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IAN STAFFORD of the Mail on Sunday on dousing a flaming laptop at Highbury…eating an elephant’s backside…and playing alongside Romario

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football? :
Well I guess the true answer is I work in pretty much all sports and that’s how it’s always been apart from student days when, like everyone else, I did a million jobs.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football? :
Well I guess the true answer is I work in pretty much all sports and that’s how it’s always been apart from student days when, like everyone else, I did a million jobs.

Most memorable match?
One I’ve covered? Probably the 1990 World Cup semi when England lost on pens to (who else?) the Germans, Gazza cried and Waddle’s shot is still rising 23 years on.

 
The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
It’s already on: Man City’s dramatic stoppage time win v QPR to take the title and leave Man Utd stunned at Sunderland. Incredible last three minutes at both the Etihad and Stadium of Light. I’d also like a DVD entitled Unsung Stars of the 70’s and show all the skills of Bowles, Hudson, George, Worthington, Currie et al – brilliant players and the kind of personalities we miss today who should have each won 50 caps but didn’t get close.

Best stadium?
Allianz, Munich; Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.


…and the worst?

Plough Lane, Wimbledon – remember the press box?

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Not had too many personally, but I remember a distinguished member of the football press saw his laptop literally catch fire in the heat spot at the old Highbury press box. I sat behind him and helped put the fire out.

 
Biggest mistake?
I fell out with Martin O’Neill, of all people, many years ago. He took offence to a headline and wrote about it in his match day programme. I felt he went way over the top. It wasn’t really a mistake, but you never want to fall out with managers, do you? I remember arriving at Oxford United at half-time once when they were in the top flight after train and taxi problems. I’d missed the whole of the first half, when all three goals were scored and there had been a red card. Nothing happened in the second half and my report came from second hand information. That Sunday I received an email from my sports editor of the time saying it was the best match report I’d done for him.

 
Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Many times, but nobody famous, although I argue I resemble a young Robert Redford.

 
Most media friendly manager?
Personally it’s been Walter Smith who let me play for his Everton team once again v Manchester City. Mind you, he did say as he looked at me in the Everton strip about to play: “Forty years in football and I think I’ve just made my biggest mistake.” And obviously Harry.

 
Best ever player?
Since I’ve been watching football Pele, Maradona and Best, with Cruyff just behind. Messi and Ronaldo are pretty special, though. I liked Le Tissier, too. He mainly scored spectacular goals, didn’t he?

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Brazil 1970, Barcelona (take your pick), Ajax of the mid-70’s, Milan in the early 90’s, Liverpool in the late 70’s.

Best pre-match grub?
In the old days it used to be, of all places, Luton Town. Now hard to beat Chelsea.

Best meal had on your travels?
So many top meals with, er, “football contacts.” Can’t single one out although the Court of Ian Woodlridge was always special.

…and the worst?
Elephant backside in South Africa. It was, er, tough. When I asked if elephants were allowed to be cooked the waiter told me: “If it’s died from disease.”

Best hotel stayed in?
Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

…and the worst?
The place I originally stayed in Sardinia for the 1990 World Cup. There were chickens running down the corridors and the hotel manager was Italy’s version of “Manuel” from Fawlty Towers.

Do you have a hobby?
If only I had the luxury of time. Play guitar a bit and climb the odd mountain.

Favourite football writer?
I was brought up on Brian Glanville and David Lacey. My much missed buddy Joe Melling wasn’t best known for his writing, but his ability to break stories was second to none. Nowadays Henry Winter’s very good, as are The Times’s Oliver Kay and Oliver Holt of the Daily Mirror, but our business is fortunate to have many, many fine football writers.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
In football? I used to like Coleman’s “1-0,” and Barry Davies’s musings. These days? Jonathan Pearce has really grown on me. He used to blast my ears off when commentating for Capital if I sat in front of him in a press box many moons ago, but now he is a fine and subtle commentator.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
I’d try and get a few more writers and players functions going. Maybe it’s naive to think we can all go back. The business of football has changed so much, but we all recall with fondness the days when we could have a drink with a player and share a few things. Players really should be taught a little about the media works, too. If they understood it more it would only help them.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I’ve been very lucky and experienced just about everything. Inside football – I’m cheating – it’s England winning the World Cup. Outside? After England winning the rugby world cup and so many Ashes series,  the London Olympics, Wiggins winning the TDF and Murray winning Wimbledon there’s very little else to see.

Favourite non-football sportsman/sports woman?
Steve Redgrave. The most impressive will and spirit in sport. Overcame every obstacle thrown at him to become Britain’s greatest Olympian – yes, still! And Australian athlete Cathy Freeman. Amazing woman who told me I played guitar having met me for 5 seconds. I asked how she knew and she pointed out the hardness of skin on the tips of my fingers! Won 400m gold with the eyes of a nation on her and did so much for the indigenous people.

Last book read?
Into Thin Air – a gripping account of the 1996 Everest disaster. Brilliant and traumatic read.

Favourite current TV programme?
Mock the Week, Homeland.

TV show you always switch off?
Soaps. Jeremy Kyle.

If you could bring one TV series back which would it be?
The best leave you wanting more – I’d love a full on Superstars with all the top stars involved, but Kevin Keegan falling off his bike put paid to that.

Favourite comedian?
Really like MIlton Jones from today. In the past? The mush missed Eric Morecambe.

What really, really annoys you?
Headlines that do not reflect the story; young sports stars wanting money before they open their mouths; people walking slowly in front of you on a street with their head in a mobile phone; people shouting down their phones in a train’s “Quiet Zone;” TV blaming the press for stories they cover with just as much zeal. I could go on…

Your most prized football memorabilia?
My Flamengo shirt I wore in a training match in Rio de Janeiro where my striking (surely strike? – Ed) partner was Romario, and my Everton jersey I wore against Manchester City. I wouldn’t sell them for anything because memories are priceless.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
You need to be multi-media. And you must never see it as a job, but a passion.

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