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FWA Q&A: Tony Stenson

Tony Stenton talks to us about drinking Jack Charlton’s Guinness from a thimble, a wee problem in Tirana, and an interesting exchange with Steve Davis

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
Sold fish and chips while still at school (some say I should have stayed there – I did a decent battered haddock) and was a messenger boy at the London office of The Sydney Daily Telegraph, often delivering front pages to owner Frank Packer when he stayed at the Savoy.

Most memorable match?
In the time honoured reverse order: Third place: Rome’s Olympic Stadium on a balmy, velvet night in 1990 watching the Republic of Ireland sadly lose 1-0 to host nation Italy in a World Cup quarter-final. Second: my club Wimbledon – the love affair starting when I reported on them for my local paper when they were in the Isthmian League – beating Liverpool 1-0 to win the 1988 FA Cup Final at Wembley, less than a decade after they were stealing towels from hotels because they were so poor. Third: England winning the World Cup in 1966. No explanation needed.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
The total look of horror on my red-veined face, hewn by a visit to a pub or billion, when England World Cup hero Jack Charlton offered me a Guinness in a sewing thimble when he was Republic of Ireland manager. Several of us were in his hotel room during the 1994 World Cup in America and he ran out of glasses.

Best stadium?
Purely for the memories, Wembley and Rome’s Olympic Stadium

…and the worst?
Albania’s Tirana Stadium in the early 90’s when the toilets were so poor I used a vodka bottle to relieve myself. I watched in horror later as a spectactor picked it up and drunk it.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Too many to mention. Bring back Remington Rands and copy-takers.

Biggest mistake?
Rowing with a fellow scribe only to see him turn up later as my sports editor.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
I once turned up at Wimbledon’s old training ground, a truckers cafe on A3 delivering Dave Bassett’s programme notes – I wrote them unpaid for years – wearing a brown overall because I had been painting. Alan “the white Pele” Cork said I looked like Compo from Last Of The Summer Wine.

Most media friendly manager?
By far…….Dave Bassett, Jim Smith, Harry Redknapp, the late Bobby Robson and Ray Harford. Those men always returned calls.

Best ever player?
If I could, I would like my heart rule my head and say Wimbledon scoring legend Alan Cork. In reality it has to be Pele (met him several times and he was a gent also) from yesterday.This year it’s Ronaldo just ahead of Messi. Pele made things happen; things happen around Ronaldo. He’s a great player in a good football team. Messi is a great player in a great team.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Liverpool in the Shankly and Paisley eras and United during the Charlton, Law and Best period. Brazil when Pele led the orchestra.

Best pre-match grub?
I never eat on an empty stomach. So rarely eat at grounds. It’s cooked on Wednesday and re-heated. That’s my excuse. Prefer a trip to the local on route to work on my research.

Chums tell me Chelsea and Arsenal are top hole.

Best meal had on your travels?
A restaurant in Izmir, Turkey. Not for the food, but seeing John Bean, then of the Daily Express, using salt to do a sand dance on a table, much to the shock of the locals.

And worst?
Anything in Albania.

Best hotel stayed in?
Swiss Hotel, Turkey, where my state room over-looked the Golden Horn of  the Bosphorous, where East meets West. Looking from my window sipping a glass of chilled white wine. Wonderful. To this day, I still don’t know how I got the room on the usually miserly Daily Mirror.

…and the worst?
Albania again. I was in the next room to Tony Incenzo (he wrote about it on these pages last year) when he had hot and cold running rats and policeman asking to share his bed. My secret’s safe, Tone.

Do you have a hobby?
Golf, particularly the 19th hole. The way I play I need to go to the range more. Instead, I go to the bar.

Favourite football writer?
Brian Glanville of yesteryear. Patrick Collins of today; I  enjoy reading  the columns of Dave Kidd and Steven Howard.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
I thought Kenneth Wolstenholme was excellent. Listen again to his 1966 World Cup commentaries and they do stand the test of time. Today, I like Martin Tyler.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
All press officers be sacked and we go back to being allowed to talk to anyone we want.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
Been lucky enough to cover many Masters tournaments, Test Matches, Tour de Frances and football finals. But would love to cover an Ashes Series Down Under.

Favourite non-football sportsman/sports woman?
Abraham Lincoln.

Last book read?
Never Go Back by Lee Child.

Favourite current TV programme?
Mastermind. To confirm how dumb I am.

TV show you always switch off?
Reality shows, cooking programmes, those about moving house and anything with Jonathan Ross and Ricky Gervais. How do people find them funny?

If you could bring one TV series back, which would it be?
Without doubt: Only Fools and Horses.

Favourite comedian?
Tommy Cooper.

What really, really annoys you?
Unhelpful clubs, press officers, warm white wine and the current Labour party.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
Given most of it away for charity, including the shirt Ray Houghton wore after scoring for Ireland against England during the 1988 European Championship. But still have a yellow snooker ball on a plinth presented to me by Steve Davis when I left the Mirror after 30 years in 2003.

I had never played snooker and was suddenly asked in 1985 to cover the World Championships at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. As I turned off the M1 and drove into Sheffield I saw posters on lamposts saying ‘Read Tony Stenson the No 1 for Snooker’ and ‘Tony Stenson the Man the Snooker Stars know’.

I thought I’d better watch the first game and settled into my seat as Davis, the defending champion, teed off at 10.30am on the first Saturday.

I whispered to my colleague: ‘What’s a yellow worth?’

Such are the sound effects of the Crucible, Davis heard me, turned said: ‘Two’ and immediately potted his first red.

When I retired he presented me with my trophy which had engraved on: ‘It’s still worth two,Tony’.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Look, learn and listen.

You can read Tony Stenson in the Daily Star Sunday.

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