MARCEL van der KRAAN on watching Jesus in football boots…being mistaken for Lance Armstrong…and paying for toilet paper in Belarus
Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
When I was 17 and still at college, I had my own little business in polishing cars. I was making more money than my dad. People would bring their car and pick it up at night. The boss of a major company asked if I could polish his wife’s car. He insisted that I would pick it up at his house in the country on a Saturday morning at 7 am. There was one slight problem, I had no driving licence. He said that it didn’t matter. I could drive, couldn’t I? So I did. Unfortunately it had been snowing and people were skating on ice in Holland, as it had been minus-10 for a week. Not used to skiddy roads, on the way to my little business I skidded, hit a tree at 50 miles an hour on the side of a river, the car went through the air and landed upside down on the frozen river. It went straight through the ice, sunk and until this day I still don’t know how I got out. I walked back through the fields and told the guy I had given the car a good wash, but it might be time for his wife to buy a new car because the engine was not running so well any more. He laughed, thank God. He wasn’t short of money and his wife had a new car a few before lunch. Farmers got the car out and police were never involved. Good job, not only did I not have driving license, it was not my car and I was not insured.
Most memorable match?
Holland v England (2-0) in De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam, the 1994 World Cup qualifier where England were knocked out for the finals in the United States and Graham Taylor saw his reign coming to an end. This was such a bizarre match. I still don’t know how Ronald Koeman managed to stay on the pitch. He could [should – Ed] have been sent-off for fouling David Platt. Instead he scored for Holland. But I also remember this match for the crazy press conference 24 hours earlier. I have seen some verbal fights between managers and reporters, but all my Dutch colleagues fell off their chairs when they attended the major confrontation between Graham Taylor and the English press in the Novotel. I still have to laugh now, when I think about Taylor shouting at Rob Shepherd: “Come on, Rob, don’t be silly! What is up with you English lot of the press?’’
The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
George Best playing in that same stadium in 1976 in a World Cup qualifier. He ran the show against a team with Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Wim Jansen, Arie Haan etc. That same Dutch team went on to play in the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina, but they were held to a draw (2-2) in Rotterdam that night. I was a young kid, at the match with my dad, and all I can remember is watching George Best for 90 minutes. It was like watching Jesus in football boots. Absolute magic.
I hate to say this as Dutchman, but it has to be the Allianz Arena of Bayern Munich. A prime example of the modern football arena. At last year’s European Championship the newly-built Warsaw national stadium was almost as impressive. Not all football reporters visited that stadium during the Euro’s but I was there for Poland v Russia and it gave me shivers down my back. Incredible atmosphere. I have been all over the world in football stadiums for 32 years now, but this stadium is brilliant.
…and the worst?
In that same European Championship the stadium of Kiev for the final. Everyone needed binoculars to see the players.
Your personal new-tech disaster?
Leaving my phone with 1,200 contacts in football in a Glasgow taxi. And no back up on the computer. I still blame Keith Jackson (Daily Record) for that. He took me to that Glasgow pub five hours earlier…
Accepting a lift from Paul Smith (Match magazine at the time) in Rome during the World Cup in 1990. He had hired a nice car and during the first 10 minutes, trying to get out of the city of Rome, he shouted at every Italian man and woman that they did not understand the rules of traffic. It did not quite occur to him that their way of driving around the Collosseum was slightly different from the English on the left side of the road. We ploughed into a car on the next cross road and we never did get to Italian training camp that day. We have laughed about that many times since.
Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Yes, Lance Armstrong. Until they heard my strange, English Leicester accent. Then they realised I was not American. I have been married to Kathy from Leicester and used to live round the corner to Gary Lineker in the early eighties.
Most media friendly manager?
In Holland Ronald Koeman (Feyenoord) and Frank de Boer (Ajax). They are both a breath of fresh air. Open and honest all the time. They don’t duck any questions and are always available for the media. In Britain it has to be Terry Yorath. I had never met him, went to meet him in Wales when Holland were going to play his team. We spent hours talking about the game. These days a manager does not give you that much time when he does not know you.’’
Best ever player?
Johan Cruyff. I have loved every match I have seen of him in my life.
Best ever teams (club and international)?
The Holland team that played total football in 1974 and lost the World Cup final against West Germany. At club level the AC Milan team with Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Ancelotti etc. in 1987.
Best pre-match grub?
Arsenal. I can’t believe the food they supply there for journalists. It’s similar for most Barclays Premier League clubs. In Holland all we get is a sausage roll and a cookie with a cup of tea. English clubs seem to spoil reporters with food, but access to players is really, really hard. In Holland it is the other way round. The food is terrible, but the working conditions at games are terrific. We can talk to every player and manager. It might be a good idea to spend less money on all these hot dinners in the Barclays Premier League and supply a few more players in the mixed zone.
Best meal had on your travels?
In a Pizzeria in Napoli at the 1990 World Cup finals, but only because of the conversation with two other Dutch journo’s and Paul Smith again. It was so hilarious, I wet myself that night. This Dutch TV commentator was talking about having to dig through the snow in Calgary. He had been to the Winter Olympics earlier. As we had just spent two weeks in Cagliari with England and Ireland on Sardinia, where Jack Charlton pronounced the city all the time as Calgary, Paul got funny with the Dutch commentator. He said: “Are you taking the mickey? Snow in Calgary? It was 100 Fahrenheit there. ‘’ The Dutch guy then went mental too. It took five minutes before they realised they were talking about two entirely different cities.
…and the worst?
A BBQ with Holland in Brazil. The meat had been on display outside in the garden of the hotel for hours. I would not touch it. The players did and so did many Dutch journalists as they would, with it being free. Everyone spent the next 48 hours on toilets and in bathrooms. The players had to be substituted on the pitch for having the runs in the game the next day.
Best hotel stayed in?
Sopwell House! There is not a more comfortable and real English hotel which breathes football than this place in St. Albans. Arsenal chief scout Steve Rowley recommended it many years ago for the sausages at breakfast. I love staying there.
…and the worst?
Some awful hotel in Belarus. I slept in my clothes, on top of the bed. But I remember it more because I had to pay for toilet paper.
Favourite football writer?
Jonathan Northcroft of The Sunday Times. Wish I had the space he has for his interviews, but he does fill it with great stories.
Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Mark Pougatch. Just so multi-talented.
If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers in England what would it be?
I would invite press officers [of English clubs] to attend one Dutch league match with the mixed zone structure afterwards we enjoy in Holland.
One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
The World Championship naked women water skiing.
Last book read?
Tony Adams’ autobiography Addicted. I read it years ago and have just read it again. Can’t think of a former footballer who has developed into such a great person as Tony. Can’t think of a player these days with so much character in the game either. A natural leader, honest, fantastic professional and Arsenal should have him on board in any kind of technical role.
Favourite current TV programme?
The Voice on the BBC. I love music, and in my opinion Britain produces more good singers than any other country in the world. Well, the history of pop music proves that, doesn’t it?
Your most prized football memorabilia?
I give everything away that I receive from players or managers to kids and friends. I love writing about football, I absolutely love my job, but I don’t care about material things or fans’ stuff.
Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Don’t be a fan of anyone because you’ll just be disappointed when you know what happens behind the scenes in football. More than 90 per cent of people in the game are driven by money. Players, managers, agents. That is my only bitterness about the job.
Marcel van der Kraan writes for De Telegraaf in Holland. He is a regular contributor to talkSPORT.
Next week’s Q&A visits MARK GLEESON in Cape Town who talks about [Arsene Wenger look away now] eating rats.