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FWA Q&A: Sam Pilger

SAM PILGER on scoring at Old Trafford, being mistaken for Ryan Giggs and causing Sir Alex Ferguson to give Roy Keane the hair-dryer treatment…

Your first ever newspaper?
Not a newspaper, but the Manchester United magazine, which, when I joined in 1996, was the country’s biggest selling sports magazine. This was a time before Sky Sports News, MUTV or even the club having a proper website, so it was the main source of news. It was a great grounding to regularly interview Sir Alex Ferguson, David Beckham and Roy Keane in a time when there wasn’t any interference from agents or press officers.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
Not really, other than a couple of summers spent hiding in the warehouse at Marks and Spencer. Both my parents were Fleet Street journalists, so it’s in the blood.

What was your finest achievement playing football?
Scoring at Old Trafford at the Stretford End in a journalists game. I almost cried. And winning the South London 7-a-side League title in 1996 and 2003.

Most memorable match covered?
I can’t imagine anything will ever surpass the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay. The match had been dramatic enough with David Beckham’s brilliant goal, Dennis Bergkamp’s equaliser, Roy Keane’s sending-off and Peter Schmeichel’s last minute penalty save before Ryan Giggs beat the whole Arsenal defence to win the match. An incredible night.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
That Giggs winner at Villa Park.

Best stadium?
The Maracana even though it had clearly seen better days.

…and the worst?
The sterile Stade Louis II in Monaco.

Your best ever scoop?

My interview with Roy Keane for FourFourTwo in 2001 when he revealed his frustrations with United. The Daily Mirror lifted it and splashed it across their back page as ‘The Most Explosive Interview of the Year.’ I was told Ferguson hauled him in to his office on the back of it.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
More old-tech really, as that damn ‘Voice Activated’ button on the Dictaphone has butchered interviews with Teddy Sheringham and Bryan Robson.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
As ridiculous as it sounds, I took part in a penalty shoot-out challenge against Peter Shilton on Hackney Marshes several years ago, and I overheard someone say, ‘Is that Ryan Giggs?’ As I said, ridiculous. More realistically, someone once asked if I was the former Leicester and Spurs American goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

Most media friendly manager?
Steve Bruce

Best ever player?
Zinedine Zidane

Best ever teams (club and international)?
The current Barcelona side and the France side of 2000.

Best pre-match grub?
During their spell in the Premier League Ipswich Town did a memorable spread at Portman Road.

Best meal had on your travels?
A fish restaurant just outside Jerez in southern Spain while covering the 2000 Blind World Cup. (Brazil won, England went out in the quarter-finals.)

…and the worst?
A lard-smothered bap outside Hillsborough.

Best hotel stayed in?
The Rio Othon Palace in Rio de Janiero where the roof-top pool gave sweeping views of Copacabana Beach and Sugar Loaf Mountain as I watched Romario doing his laps.

…and the worst?
The Dolby in Salford. It had a security fence around it.

Favourite football writer?
It is difficult to separate Paul Hayward, Oliver Holt and Patrick Collins.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
I still get goose bumps when I hear Peter Jones, he had such a wonderfully evocative voice. Keeping it old school for TV as well, I would say Barry Davies and Brian Moore.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Throw open the dressing rooms after matches. It would require an enormous and unprecedented culture change, but if the NFL and NBA can do it why can’t the Premier League? I won’t be holding my breath.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I have been lucky enough to go to a Super Bowl, Wimbledon men’s final, a 100m Olympic final, and most Ashes series, so I would go for a deciding Game 7 in the NBA finals.

Last book read?
The End of the Party by Andrew Rawnsley

Favourite current TV programme?
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Your most prized football memorabilia?
A number 10 Argentina shirt signed by Diego Maradona to my son Louis. He’d better appreciate it when he’s older.

Manchester United’s Best XI by Sam Pilger is available now on the Amazon Kindle store.

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