TIM RICH of The Independent on heroin and incest…interviewing the wrong Kanoute…and a fabulous lunch in the occupied territories

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
I once ran a campsite in France and once worked, very inefficiently, filling bottles of shampoo at a factory where all work stopped for 10 minutes to listen to Simon Bates’ Our Tune.

Most memorable match?
It would be hard to look past the ridiculous Boys Own Story that was the 2005 European Cup final. The singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone at half time when AC Milan were 3-0 up is always mentioned, but equally there were some Liverpool fans who went over to the press box urging us to “give the team hell” for the humiliation they had put them through. I hope they didn’t leave; it was a long way back from the Ataturk to Istanbul.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
It would have to be Zinedine Zidane’s volley to win the 2002 European Cup final – the first I covered – for Real Madrid.

Best stadium?
The sight of St James’ Park on the Newcastle skyline seldom fails to move me, but as a working environment, the Allianz Arena in Munich is hard to beat. As a setting, the one in Braga that is built into the side of a quarry.

…and the worst?
The most disappointing is the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, where Andorra played a couple of dreadful internationals against England. Soulless and, when we were there, soppingly wet.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
I prefer the old tech disasters. I used to cover cricket for the Sunderland Echo who employed a fabulous copytaker and one who was not fabulous and (a major disadvantage for copytaking) a bit deaf. Lines like “with the wicked playing increasingly badly” used to litter my copy.

Biggest mistake?
Describing John Bercow, the current speaker of the House of Commons, as someone who supported the legalisation of heroin and incest when he was chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students. He didn’t, it was one of his predecessors – an error that cost the Southend Evening Echo £20,000 in libel damages.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
No, but during the Africa Cup of Nations in 2004, I carried out an extensive interview in French with Frederic Kanoute only to realise midway through that I was talking to his brother. I became suspicious when his memories of Tottenham were becoming ever more vague.

Most media friendly manager?
Probably Sir Alex Ferguson on the grounds that almost everything he says is a potential back-page lead. Arsene Wenger is the same but is rather more accessible. However, nobody gave press conferences as theatrically as Sir Bobby Robson.

Best ever player?
Steven Gerrard – the antidote to all the cynicism that surrounds modern football.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
For sheer romance the Brazil of 1982, which Alan Hansen says is the best side he has ever faced. The Barcelona side that destroyed Manchester United in two European Cup finals was sensational.

Best pre-match grub?
Manchester City – better than many restaurants.

Best meal had on your travels?
Eight years ago, a little club called Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin became the first Arab team from the Israeli occupied territories to qualify for the UEFA Cup and drew Newcastle in the first round. Three of us, Colin Young from the Daily Mail and Gary Oliver from the Shields Gazette, travelled north from Tel Aviv and were treated to a tour of the ground and a fabulous lunch by the directors. When Manchester United went to Nantes, the city gave the Manchester United press corps a civic banquet, preceded by a football match. Manchester United were prodded into responding and for the return fixture sent the French journalists to Harry Ramsden’s.

…and the worst?
The most bizarre is the combination of cheesecake and chips served up at Old Trafford during the half-time interval.

Best hotel stayed in?
The size and sumptuousness of the suite at the Renaissance in Bangkok during Chelsea’s pre-season tour under Andre Villas-Boas can still raise a smile. I have no idea why it was allocated to me, but they sent out search parties to retrieve my mobile phone when I lost it.

…and the worst?
For the 2007 European Cup final in Athens, Liverpool’s official media hotel was a motel in the hills far away from the Greek capital that overlooked an abattoir. It had no wifi, very little mobile phone reception and an empty swimming pool.

Favourite football writer?
I grew up admiring the late Frank Keating and can still quote verbatim passages from Matthew Engel’s cricket reports in the Guardian. These days the standard is extraordinarily high. Neil Ashton’s account of Roberto di Matteo’s sacking in the Daily Mail read like a novel. I like the way Martin Blackburn works at the sharp edge of football for the Sun without ever losing his integrity. As a combination of a news reporter and a writer there are not many better than Ian Herbert at the Independent, while unless he does something very stupid – which is possible – Rory Smith of the Times will become a real star of our industry.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
John Arlott used to say “I is another”. He never referred to himself in broadcasts and John Murray on Radio Five has the combination of voice, wit and lack of ego that marks him out in that tradition. Martin Tyler and Clive Tyldesley are commentators who understand the value of silence in the way that Richie Benaud and Brian Moore did.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Probably to remind the young men in our industry that not every conversation with a footballer needs to be printed or published on a website.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
An Ashes series in Australia. Bobby Robson always said that when he retired that is where he would go. Sadly, he never did.

Last book read?
Hilary Mantel’s account of the French Revolution: “A Place of Greater Safety”.

Favourite current TV programme?
Stephen Poliakoff’s jazz drama, “Dancing on the Edge” and Coronation Street.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
My only piece of football memorabilia are small framed posters from every French city that staged a match in the 1998 World Cup and in the middle is a ticket for the final.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Find yourself a niche, like Jonathan Wilson has done with tactics and Eastern European football. Learn a language and stand up for yourself. There is only one journalist I have ever heard call Alex Ferguson a liar to his face and he has done it more than once. Neil Custis of the Sun is still alive and still thriving.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Joe Lovejoy

    February 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Excellent. Easily the best I’ve read in this series

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