FWA Q&A: Ian Ridley

In this week’s FWA Q&A we take to Daily Express football columnist Ian Ridley about England scoops, dodgy computers and that night in Munich… In this week’s FWA Q&A we take to Daily Express football columnist Ian Ridley about England scoops, dodgy computers and that night in Munich…

Your first ever newspaper?
I became Sports Editor of the Worksop Guardian, in Nottinghamshire, in 1977. I say Sports Editor, I was the only member of the staff, covering the Tigers of Worksop Town FC and filling two broadsheet pages a week with the bowls and pigeon racing results. Great grounding.
Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
Journalism is a profession? No, went straight into it from University and have never quite been able to leave, though it’s threatened to leave me a few times. Also done books and scriptwriting, which have kept me sane.
What was your finest achievement playing football?
Scored a goal for the Guardian when we beat the Times in the Fleet Street Midweek League Cup final at Selhurst Park in the 80s. Can’t remember the year but I’m sure Rothman’s Football Yearbook will help you out. Think it was on the cover that year.
Most memorable match covered? Germany 1 England 5 in Munich. I just remember the look of disbelief on the faces of all the English journalists. Was on the Observer at the time and it was a privilege to be asked to write a front page colour piece that turned inside the paper. It’s times like these you learn to love again, as the Foo Fighters sang.
The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
It came in a kick-about among the press at La Manga during an England training camp before the 1998 World Cup when I curled home a shot from 25 yards. Oh, you mean a proper football moment? Ossie Ardiles’ testimonial at White Hart Lane…Hoddle chips forward to Maradona, who cushions it on his thigh before lobbing it perfectly into the path of Mark Falco – who volleys it 20 yards over the bar. The game at its most sublime and ridiculous.
Best stadium?
Always liked Porto’s Dragao stadium. The arches at one end offer a view from on high down the river making the place a great example of how an architect should use location to enhance the stadium, rather than just plonk some anonymous bit of kit down.
…and the worst?
The one in San Marino probably. Have they used all the money they have made over the last 20 years to build a proper one yet? Someone has done well there, I’m sure.
Your best ever scoop?
One that never was. It was a Sunday at the England training camp in La Manga ’98 and I was on the way to the first tee for a round of golf with Joe Melling, the late, great Football Editor of the Mail on Sunday. As we went past the pool, where the England players were sunbathing, Paul Merson, who I was friendly with at the time, called me across. He told me that Gazza was not going to the World Cup and had just trashed Glenn Hoddle’s room in anger at the news. As I was on a Sunday paper at the time, I had no paper to put it in. Mind you, I was on the Independent on Sunday at the time and as Paddy Barclay said, telling the Sindy was the nearest thing to keeping a secret. A few hours later, it broke for the daily papers. These days, I could probably have tweeted it.
Your personal new-tech disaster?
Working for the Daily Telegraph back in the early 90s, I was sent to do a feature on new international team San Marino. In covering their home match against Switzerland, my old Tandy “computer” locked and I lost 750 words of copy five minutes before the final whistle. I had to hastily ad lib a piece by phone. It’s times like these you learn to hate again, as the Foo Fighters didn’t sing.
Biggest mistake?
Can’t think of anything major – but I may have blocked out all the stories and judgments I got wrong. Perhaps there are helpful colleagues and rivals who may have a better memory….
Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else? On a football field, Lionel Messi. Off it, once in Boston, Mass, some bloke in a bar reckoned I looked like Danny Ainge, who played for the Celtics basketball team at the time. A young girl called me Sven recently just because I have grey hair and glasses probably. Would like his money.
Most media friendly manager?
Obviously Harry Redknapp is always very helpful and quote-friendly, along with Ian Holloway at Blackpool, but for someone who keeps taking knocks and coming back with insights and good humour, it has to be Arsene Wenger. You can ask him about anything and he will answer. I am going to ask him for the meaning of life very soon.
Best ever player?
I always preferred Maradona to Pele, in the way I preferred the Stones to the Beatles, because the Argentine made ordinary sides great, whereas Pele gilded great sides. The way it is looking,though, I think Messi can top them both. As for a favourite player: Jimmy Greaves, my idol as a kid.
Best ever teams (club and international)?
Brazil 1970 and the Barcelona of now are the obvious answers, but no less true for that. I also enjoyed Holland of 1974 and Arsenal’s Invincibles.
Best pre-match grub? Am enjoying the rivalry in the press rooms of Arsenal and Manchester City as they vie for the title of best hosts. Not going to say which is better, in case they rest on their laurels. Enjoyed a sea bass teriyaki at the Emirates recently. Hard life, sometimes.
Best meal had on your travels?
Peter Robinson, the legendary secretary of Liverpool, once invited Paddy Barclay to lunch at the Grand Trianon hotel in Versailles. Generously, Paddy asked Peter if I could come along and he agreed. It was succulent. About £200 each as I recall, and it was 1994ish. Don’t think I got the bill through at the Independent on Sunday.
…and the worst?
Probably in Poland. Glenn Hoddle said he had picked a team there because it was “horses for courses.” David Lacey pointed out that in Poland, it was horses for main courses.
Best hotel stayed in?
The Dorint in Baden Baden for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. I was on the Mail on Sunday and for the first time with a paper who could afford somewhere decent. I had the most spacious and elegant room, which was just as well as we were there for around five weeks. Near enough to the Brenner’s Park to observe the England WAGS, far enough away to miss the House of Scouse also ensconced there.
Ian Ridley is an author of sports books and football columnist for the Daily Express. His latest book There’s A Golden Sky: How 20 Years of the Premier League Has Changed Football Forever has just been published by Bloomsbury and available at Amazon and Waterstone’s.

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