after we arrived.
I shared a taxi to Heathrow with the Daily Mirror’s John Cross who lives close to me in north London and who had been a good mate on numerous football and athletics trips going back 10 years. During the journey he looked up from his texting and asked me who I was sharing with.
“Some bloke from Eurosport called Tony Mabert,” I replied.
Crossy let out an astonished shriek and turned towards me, his face contorted in horror.
“Oh my God,” he spluttered. “Not terrible Tony.”
After which he broke out into a cackle of fiendish laughter. “Bloody hell Ando, he’s an absolute maniac.”
He explained he’s come across Tony during Euro 2008 and regaled me with lurid tales of how his unpredictable behaviour, violent mood swings and drunken antics had shocked even the most seasoned campaigners within the England press corps. As I listened I grew increasingly alarmed at the prospect of sharing an apartment with a man who appeared to possess all the social niceties of a 1970’s Oliver Reed crossed with Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
Crossy continued tapping away on his Blackberry throughout the conversation and within minutes, I received a text from 5Live senior football reporter Ian Dennis.
“I hear you’re sharing with TT, good luck.”
As word got around I was accosted at the check-in by other travelling companions who were keen to inform me of the impending oblivion into which I would shortly be enveloped. Even the Independent On Sunday’s Steve Tongue, a former colleague at IRN and one of the gentlest souls on the trip, sidled up to offer his condolences.
“Surely this bloke can’t be that bad?” I kept insisting.
“Honestly mate, he’s a complete nutter,” came the unanimous response.
I digested the news on a slightly nervous journey to Johannesburg as I pondered what on earth I was in for during the following weeks. It appeared that Tony’s idea of a good night out consisted of necking 17 pints of strong lager, having a fight with a nightclub bouncer, ripping the door off his hotel room and dancing insanely to techno music until dawn.
Given my own past history I’m certainly not one to suffer bouts of righteous indignation when it comes to other people’s social habits, but the idea of having to wake up at seven to do a live chat with the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast to a back-drop of bacchanalian mayhem was a little disconcerting. Having said that, Alan himself would no doubt have heartily approved. At least I had a week to prepare myself.
My early starts meant this was one of the driest trips I had ever done as there was just about time to nip down to the nearby 4th Street Cafe after the last report of the day and sink a quick pint or two before collapsing into bed ahead of the next one. It was all a far cry from the heady days of the early 1990’s when any amount of sleep that could be stolen between nightclub closing and the press conference starting was considered a bonus.
The legendary Tony Lockwood once decided it was time to grab a quick kip after a big night out in Rotterdam and marched up to the hotel receptionist. “Hello, I’m Mr Lockwood, room 154. Could I have an alarm call for 7.15am please?”
“It’s 7.30 now sir.”
FROM TIME to time people would mischievously ask if Terrible Tony had arrived. Rob Beasley, my old mate from the Signal Radio days, and his room-mate Sun photographer Dickie Pelham put up an incredible display of horrified indignation during one coach journey to training.
“The problem is,” Rob explained. “He’s so unpredictable, especially when he’s had a drink. On the face of it he’s quite a nice guy, but he just has this knack of winding people up. I’ve nearly hit him a couple of times.”
I was so concerned that I approached BAC Sport’s Brian Scott [who was in charge of media travel] to voice my concerns. He explained that there was little that could be done unless an actual incident took place.
As you have probably guessed, I had been totally taken in and Tony Mabert turned out to be a hugely likeable fellow in his late 20’s who was on his first major trip with England. We got on like a house on fire from the word go and he found the whole Terrible Tony thing hilarious. The name stuck and he gained instant credibility among our companions in the village.
I had to make my hat off to Crossy who admitted he thought the whole thing up on the spur the moment during the taxi ride; it had been a brilliantly executed set-up and I actually felt privileged to have been the hapless victim.”
From: A Great Face For Radio – the adventures of a sports commentator by John Anderson (Paperback: Pitch Publishing £9.99) plus Kindle and iTunes.