FWA Q&A: Ian Ladyman

IAN LADYMAN of the Daily Mail on a love letter to the sports editor…breakfast with a tiger (no, really)…and trouble with a pony tail in the USA

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
I was a news reporter for the Stoke Sentinel for three fantastic years. It’s a cliche but news is a great grounding. Being shouted at by Sir Alex Ferguson (not that it’s ever happened) is not so scary when you have had to knock on someone’s door and ask them if they will talk about the death of their son/daughter etc. The Sentinel was a great paper, too. Five editions, all of which we worked on live between 7am and 1pm. That meant my great exclusives about cats stuck up trees always got in that day. How exciting. That apart, I once worked nights stacking shelves at Morrisons. I hated it and it hated me. The supervisor took against me because he caught me reading a book on my break. Either that or he took offence at my pony tail. My comrades were okay, though. On my first night one asked me if I was married. I said I wasn’t and he asked if I was divorced. I was 18.

Most memorable match?
World Cup 2002. South Korea versus Poland, Busan. We all know what the co-hosts went on to achieve that summer but they went in to the tournament having never won a World Cup match and with coach Guus Hiddink nicknamed ‘Mr Nil Five’ as that was his team’s most common scoreline. That night, though, they swept Poland off the park 2-0 on the back of the most fanatical home support I have witnessed before or since. Everyone in the stadium wore red and before long everyone in the country did too. Including Neil Custis who watched their quarter-final on the TV in the Seoul main square wearing a bandana and face paint. No, he really did.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
In Gelsenkirchen 2006, I saw Argentina beat Serbia 6-0 and score one of the best goals I have ever seen. Esteban Cambiasso actually scored but it was the 20-odd passes that preceded it that made it so memorable. If you put that on DVD and mailed it to every under-12s football coach in the country then we may win the World Cup again sometime in the next 100 years.

Best stadium?
When I was a kid I loved the old northern grounds at places like Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley. Or maybe my memory is playing tricks. My dad used to ask me each Saturday where I wanted to go and we would head off and pay at the turnstile. A trip to somewhere like Old Trafford or Anfield was a once a season treat. I was so excited about one of those trips that I was sick in the car. These days, in terms of opulence and splendour I would choose the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. Just a shame you have to go to Donetsk to see it. In terms of old-fashioned atmosphere, it’s hard to beat Anfield when the home team have their blood up. About once every three seasons, these days.

…and the worst?
SoccerCity in Jo’Burg. Ugly, charmless and in the middle of nowhere. And every single World Cup Final they have had there has been rubbish.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Back in the days of filing via mobile phone/lap-top connection, I lost my phone down a hole in my desk at Benfica on a Champions League night. I spent a frantic half an hour literally tearing the wooden desk apart while stewards and Portuguese journalists just stared at me. By full-time, there were splinters, nails, screws and bits of plastic strewn all over the press box. A little dramatic, perhaps, given that I was only doing the ratings.

On a personal note, I once wrote a charming, loving and frankly hilarious e-mail to a new girlfriend and sent it to my sports editor Colin Gibson by mistake. Thankfully, I didn’t know her well enough to be suggestive but the e-mail did contain a description of how me and my dad once killed my pet mouse in a bucket of water. Me and the girl didn’t stay together long. Gibson sent the email to every sports desk in Fleet Street and I don’t blame him.

Biggest mistake?
Does the above not count?

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
I once worked on a summer camp in America and some of the kids thought I was a girl. It was that pony tail thing again. Apart from that, at school they said I looked like Steve Hampson, a Wigan Rugby League player. Needless to say, he has a big nose and enormous ears but carries it off rather well.

Most media friendly manager?
Sam Allardyce threatened to come round to my house and kick my door down when he was manager of Notts County and I was the local lad on the Evening Post. Happily he never did it and a professional relationship that began then still endures to this day. He answers the phone when you call his number and that, these days, is all you can ask for.

Best ever player?
Kenny Dalglish.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
The Liverpool team of Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge was sublime. Football at its telepathic, expansive best. One of my biggest regrets was choosing not to go to Anfield the night they beat Forest 5-0 in Division One in 1988. They would have beaten anyone that night.

Best pre-match grub?
I always love dining at Old Trafford as it’s great fun trying to guess exactly what it is you are actually eating. It also gives you something to do while nobody from the coaching or playing staff will come and talk to you.

Best meal had on your travels?
Once had a 12-course banquet in a private dining room in Moscow when I was on Wales duty. Great food and even Janine [Self] had to stop talking to eat it. The squid and garlic wrapped in spinach leaves I had with [Jim] Holden, [Phil] Shaw and [Sam] Wallace at 7am at Busan fish market was pretty memorable too.

…and the worst?
Still with Wales, watching John Ley eat his third mixed grill of the day in a Cardiff curry house was something I won’t forget. Beef, chicken, lamb and god knows what else smothered in curry. Not a dish you will find in Calcutta that often.

Best hotel stayed in?
I stayed in a cracker in Seoul during the 2002 World Cup but only because the room belonged to Charlie Sale and he was somewhere else for a night. The suite had a view of the five rings of the old Olympic Stadium, an adjoining boardroom (complete with table and six chairs) and a hydraulic bed. I will leave you to guess which of these Charlie had specifically requested. Also on that trip my base was the Lotte Hotel in Busan. An enormous place with its own driving range on the roof and a live tiger in the breakfast room. Yes, really. It had been a gift from a former president. I came down on my first day and had a straight choice between a seat next to the tiger or a table with Paul Stretford on it. You know the punchline.

…and the worst?
Another World Cup and my base in Dortmund in 2006 was pretty rotten. Matt Lawton stayed in it the night he jocked me off the semi-final and made the mistake of bringing his girlfriend. “My balcony in Baden-Baden was bigger than this whole room,” Lawton sniffed. Mind you, he had nicked his Baden-Baden room off Steven Howard so I could believe it. On club duty, I stayed in a hotel in 2000 in Donetsk with Arsenal that was so bad we were advised by the travel company to bring our own bedding and food. Brian Woolnough complained to reception that his bath water was brown. They told him not to drink it.

Favourite football writer?
I loved working with Danny Taylor when he was still a Manchester man as it had always been my ambition to see my stories appear in a broadsheet. Outside those on the Mail, I will always read [Dave] Kidd, [George] Caulkin and [Paul] Hayward and be slightly nervous of Custis jnr, [Simon] Mullock and [Mark] Ogden. At my own place, Alex Kay will be my sports editor one day so I had better mention him, too.  Finally, [Ian] Herbert writes wonderfully and has a forensic mind and a love of proper journalism. I just wish he would HURRY UP!!!! [Me too – I am still waiting for his Q&A – Ed]

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
John Murray always makes me feel like I want to leave the radio on. Alan Green sometimes makes me want to turn it off but that doesn’t mean he can’t be terrific value; he can. On TV I was always a Barry Davies fan. In terms of pundits, ITV’s decision to ditch David Pleat was ridiculous. He remains a superb analyst for Radio Five Live and makes some of the younger ex-pros look as lightweight as they undoubtedly are. Gary Neville has raised the bar in terms of studio work. But then somebody had to. Graeme Souness is also terrific.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Judge the individual and not the perception of the industry. It’s not hard. Some people (big love here for Kloss at City, Tyrrell at Everton and McCann at Liverpool) already do that and it’s appreciated. Others (can’t name them all) do not.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I am lucky enough to have seen England win an Ashes Test away from home and have seen Wigan Warriors win the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup. (That’s rugby league, by the way). I guess I would very much like to travel to the US Masters. I hope Lee Clayton is reading this.

Last book read?
‘Mud Sweat and Tears’ by Moire O’Sullivan. It’s about the experiences of a mountain runner in Ireland. I am, as you can tell, having a mid-life crisis. The sports car is next and then a divorce. Although I would have to get married first. Let’s not rush in to things.

Favourite current TV programme?
I am currently watching the box set of the Danish cop drama ‘The Killing’. I am getting a bit deaf so appreciate the excuse for sub-titles.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I have one wonderful item but won’t describe it here as I don’t want the burglars to come round again. The signed photo of Willo Flood (14 man City appearances, one goal) is certainly the most ridiculous. I also have an article written by the great John Roberts in the Independent the day after Kenny Dalglish resigned from Liverpool in 1991. It’s only being held together by the frame these days but the way it was written resonated with me at the time and it still does. I met him once (Roberts, not Dalglish) but never mentioned the piece to him. I should have.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Take the job seriously but not yourself. We aren’t saving lives here.

(PS Thanks for omitting the ‘Best Exclusive’ category. It would have been embarrassing to leave it blank.)

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Patrick Barclay

    May 7, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Great stuff yet again. And from a fellow who really knows his football (viz memories of Beardsley/Barnes Liverpool and Cambiasso). My football writer of the year, for what it’s worth.

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