FWA Q&A: James Mossop

JAMES MOSSOP on eating peacocks’ tongues…bog snorkelling…and a slight involvement in the Watergate scandal

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
For three months after Barrow Grammar School and before joining the North West Evening Mail I was a labourer working shifts close to the furnaces at the steelworks. Tough is not the word.

What was your finest achievement playing football?
Must confesss to an absence of glory with Holker Old Boys. Signed amateur forms for Barrow AFC (mainly because I was the young travelling reporter with the Reserves and they feared trialists might not turn up) but never got a game.

Most memorable match covered?
Phew! So many, but cannot top England-West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final. Man City clinching the old First Division, winning 4-3 at Newcastle on May 11, 1968, will never be forgotten.

The one moment in football you would put on DVD?
Peter Osgood riding tackles and racing from halfway at Turf Moor in the 60s to set up a Chelsea away win. Or any one of a thousand George Best clips.

Best Stadium?
Maracana (Rio) had a profound affect but it is hard to split the many modern grounds—-Wembley, Emirates, Etihad, etc. Old Trafford retains its sense of theatre.

Hate to batter Pompey when they are down but Fratton Park is a dump.

Your best ever scoop?
Nothing mind-blowing but World Cup star Roger Hunt telling me exclusively that he was quitting international football was big. Tony Waiters walking out on Blackpool in mid-season when he (and his club) was in his pomp. Willie Johnston sent home from 1978 World Cup on drugs charge. There were a few others but I was no Neil Ashton.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
On deadline, I was ridiculing the late Joe Melling phoning his copy over and telling him my Tandy was the infallible future. I pressed the send button with a triumphant gesture and my copy disappeared into space. Had to ad-lib report to copy-takers.

Biggest mistake?
Hard to quantify. Once personalised an attack on chairman Peter Swales after he sacked Peter Reid from Man City. Regret every word about his comb-over hair and built-up heels. Totally unnecessary and hurtful.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Richard Nixon, frequently. An American on his golf buggy pulled up alongside me and said: “I thought I had seen the ghost of Richard Nixon.” Some of my old hack friends used to call me Millhouse (his middle name).

Most media friendly manager?
Most of my work was done before the blight of Press Officers. Pitching up at training grounds I was always welcomed by the likes of Allison, Mercer, Revie, Shankly, Charlton [Jack], Atkinson, Graham, Pleat and so on. I also had rows with them but always met them face-to-face for clear-the-air moments. I have a strong relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson but we once had a major fall out.

Best ever player?
Has to be George Best, although I have been lifted high by Pele, Law, Bobby Charlton, Maradona.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Tough call. Could look back and nominate a few club sides – Manchester United 1968 etc. Spurs even further back, Arsenal a few years ago but last year’s European Champions, Barcelona, take the club prize. Internationally there has been nothing better than Brazil 1970.

Best pre-match grub?
Usually an interesting selection at Newcastle.

Best meal on travels?
The late Bobby Keetch once ordered peacocks’ tongues for me in Paris. At least he said that’s what they were. As a foodie I have always sought out starred/rosetted restaurants. Great steaks in Beunos Aires. Best restaurant in UK: L’Encume in Cartmel, Cumbria.

…and the worst?
Bulgogi and kimchi* in Seoul. I can taste and smell it now.

Best hotel stayed in?
For fun reasons, the Yacht Club, Disney, Florida with Joe Melling 28 nights during the 1994 World Cup where, they said, every night was New Year’s Eve.

…and the worst?
England played Albania in Tirana in 1989. The hotel would have struggled for a one-star rating.

Favourite football writer?
Henry Winter.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Rob Hawthorne.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Tricky, but weekly meet-the-players sessions after training might produce better relationships and understanding.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
Bog-snorkelling. After all I have covered World Cups, Olympic Games, golf majors, tennis, F1, boxing, horse-racing, Rugby (both codes), cricket and even the World Curling Championships.

Last book read?
A Book of Heroes by Simon Barnes. I love his bird books and The Horsey Life, too.

Favourite curren TV programme?
Toss up between Coronation Street and Scott and Bailey.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I have an official 1978 World Cup football signed by Pele.

Advice to any would-be football writer?
Build relationships, have a sense of purpose, don’t strive too hard with the words, let them flow. Take the job seriously, but not yourself.

(*Made with: beef, carrot, garlic, green onion, ground black pepper, honey, hot pepper paste, kim, kimchi, lettuce, rice, roasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, soy sauce, ssamjang, sugar, water).

James Mossop now has his feet up after 50 years in Fleet Street with the Sunday Express and the Sunday Telegraph. He was made a life member of the Football Writers’ Association at the Footballer of the Year dinner on May 3.

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