STEVE BATES, the outgoing chairman of the Football Writers’ Association, on gaining brownie points with The Boss…dinner with Robin van Persie…and breakfast with superfit Sven
SUNDAY April 29
Weather shocking so usual Sunday morning tennis four ball is off. Take a glimpse at Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement to see if there is any reaction from the chaps to my story that Harry Redknapp fears he has been passed over for the England job with Roy Hodgson about to get a call from the FA. Always a bit nervy when you go out on a limb with a tale and you can end up red faced, but after making phone calls galore to contacts I have a good feeling this is right. Read the papers then watch Chelsea destroy QPR. And mid-afternoon leave home in Manchester to drive up to Cumbria for over-night stay with friends in the farming community of Kings Meaburn. During dinner get a missed call from a contact who had helped with the Redknapp tale. Immediate thought is the FA have called it on with Harry. Before I get a chance to call back, my People colleague Dave Kidd rings to break the news that Hodgson has been approached by the FA and offers his congratulations. As any journo will tell you, there is no moment to match the joy when you get a big one right and the news makes my day. Minutes later talkSPORT ring asking if they could patch me straight through to Des Kelly hosting the Press Pass programme. My hosts at the dinner table look bemused at this sudden activity on a Sunday evening but that’s the beauty of our profession. News is unpredictable and stories often break when you least expect them. After a few glasses of red wine I go to bed a happy man.
MONDAY April 30
Set off from Kings Meaburn heading for Scotland. I’ve taken a couple of days off for a break at the St Andrews Old Course Hotel to celebrate my wedding anniversary and reclaim some brownie points after a long old season and my impending exile at Euro 2012. Haven’t brought the golf clubs although would have loved to – but I’m not that brave. Never stayed at the hotel or visited St Andrews before but it’s a fabulous place with a world class spa so my stock is high with The Boss. Bump into Colin Mongomerie, literally, as we enter reception and when I see the 17th hole right outside the back of the hotel am seriously wishing I’d packed the clubs. Booked this jaunt before Manchester United decided on their break at the hotel a few weeks ago but I understand why they came. Hotel has lots of class – and even more Japanese golfers. A fixture switch means the Manchester derby is rescheduled for tonight and I sense City will win. Go down for dinner in the hotel and sit next to a group of Jap golfers who are all smartly dressed bar one who is wearing a United shirt. An omen? No. Watch the second-half after dinner and see City take a giant step to the title.
TUESDAY May 1
An hour in the gym, a read of the Scottish papers which major on Rangers’ ongoing plight then breakfast before heading out for a two-hour walk along the beach at St Andrews. With the Footballer of the Year dinner fast approaching on Thursday I know the phone won’t stay silent for long even though everything is in place and Robin van Persie is looking forward to being crowned double footballer of the year after his PFA award. Sure enough there are e-mails and messages stacking up when I turn on the mobile. One is from Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney’s agent. Wayne is hot favourite to win the best goal of the 20 seasons of the Premier League – an award that is to be made at our dinner. I’ve been liaising with Paul and the Premier League over arrangements should Wayne win. It would be great to get him to the dinner to collect his award in person for his stunning overhead kick against Manchester City last season but there are plenty of obstacles to overcome. Spend the rest of the day looking round St Andrews and chilling in the hotel spa.
WEDNESDAY May 2
Another stint in the gym before breakfast, then pack up and check out for the five-hour drive back to Manchester. As I’m leaving take calls from Arsenal’s press office and Robin van Persie’s management team regarding arrangements for Thursday’s Footballer of the Year presentation to the Arsenal striker. A succession of calls about the dinner follow, one of them from the Premier League to say Rooney has won their iconic goal award. Relay the news to Paul Stretford but filming commitments with sponsors Nike means Wayne won’t be at our dinner. Would have been great to have had him in person in London, instead he’ll record a message to be shown tomorrow night. Home at tea-time and take my dad for a pint in his local as it’s his birthday. Later, watch Spurs pick up a big win at The Reebok against a Bolton side looking increasingly doomed. Start to write my final speech as Football Writers’ Association chairman.
THURSDAY May 3
Pack my bags and on the road again for another four days. First of all drive to Carrington for Sir Alex Ferguson 9.30am press conference. The United manager seems a little subdued after losing to City and clearly knows his stars are relying now on a major helping hand from Newcastle on Sunday. But, as usual, lightens up a little when the cameras are turned off and he’s speaking to a smaller group of Sunday journalists for our private briefing. Quickly out of Carrington and head for Stockport Station to catch train to London to prepare for the dinner tonight. Matt Dickinson from The Times rings to tell me Fabrice Muamba is on his table tonight. Great news – we will make a fuss of him (Muamba not Dicko). Take calls from Arsenal and the Premier League but all okay. Ring van Persie’s agent, Darren Dein, to make a final check everything is fine with our Footballer of the Year. Thankfully, it is. Amidst all of this talk to my office to run through Sir Alex Ferguson quotes from his press conference and topics for Chris Waddle, our columnist at The People whose column I ghost write. In these weeks, as FWA chairman, you need an understanding office. Fortunately, my editor at The People Lloyd Embley and sports editor James Brown have been top class throughout. Van Persie arrives bang on time for our dinner, Muamba’s appearance brings the house down and so does van Persie’s speech later in the evening. But not too late as Wenger wants him gone by 9.30-ish which he is. Sit with Robin at dinner and he’s engaging company. A top guy. It’s a huge event to organize so delighted when the super-positive feedback starts immediately tumbling in. After four years as chairman I celebrate my last dinner in charge with a few glasses of champagne.
FRIDAY May 4
The morning after the night before – and I feel dreadful. Intended to bale out about 1am but it’s 4am by the time I get back to my room and I’m not the last by a long way. Plenty of texts, e-mails and tweets about the dinner being a great success. Everyone happy except our chairman-elect Andy Dunn who swears at me more than once and asks: “How do I follow that?” Joking aside, I am sure he will as our functions seem to set new standards each time. My sports desk are still looking for stories despite having a great live day on Saturday with the FA Cup final so after writing Chris Waddle’s column hit the phones. A quiet night is the order of the day.
SATURDAY May 5
FA Cup final day was a magical occasion when I was a kid and I used to be up early to watch the players at their team hotels in the hours leading up to their journey to the stadium. Somehow it’s not the same these days but it’s still a big game to cover. Before heading to Wembley I have to go to The Emirates to present Robin van Persie with his Footballer of the Year award for the second time in less than 48 hours, before the game against Norwich. Former Arsenal star Paul Davis is there to present RVP’s PFA award too and we both go on the pitch as Robin finishes his pre-match warm-up routine. Then it’s straight off to Wembley before Arsenal kick-off. Chelsea and Liverpool restore some of the missing sparkle to the Cup in a cracking game, but the tea-time kick off means deadlines are tight for Sunday papers like mine so we have to do a running report with 500 words at half time 250 at 75 minutes and an intro on the whistle. Then it’s into a a quick-as-you-can re-write to polish things up which is a good thing for this final as it was a classic game of two halves.
SUNDAY May 6th
Finally heading back home to Manchester after a hectic few days but there’s one final surprise as I sit at breakfast with Paul Hetherington the FWA’s executive secretary. Over to our table comes Sven-Goran Eriksson to say hello and have a chat. He’s been at the Cup final and is spending a few days in London. Looks relaxed and fit – not surprising as he has a jog in the park before AND after breakfast.