TOM HOPKINSON of the People on packing Hula Hoops and Hobs Nobs…the missing dentist’s chair…and no Kidding, looking like Ronaldo

Your first ever job in journalism?
I had three months on the Coalville, Ashby and Swadlincote Times but have always felt my first proper job was on the Romford Recorder. So many on Fleet Street got their breaks with the Recorder Series – it was and I’m sure still is a fantastic training ground – and I got mine when I replaced the man who replaced my People colleague, Dave Kidd. I’ll be for ever grateful to Peter Butcher, our sports editor, for showing me the ropes and making sure I had skin thick enough for what was to follow. He once read one of my intros to the rest of the office, turned to me, scowled and asked: “Are you proud of that?” “Less so now than I was five minutes ago,” I replied.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
I did have a couple of short-term jobs after leaving college, the worst of which was undoubtedly packing Hula Hoops at the KP factory in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. One of the jobs there meant sitting at a conveyor belt watching thousands of crisps passing by, and I promise this is true, if there were any I deemed not round enough for public consumption I had to throw them in a bin. Or eat them. The salt on your clothes at the end of a shift was horrific and it was years before I could bring myself to eat a Hula Hoop again. Packing Chocolate HobNobs down the road at McVitie’s was much more enjoyable, albeit dangerous for someone with such a sweet tooth.

Most memorable match?
As a reporter, probably Tottenham’s victory over AC Milan at San Siro in February 2011. Great atmosphere, a really good game and then came the fireworks at the final whistle when Gennaro Gattuso, who’d been simmering all night, boiled over and butted Joe Jordan. We cleaned up in the mixed zone afterwards and then a big group of us rounded off the night with a very enjoyable meal at Picanha’s Churrascaria, a regular post-match haunt for players from both Milan sides. As a fan, Derby’s 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup in 1993. A thrilling match.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
It has already been done and I never tire of seeing it – Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland during Euro ’96 and the celebration which followed. After the Asia Trophy final in Hong Kong in 2011, a bunch of us headed to Banana Joe’s on a pilgrimage to see the infamous dentist’s chair. Sadly, we couldn’t pay proper homage to Gazza, Teddy Sheringham and Co, because it’s no longer there.

Best stadium?
When it’s full, San Siro. Old-school grandeur.

…and the worst?
Fratton Park. Awful place to work.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Still waiting for it.

Biggest mistake?
I was on ‘Andre Villas-Boas for Chelsea’ fairly early but, a few weeks after writing it, allowed myself to be convinced by a mate on another paper that Guus Hiddink was getting the job instead. We both filed for the Sunday that the Dutchman would be named later in the week; my paper ran it on the back, his didn’t use it at all. A couple of days on, AVB was confirmed. I was gutted, but learned a valuable lesson: trust yourself and your contacts.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
I wouldn’t say mistaken, but there was a time a few years ago when I was often told I looked like Adam Garcia, the actor, or Kelly Whatshisname, the journalist-hating frontman from Stereophonics. These days Dave Kidd’s the only person who tells me I’m a ringer for anyone. He regularly asks if I’ve met the Italian Tom Hopkinson yet – apparently he’s a journalist as well – and he’s adamant I look like Ronaldo. I’ve never bothered to ask which one, but assume he’s talking fat Brazilian rather than pretty-boy Portuguese.

Most media friendly manager?
Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Martinez are gents. And I could listen to Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho all day.

Best ever player?
Igor Stimac. My hero. I remember watching him make Eric Cantona look very ordinary when Manchester United visited Derby for a midweek game in the 90s. And when I met him at the Euros this summer he couldn’t have been more charming, a real raconteur. He did me a great service by recording a video message for my Derby-supporting dad, wishing him a happy Father’s Day and good luck in the London to Brighton bike ride, both of which were on the following Sunday. Suffice it to say, it made my dad’s day … and didn’t cost a penny.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Sorry to be boring: Guardiola’s Barcelona and the 2010 World Cup-winning Spain side.

Best pre-match grub?
Arsenal. Although I’m convinced the portions are getting smaller.

Best meal had on your travels?
For the food and the setting, Cin Cin By The Sea in Barbados this summer will take some beating. Mark Irwin, Andy Mitten, Steve Anglesey and I spent the evening, erm, let’s call it debating, the merits of tactics blogs with the younger members of our party. We were on the island for the legends tournament, which wasn’t the worst trip I’ve been on. Perhaps the most memorable, though, was a night at the Bed Supper Club in Amsterdam with Rob Shepherd. Within four hours of landing the day before the pre-season Amsterdam Tournament kicked off, Shep and I had good Sunday hits in the bag from Jose Mourinho and Manuel Almunia, so we formed the advance party looking for food and drink. The daily boys rocked up a few hours later to find us lying on one of the beds, shoeless as per the requirements of the establishment, and with several empty plates and wine bottles scattered between us. I still chuckle about the looks on their faces as they surveyed the carnage before them.

…and the worst?
Let’s just say I’ve never found a pre-match meal at St Andrew’s particularly tasty. And I’m being very generous at that.

Best hotel stayed in?
For the room, The Savoy in Florence. Amazing hotel, beautiful city. For the views, the Libertas in Dubrovnik. Stunning.

…and the worst?
I’ve no idea what it was called but it was in Lyon on a Champions League trip covering Chelsea. I was an hour from the airport and an hour from the stadium, and I remember saying out loud as I opened the door to my room: “You’ve got to be ******* joking.” That was before I’d seen the dirty bed sheets, too.

Favourite football writer?
Tough question, because there are some seriously talented journalists throughout the ranks who I have big respect for. I don’t want to sit on the fence, though, so I’ll single out Matt Lawton, who’s perhaps the best all-rounder. I always enjoy his match reports and interviews, and he’s a very good story-getter as well.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Five Live’s John Murray.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
I’m sure this will be the answer most have given but increase the chances to mingle with players, managers and staff at training centres. A bit of chat and banter, football-related or otherwise, will always improve things because it humanises both sides a bit more and creates personal relationships. Spurs Lodge was always good for that but Tottenham’s new training ground, as impressive as it is, has taken it away.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
A Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG. In the stands with the Barmy Army rather than in the press box. That said, I’m not sure I’ll ever cover or attend a better event than Hatton-Mayweather in Las Vegas in 2007. What a weekend that was.

Last book read?
I’m not an avid reader of sports books but I’ve just polished off two back-to-back. ‘Racing Through The Dark – The Fall and Rise of David Millar’ is a really good read and, before that, ‘A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert Enke’. It’s heart-breaking, but everyone should force themselves to pick it up and see it through to the end. An incredible book.

Favourite current TV programme?
Curb Your Enthusiasm is genius and I’m going to say Friends as well because you can still always find a rerun. I love HBO shows like The Sopranos, Generation Kill, Entourage and The Wire, and I’m looking forward to the second season of Homeland. I do occasionally get out.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
I’ve never really been a collector of memorabilia, but I do still have a couple of trophies from my younger days. Nearly 20 years ago, I was voted Players’ Player of the Year for a half-decent Ratby & Groby Under-16s side and I think I’m right in saying Emile Heskey won the club’s Under-15s award that year as well. Terrific footballers, both.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Enjoy the highs and try to learn from the lows because there will be plenty of both. Work hard but keep a healthy balance with the rest of your life. And bring a back-up plan with you, just in case.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Patrick Barclay

    September 30, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Tom looks like BBC commentator and presenter Darren Fletcher, in my opinion. I’m a fan of both of them but not sure that Darren would reciprocate after our most recent meeting, when I greeted him as ”Tom” before applying the mute button just a split-second late.

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