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FWA Q&A: Geoff Peters

talkSPORT’s GEOFF PETERS on being given a mouthful by Serbs…going out with a manager’s girlfriend…and why Winter is best.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
In my formative journalistic years as a teenager, working on a free weekly newspaper and then for a press agency, I had to cover stuff like inquests, magistrates courts etc and even got roped in to do some stuff for the entertainment pages. It once took me a whole day to write a review of a play. The editor never asked me again. I’ve been a DJ since the age of 14 – working in Ibiza and Egypt and other much less glamorous places – and currently have bar and club gigs on Friday and Saturday nights in the Midlands so, along with football, it means my weekends are rather hectic. I had a spell out of journalism and part of that time was spent working for Leicester City’s lottery department, servicing venues around the county who sold the club’s scratchcards. It was actually a lot more fun than it probably sounds.

Most memorable match?
May 30, 1994. It was the Division One Play-off Final between Leicester City and Derby County. Leicester – the team I support – came from behind to win and get promotion to the Premiership. It was their first win at Wembley in seven attempts. I was just 21 and commentating for BBC Radio Leicester and it remains a golden moment for me.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Leicester v Arsenal in 1997. Leicester came from 2-0 down to equalise in the last 10 minutes through Heskey and Elliott but Dennis Bergkamp went back up the field to score a stunning goal, complete his hat-trick and seemingly win it. The never say die spirit of Martin O’Neill came to the fore as Steve Walsh headed home to make it 3-3 deep into stoppage time. Pulsating, breathless stuff. Bergkamp was sublime that night.
From a more general perspective, the pure theatre from the Manchester City-QPR game in May 2012 will take some beating.

Best stadium?
I had a brief flirtation as a Liverpool fan in my very early years – Rush and Grobbelaar were my two favourite players – and the first time I went to Anfield really took my breath away.

…and the worst?
Visiting The Den as an away fan was a nightmare. The least safe I’ve ever felt in a press box was at the Gerhard Hanappi stadium in Vienna when Leicester played Red Star Belgrade there in a UEFA Cup tie in 2000. The Serbian fans were like caged animals and, among other things, they were spitting at the press guys.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
When I was writing a book in early 1998 about Martin O’Neill’s first two years as Leicester manager, I borrowed a Mac and managed to lose work several times through my technical ineptitude. I managed to get it finished and self published it, selling about 3,500 copies in the end. It was never going to win any literary awards – I was 24 and had no idea what I was doing to be honest – but it made it to print which seemed unlikely at various points. I now back up stuff regularly because while computers are amazing things, the idiot who uses them is a mere human.

Biggest mistake?
Too numerous to mention but becoming friends with the girlfriend of a football manager and then seeing a photograph of us together splashed over the front pages of several national newspapers, who suggested there was a lot more to our friendship, certainly caused a fair amount of aggravation. The main mistake was not listening to journalist pals who warned me about her. I took advice from these people a lot more after that particular episode.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
In my 20s people said I looked like Johnny Vaughan and Dale Winton and since shaving my head, I’ve had all the Right Said Fred and Crystal Maze jokes. Not that I’ve ever actually been mistaken for any of those guys. I suppose if I walked around Molineux in a Wolves jacket on matchday I might get confused with Stale Solbakken.

Most media friendly manager?
I like Brian McDermott at Reading. He’s always honest and doesn’t leap down your throat if you ask a daft question as can happen from time to time. Brian Little was brilliant when I was starting out in the BBC and Micky Adams would always look you in the eye when giving interviews. He lost the plot one day in a pre-recorded piece and it left me a little shell shocked if I’m honest. Somehow he got my number and rang me later to apologise which I don’t think many managers would do.

Least media friendly manager?

Gordon Strachan. Can’t understand why the media keep employing him when he’s treated journalists with such disrespect over the years. He’s been rude to me when I’ve asked simple, non-threatening questions and there’s really no need for it.

Best ever player?
Tough choice. In my lifetime it would be Maradona, Bergkamp, Zidane or Messi – I could make a case for all of them. My favourite player ever at my club is Steve Walsh. He cared about the shirt and gave everything he could for the best part of a decade and a half.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Dull and predictable but it’s hard to look past Barcelona and Spain in recent years.

Best pre-match grub?
Aston Villa – top class catering.

Best hotel stayed in?
Non-football but I went on a press trip to northern Spain in December 1992 to record a feature for a holiday show. Can’t remember the name of the place but it was big, luxurious and, most importantly, we had a free bar. The hotel staff didn’t make one murmur of complaint after cleaning up the mess I left. I’ve never been that drunk or that ill from booze since.

Favourite football writer?

I love Henry Winter’s writing style. He’s also a very cool, calm person. I’m still a bit in awe of him whenever I speak to him. He’s everything that a journalist should be – fair, polite and hard working.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Barry Davies was the best one on TV although Martin Tyler runs him close these days. Voices you can trust and believe in and add sparkle to the pictures you can see. I remember as a young kid the distinct tones of Bryon Butler on a crackly medium wave radio.

I was fortunate to work with the likes of John Rawling, Jonathan Agnew and Iain Carter in my formative broadcasting years in the BBC and I learnt a lot from them.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
The media are not the enemy – they’re a voice for the clubs to communicate to the fans. I think the clubs sometimes forget that. More openness and trust wouldn’t go amiss.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?

The Ashes in Australia with England stuffing them.

Last book read?

Fibber In The Heat by Miles Jupp. He somehow blagged his way onto an England cricket tour to India with the press pack a few years ago. A bizarre but very funny read.

Favourite current TV programme?
Have I Got News For You – especially when they get Jeremy Clarkson to host it.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I have a few signed shirts and pictures – the best is probably a replica England 1966 shirt signed by Sir Geoff Hurst.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
The line is blurred these days between newspapers, radio, TV and websites – don’t be afraid to embrace more than one. Listen and learn from older, wiser, more experienced colleagues. If you get paid to watch football – however cold and tired you might be sitting in a press box – don’t complain too much. It’s a great job.

Follow Geoff Peters on Twitter @talkSPORTgeoff

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