FWA Q&A – Hector Nunns

HECTOR NUNNS on a gun at Loftus Road…losing his bottle at Reading…and the House of a Hundred Beers.

Have you ever worked in a profession other than football?
Yes. Started life as a trainee bean-counter in the City, but hated it, and then worked in hospitality, most enjoyably based at Sandown Park racecourse selling the boxes for the Esher track, Epsom Downs and Kempton Park. Survived having to work on Whitbread Gold Cup day and missing the last ever game at the Goldstone Ground. Just. Had an epiphany over breakfast one day (dodgy Shreddies), pitched and got a football column from the sports editor at the West Sussex County Times, and went to do a journalism course.

Most memorable match?
Professionally, it has to be the QPR v Sheffield United match in 2005, when it emerged that the police had arrested several men for allegedly holding a gun to the head of Rangers’ director Gianni Paladini during the match. A subsequent Crown Court case saw all those charged found not guilty on various counts, but the day and experience was a stark reminder to take nothing for granted as you head for the ground. As a fan, two. The Hereford v Brighton draw at Edgar Street that saw Steve Gritt’s side stay out of the Conference only on goals scored. Having just lost their ground, I am sure Brighton would have gone out of business had they lost. And the five-penalty farrago at Crystal Palace in 1989 (although their four, of which they missed three, were all nailed-on penalties while the Brighton one probably wasn’t). Good old Kelvin Morton.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
I’m a sucker for World Cups, love everything about them even if England aren’t involved. The 1982 version had already seen the classic Italy 3-2 win over Brazil and the West Germany 3-3 semi-final penalties win over France, before a superb final, with Marco Tardelli’s frenzied and passionate goal celebration the defining moment.

Best stadium?
St Etienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard  is what a football stadium should be like. Four good stands, close to the pitch, cracking atmosphere when packed, and infused with a proud history. In England, Villa Park feels like the closest equivalent.

And the worst?
The kid in me still loves going to football and knows this job is a privilege, and I can find something good and hidden charm in every ground. Even Selhurst Park, though I’m hearing a facelift is well under way.

Biggest mistakes?
Not going into sports journalism straight after university. And attempting a quick single playing cricket this summer (ruptured Achilles). People of a certain age and build should deal in boundaries only. And opening a fridge door at the Madejski this season, resulting in a bottle-smashing incident that almost wiped out Joe Lovejoy.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
When Chris Evans was doing his TFI Friday show there was a slot about people who looked like fat version of someone famous. Pals at the time reckoned I could pass for a ‘Fat Alan Shearer’, and that was years ago. He wasn’t great at interviews either.

Your personal ‘tech’ disaster?
The worst one wasn’t even new-tech, and there have been plenty of those (the word ‘dongle’ means different things to different people, but for me it was a small white thing that didn’t work at The Valley on deadline). My first ever match report for the WSCT, on which in my eyes a whole future new career rested, I took one pen and it ran out after 10 minutes. Spent the next 80 pressing hard into a pad and then for two hours painfully re-traced the imprints in the pub afterwards. An early and salutary lesson.

Most media friendly manager
Hard to think of a more courteous current manager than Gianfranco Zola at Watford.

Best ever player?
Paul Gascoigne in his pomp at Spurs is the best English player I have seen playing live. That should be how he is remembered, sadly it may not be. Also loved watching Eric Cantona, Zola and Dennis Bergkamp play in their time here.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
Barcelona team of recent years but also loved the Manchester United class of ’94: Schmeichel, Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Kanchelskis, Ince, Keane, Giggs, Cantona, Hughes. More a devastating 4-2-4 than 4-4-2. Internationally, the swaggering Brazil of the early 1980s, the words ‘technical ability’ just don’t do it justice.

Best pre-match grub?
Usual beat is the Championship in the south-east, so the Amex is pretty good. The day Waitrose stop doing the food at Reading will also be a sad one.

Best meal had on your travels?
A proper Eisbein in the superbly named ‘House of a Hundred Beers’ just off Potsdamerplatz in Berlin.

And the worst?
Some dodgy herring in Copenhagen.

Best hotel stayed in?
As a cost-conscious freelance I have a Travelodge season ticket. But best hotel stayed in by a mile (for a travel piece) was Vila Bled on Lake Bled in Slovenia, a former residence of Tito. Beautiful.

And the worst?
Pub in Sheffield. Lock-in karaoke until 4am. Right beneath my room. It’s what Fenerbahce fans might do to a foreign team visiting Istanbul.

Favourite football writers?
James Lawton and Martin Samuel.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
On radio it was Peter Jones, so many Saturday afternoons and midweek evenings spent listening to his reassuring tones. On TV, Brian Moore. Outside football, Sid Waddell – a genius who hated blandness, and made knowledge and learning cool.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Most press officers are helpful, and it is probably better in the Championship. Would like to see a few handlers spend a week with a minority sport, where it is a fight to get it in the papers, to better appreciate their position. Failing that, an outward-bound style bonding day building rope bridges. One (overseas) press officer this season even instructed me what comparisons I could and couldn’t make on a proposed piece. That cramping of the imagination didn’t go down well.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
An England cricket tour of the West Indies.

Other sports covered
Snooker has ended up being a big work area ever since 11 years ago being thrown the Crucible accreditation form by departing colleague John ‘Tex’ Hennessey at the Daily Express with the words ‘Here you go, you might be needing that’. Has got me to all the great world cities: Beijing, Berlin and Sheffield.

Last book read?
Dipping into the Times History of the World at the moment. Should be up to the 14th Century any day now.

Favourite current TV programme?
My daughters love Masterchef in all forms for some reason, so that, The Newsroom, and Sunday Supplement.

Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
Think it through from every angle about how you can be most useful to the people who pay you. And then work ceaselessly going and doing it.

Hector Nunns is a regular on the Championship beat for Sunday Express, Daily Mirror and Daily Star Sunday.

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