IAN HAWKEY on covering Ba#celona…the singing nuns of Ougadougou…and don’t mention the Waugh

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?

Some temporary shop jobs with unsightly uniforms and a stint as a painter-and-decorator, but otherwise worked only as a journalist, in various capacities, but mainly sports reporting.

Most memorable match?

Professionally, probably Juventus v Man United, 1999, the semi-final in Turin, the United comeback. Emotionally, the Europa League final in 2010. Every Fulham supporter – I am one – who had watched that club scrabbling around at the foot of the Football League in the 1990s felt something dreamy going to Hamburg to see Fulham, yes Fulham, in a European final.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?

Zinedine Zidane’s volleyed goal in the 2002 Champions League final.

Best stadium?

San Mames, Bilbao. Not for the facility, which is aged, but the atmosphere.

…and the worst?

I’ve been to same very basic grounds covering football in Africa, but also spent too many nights despairing about why the great football city of Rome cannot do something about a Stadio Olimpico that is decrepit, that neither of the tenant clubs like.

Your personal new-tech disaster?

I had several faulty keys on my laptop six or seven years ago. One was the letter R. I covered a lot of Barcelona and Real Madrid at the time or, as the poor subs on my newspaper wearily learned as they dealt with tight deadlines and late kick-offs, I covered teams known as Ba#celona and  #eal Mad#id, and their inconveniently influential players #onaldinho, #onaldo, #aul and #obe#to Ca#los. My typing is still #ecove#ing.

Biggest mistake?

Loads, but I remember with embarrassment an evening chatting, while waiting for a cab, with someone who had been at the game I had just covered. I talked at length, with increasing conviction, about the shocking performance of one the defenders – player X – from the home team. He, the very polite fellow to whom I was speaking, talked wisely about the match. And after about 25 minutes, once his cab arrived, he told me he was player X’s brother.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?

Mark Waugh, the Australian cricketer, in a hotel lift Down Under. Also in the lift were the Aussie cricketers David Boon and Ian Healy, so I guess context had something to do with it. I was much younger then.

Most media friendly manager?

It’s easy to get nostalgic about the days when fewer media demands on them meant managers didn’t feel obliged to speak only in bland sound-bites, or not speak at all. In my experience, Roy Hodgson has always been patient and helpful. In most of the countries he has worked in, journalists would say that of him.

Best ever player?

Lionel Messi. I have been lucky to see him live, a lot, and initially thought he might be too physically frail to continue playing as brilliantly as he did as a teenager. There will be a ceiling for his brilliance at some stage, but he’s been great for football.

Best ever teams (club and international)?

The AC Milan of Baresi, Maldini, Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten and so on.  And the Spain of 2008-2012.

Best pre-match grub?

Saint Etienne. Excellent cheese.

Best meal had on your travels?

One that sticks in the mind is a Boeuf Bourginon at L’Eau Vive in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso during the African Cup of Nations in 1998, a culinary highlight of a trip to place where … well, there’s not an overabundance of fine restaurants in Ougadougou, but the food here was genuinely very good. The rituals were unique. The restaurant was run by nuns, and at a certain point in the evening, whether you had a full plate in front of you or not, you had to stand up while the nuns sang. Everybody obeyed.

..and the worst?

Some bad sardines in Lisbon. Made me very ill, spectacularly. Used to love sardines, now can’t touch the poisonous beasts.

Best hotel stayed in?

Maybe the Villa Bregana, well located for the rather remote Milanello, AC Milan’s training centre.  It’s very quiet and rural, restaurant’s good. We now know that somewhere in the vicinity, some lively bunga-bunga was going on. Alas, I never saw any there.

…and the worst?

In the late 1990s, I used to get booked into an awful place in Manchester. They had cardboard murals of skylines instead of windows in the bedrooms. I forget the name of it, and don’t wish to be reminded.

Favourite football writer?

I grew up reading Brian Glanville and Hugh McIlvanney, like a lot of people. Brian once came to give a talk at my school when I was about 12 or 13. I was very lucky later that both Hugh and Brian became very generous colleagues at The Sunday Times.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?

Barry Davies.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?

A standard daily press conference at all Barclays Premier League clubs, at least on days when they train, in which a player is designated to make himself available to the media, except on pre-match days, when the coach/manager normally speaks. It’s a system that works, still, at several clubs in parts of Europe and some of the most popular clubs in the world know from their research it is a very effective device in maintaining their global popularity. It encourages players to learn they can interact confidently with the media, reminds players they have duties representing their employers, and, for clubs, it eases the bottleneck of media demands they complain about ahead of weekends.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?

A Test match in Jamaica, with a full crowd, a bit in the wicket for bat and ball, featuring a competitive West Indies against a strong opponent.

Last book read?

‘I Do Not Come To You By Chance’, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. A very funny novel.

Favourite current TV programme?

Almost anything on mainstream British TV, which is so much better than television in southern Europe, with a notable exception: football review shows. Match of the Day could learn a lot about being more dynamic from seeing how they do highlights-and-analysis in Germany or Spain.

Your most prized football memorabilia?

I have a vault of stuff connected with African football, of very limited interest outside Africa, but some rarities. But I’d be most reluctant to give away the letter Malcolm Macdonald wrote to me when he was Fulham manager in 1983.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?

Diversify: If you’re good and know your stuff in one medium, you’ll have something to offer in others, so learn and appreciate the needs and demands of TV/radio/print/web. And keep loving the game, even when aspects of it seem unappealing.

Ian Hawkey spent 11 years as The Sunday Times’s European Football Correspondent based in Barcelona before becoming a freelance.



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    December 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

    The hotel is called the Sasha Brittania grim place stayed there many times

  2. Avatar

    judith jennings

    December 3, 2012 at 11:57 am

    A great read love to hear football memories like these .I grew up watching the glorious george best

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