FWA Q&A: Neil Moxley

NEIL MOXLEY of the Daily Mail on failing to tell Karren Brady where to go…a punch-up over Norah Jones…and champagne with Peter Reid

Your first ever newspaper?
Solihull Times. I had match reports printed before then. I still have the clipping from the Daily Star report, Birmingham City 2 Hartlepool 1 from c. 1990 written under the watchful eye of John Curtis, from the Press Association, bless him. John is now 55 years old and dyes his hair. I hope I get that far.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
Through college, I did loads of jobs, mainly involving bar-work. I was a sleeping partner in a printing firm. The recession has done for that, though.

What was your finest achievement playing football?
Playing alongside Coventry City’s Steve Sedgley for Birmingham County’s Under-18s side. I wasn’t bad, I could run all day. (Twenty-five years ago)

Most memorable match covered?
Despite my Midlands’ experience, probably the Sunderland v Charlton play-off final in 1998. It had everything.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Me, horribly hungover, wearing an Aston Villa strip, standing in a field in the middle of Sweden, c. 1996. A press game in which I was anchoring (!) a midfield which boasted Trevor Brooking, (ex-England, brilliant) Nigel Kennedy, (internationally-acclaimed violinist, utterly useless) and a Villa fan called Trevor. (decent, man-mountain) myself and the Birmingham Mail’s Birmingham City correspondent Colin Tattum had stupidly been involved in a mass brawl during a Sunday League match with Trevor’s team four days previously. Unknown to me, he’s a Villa fan. Then he turns up in a dressing-room in Helsingborg. Honestly, he was a huge bloke. I saw him and thought: “Here we go….” Only in football…

Best stadium?
Alliance Arena just pips the Emirates – because you can park there.

…and the worst?
Springfield Park, Wigan. Flea-pit. I fell over on the grass bank in the away end once. Not happy. It was a match in December. I went home covered in mud.

Your best-ever scoop.
Not for me to say, but….I liked the one about Derby’s players being asked to give evidence about George Burley’s drinking habits as the power-brokers attempted to lever him out of Pride Park. I know it was a good one as Neil Custis from the Sun still congratulates me on it.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Not filing first time at the Aston Villa v Birmingham City derby match in March 2003 because I couldn’t get a line. The office took wire copy. Never mind, there was only a head-butt, two sending-offs, a career-threatening injury and all hell breaking loose at Villa Park.

Biggest mistake?
Not telling Karren Brady just where to go on the numerous occasions she phoned me to tell me how much money she was going to take off me for a variety of stories she didn’t like. She never did.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Mr Tumble, Justin Fletcher off CBeebies. My brother thinks that’s hilarious.

Most media friendly manager?
Steve Bruce was always helpful, although very capable of dishing out the odd tongue-lashing. But Peter Reid remains brilliant. He spotted me and a group of pals in the Tall Trees in Yarm once and sent over two bottles of bubbly. That went down well. Then he spotted me in Yarm 85 with my girlfriend at the time, and sent over a bottle of wine. Then….well, you get the picture. Honestly, I spent two wonderful seasons watching Sunderland half-cut. As did Reidy, to be fair….

Best-ever player?
Trevor Francis. Gary Rowett, then of Leicester, stopped for a chat at Belvoir Drive one day. He sent his regards to TF who was managing Birmingham at the time with the words: ‘Tell him he’s still the best finisher at the club.” Francis was about 50 years old at the time. Apart from that, Christophe Dugarry. His performance in a game against Southampton in 2003 still sends shivers down the spine. As Gordon Strachan pointed out afterwards, he operated on another planet to anyone else that day.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
I really liked Manchester United’s double-winning team of 1994. It had a wonderful balance. And AC Milan’s vintage of the same year would have given Barcelona of today a decent game.

Best pre-match grub?
If I wasn’t driving home, Manchester City. I’ll say Chelsea for the food. Outstanding. Arsenal again beaten into third with Villa a close fourth.

Best meal had on your travels?
One overlooking Lake Zurich with Janine Self, (then of the Sun) David Moore, (Mirror) and John Wragg. (Express) I have no idea of the name of the restaurant.

…and the worst?
A delightful meal in Brittany with Villa which was ruined by two unnamed journalists almost coming to blows over the relative merits of Norah Jones. I kid ye not.

Best hotel stayed in?
I think it was the Palace of the Golden Horses in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia. It was helped by the fact that Chelsea, Newcastle and Birmingham all stayed there for the Asia Cup.

…and the worst?
Hotel number two in Lovech, Bulgaria. Villa commandeered hotel number one. Richard Gibson, from the Press Association, almost got himself beaten up for attempting to drink a bottle of water the hotel staff said he couldn’t have.

Favourite football writer?
I’ll leave the Sunday Supplement crew alone. The ones I like, I’ve told to their faces. I’ve more time for the scufflers who provide the pontificators with their platforms. But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Martin Tyler. Consistently strikes the right tone. Sorry, I don’t like live football on radio. I appreciate the benefit of immediacy, but I still think the game is essentially a visual spectacle.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
You are media managers. We will write about your club, like it or not. Why not shape the news how you want it, instead of keeping us at arms’ length? It’s madness.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
Australia v England, SCG, Boxing Day. Done Rangers v Celtic thanks to Alex McLeish and former Rangers’ chief executive Martin Bain.

Last book read?
‘Up Pohnpei’ by Paul Watson. An attempt by to find the real soul of football. Genuine idea, neatly written. Enjoyable.

Favourite current TV programme?
I’ve got a bizarre fascination with ‘Wheeler Dealers’ at the moment. Other than that, ‘Homeland’ by a country mile.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
Everton legend Dixie Dean’s autograph. He signed a Football Writers’ menu for my father in 1976. It’s framed on my wall. A collector said it was the only one he’d ever seen and offered me £750. Assuming I don’t fall on hard times and I need the cash, I’d like to leave it to the club if it’s the only one about. Failing that, I also have a programme from one of Randolph Turpin’s last fights on home soil before he fought Sugar Ray Robinson. The Leamington Spa boy up against Jan de Bruin at the Coventry Butts Arena in 1951 two months before he won the world title against Robinson in London. Really pleased to have that in my possession. Turpin’s is a great – but very sad – story.

Advice to any would-be football writer?
I read Rob Shepherd’s advice [which was ‘go into television’] and he’s beaten me to the punchline. Otherwise contacts, contacts, contacts. Finding people to talk honestly about what’s really going on behind-the-scenes is worth its’ weight in gold.

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