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FWA Q&A: Sid Lowe

The Q&A section is on a world tour, talking to football writers in different countries. This week: Spain.

SID LOWE on fascism in Barnsley…the Reina in Spain that caused him a lot of pain…and a romantic getaway for one eating cake

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
Yeah. When I was younger, I coached on kids’ sports camps during summer holidays. Like just about every Englishman who’s ever set foot in Spain, I’ve taught English. And I spent two years lecturing and giving seminars in Southern European Fascism at Barnsley College, as part of a University of Sheffield degree. Oh, and teaching some beginners’ Spanish there, too. And ‘facilitating’, which as far as I can make out meant sitting there in the library trying not to fall asleep.  Just in case anyone wanted any help. Like: “Can I borrow your pen?”

Most memorable match?
If you asked me tomorrow, I’d probably give a different answer and the day after a different one again … I honestly don’t know. Different games grab you for different reasons. I was at the 4-3 between Spain and Yugoslavia at Euro 2000. The Alfonsooooooooo-unbelievable one. The 1986 FA Cup final was incredible and all the more so because I was only 10.  Sadly, when you become a writer, you don’t entirely want a brilliant game, or at least not a dramatic one: lots of late goals kill you. But then afterwards you look back and think: wow. As incredible performances, perhaps Barcelona’s 5-0 win against Real Madrid and Spain’s 4-0 against Italy in Kiev. That 4-3 Liverpool-Newcastle, the first one, stands out of course but I wasn’t actually there. And Barcelona’s 6-2 at the Bernabéu, which was so unexpected. Madrid’s 4-3 over Espanyol was mental too, just bonkers.  And that 3-2 over Getafe when Pepe lost his head.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
It’s been done already: “Matt LeTissier: Unbelievable.” A whole collection of them. Genius.

Best stadium?
Again, it depends on what you’re gauging it by. There’s nowhere in Spain quite like San Mamés.

…and the worst?
Getafe’s stadium is near-ish to my house, which is probably its only advantage, although it’s also a great place to watch football in terms of just how good the press position is. And yet … and yet, it’s got little character, no history and few (but very loyal) fans. They call it the Coliseum, which is like calling my Skoda the Batmobile.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Yeah, thanks for that. I’d just about managed to overcome the pain. I lost a handful of interviews on a digital recorder. They were for my Madrid-Barca book and, well, they were pretty big names. Hours of work and people I was not convinced I could get back to. I phoned up my agent and ranted at him “F this f-ing book, I’m not f-ing writing it any more.” Actually, I did manage to get back to a couple of them, with my tail between my legs.

Biggest mistake?
Erm, don’t know. Must have made loads of them. I once wrote a match report in which Ronaldo had scored four. Just before I hit send, the person sitting next to me noted what a good goal someone else had scored (I forget who) … “You mean it wasn’t Ronaldo?!” I got lucky. A mate of mine once filed a match report with the wrong final score. He wondered why the manager was so upbeat afterwards despite having lost. It was because he’d won.  I turned up for an interview once thinking I was getting Pepe Reina and it was Claudio Reyna. Luckily I noticed before I went in … and in the end didn’t do it anyway.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Not anyone good.

Most media friendly manager?
I’m probably not the right person to answer that because within the labyrinthine dynamics of political relationships etc in Spain, there will be many who are good, bad and indifferent and I won’t even know about it. There have been players, for example, that other journalists have really slagged off but who have been consistently good to me. From personal experience: Vicente del Bosque is very, very nice indeed but that is not always an advantage in media terms. Writing this book, some people have been astonishingly generous with their time.  Michael Laudrup, Radi Antic, Míchel (ex-Sevilla now Olympiacos), Ángel Cappa (various teams in Argentina), for example. I have always enjoyed listening to Pep Guardiola, who is fascinating; Mourinho was interesting at first but has retreated almost entirely (understandably, I suppose). Javier Aguirre is entertaining and very engaging. And I loved talking to Unai Emery (Sevilla), who is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. But there’s no one quite to compare to Juanma Lillo (ex-Almería).

Best ever player?
Because of my age no one will ever have the impact on me that Maradona did at the 86 World Cup. And the first year I lived in Spain was 1996, when Ronaldo was at Barcelona: I had never seen anything like it. Unreal. If he had kept doing that, maybe him. Right now, it’s hard to resist saying Messi. I think Maradona, still.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
This Spain team has to be right up there. I’m too young to say much about Brazil. At club level, again, historically I can’t make too much of a claim. Madrid in the 1950s, perhaps, although that was a different era and domestically they were not quite as dominant as their European success suggests. The recent Barcelona side make a pretty good case.

Best pre-match grub?
Aye, right. Spanish clubs don’t do food. It was one hell of an eye opener when I did my first games at Chelsea and Arsenal. No wonder you all turn up early for games. I was sitting at the Emirates eating a bloody ice cream, for Christ’s sake. Brilliant. And the wifi worked … ask any journalist and they’ll tell you the same thing: that’s what really matters.

Best meal had on your travels?
Beware of a menu that says “Fish: according to market price”. Found that out in Mallorca once, on a player’s recommendation. Ouch. Bugger me, it was good though. And the best paella restaurant is in Vila-Real. Pity it’s always shut.

…and the worst?
I’ve had countless dire meals. Games finish well after midnight, you end up in town, desperate for anything. Taxi drivers’ cafes, day-old sandwiches, cheese at the bar, a packet of crisps and some olives. You reach the point where go somewhere and someone says the next day: “what was it like?” … “open”.

Best hotel stayed in?
I went to an event in Munich once with Ronaldo (the original one) and he was so late that the whole event – which brilliantly included playing briefly on the Allianz Arena pitch – got put back and in the end our flights were cancelled and we had to stay. I got put on a 6am flight (or similar) the next morning. God, I was bitter.  The best hotel room I have ever stayed in, an amazing comfy bed, and I must have been in it for all of two hours.  Mind you, the best … well, not the best because the hotel is actually a bit rubbish, but …. It was in Barcelona when I accidentally booked the ‘pack romántico’.  Bottle of champagne, chocolate cake and petals on the bed in the shape of a heart. I got back after the clásico – alone, late – and ate the cake watching the repeat on telly. It wasn’t very good. I shudder to think that people might genuinely book that place for a romantic getaway.

…and the worst?
Again, there must be loads of bad ones. But ultimately, if you’re there briefly it doesn’t really matter. There were some horror stories about the Ukraine this summer, although I more or less got away with it … except the night when I didn’t have one and had to sleep on a mate’s sofa.  And even then the comedy value made it worth it.

Favourite football writer?
Are you trying to get me in trouble … ? Whoever you don’t say is going to moan. As Bielsa once said: the problem with picking a number one is that rather than a eulogy of him it looks like a criticism of the number two and that’s not the case. Graham Hunter and Pete Jenson. I always enjoy Roberto Palomar (Marca), even when I don’t agree. Juanma Trueba (AS), too. And while I feel like David Gistau (freelance) has got into a rut recently, I think he’s a genius.  Lu Martin (El País) and Santi Giménez (AS). Scott Murray (Guardian sports editor) always makes me laugh. Ian Macintosh (ESPN) as well. Jonathan Wilson knows everything. And Sean Ingle has recently started writing a column in the Guardian, which is, I think, a great addition. Barney Ronay has great vision and expression. I tweet a lot of articles that grab me – there are some brilliant people about.  I’m bound to have left some real geniuses out [No doubt they would agree – Ed].

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Wow. You are, aren’t you? Ok, Miguel-Ángel Roman on GolT in Spain. Gary Neville has been a revelation. And I really like Terry Gibson. Ah, and Graeme Sounness. When I have done Five Live it has been a real pleasure. Mark Pougatch is great.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Normalisation. And access. There isn’t necessarily a need for mutual suspicion (although at times I understand that they feel that way.) Also differentiate: not all clubs and players are the same … and not all journalists are either.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I went to the Olympics in Athens and that was very special. Wrestling especially. Watching Luke Milligan at Wimbledon was great and watching my brother at Wembley once, playing basketball, was the business. I’d love to see an NBA finals or the Super Bowl.

Last book read?
Actual book? You mean, not football or history? Leaving the Atocha Station, which I read recently. It’s the first time I have read literature (well, it’s almost poetry) for a long time. I tend to read non-fiction more.

Favourite current TV programme?
I am a fan of Revista de la Liga, which is far better on Spanish football than most things in Spain. I don’t get much time for much else, sadly. But, and I realise this is the clichéd stock answer, but The Wire. If there’s a chance to watch something briefly, I’ll always choose comedy.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I’ve got quite a bit. I’m a bit of a history/football but: match day posters, old stickers, that sort of thing. But … for many reasons, my Petr Dubovsky* shirt, which was bought in an auction in Oviedo recently and given to me. I actually cried when I found out.

*A Slovak footballer who played for Slovan Bratislava, Real; Madrid and Real Oviedo in the 90s.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Don’t. Only joking. Erm, I suppose to be aware that you’ll get knocked back a lot, to know that it won’t be easy. “Paid for watching football” is rubbish: it is, like anything else, a job. It’s amazing how much you enjoy a game when you’re NOT working. But, that said, let’s not go down the miserable, cynical route: it’s a great job, fascinating and different. Enjoy it.  And ask people questions whenever you get the chance. Don’t seek a certain answer; ask a question. If you’re interested, your readers may be too.

*You can read Sid Lowe in The Guardian and The Observer plus SI.com; he is also a regular contributor to talkSPORT and Five Live. Twitter: @sidlowe

NEXT WEEK: Kevin Baxter (Los Angeles Times)

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