TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED: FIRING BLANKS, FAMOUS FACES AND A FRENCHMAN'S FUTURE
Being a student has it’s pros and it’s cons; cheap student nights out, vodka aplenty and lots of good-looking boys versus the fact of being constantly poor and having to give up my season ticket due to a lack of funds. But with the course I’m doing, sport journalism, my assignments give me a chance to sample what I would be doing for a day job if I succeed in getting my degree, and that is just amazing.
So when I was allocated a radio assignment by my lecturer, Charlie Lambert, I was made up. The criteria was to find somebody for a topical radio interview relevant to the north west region. We were put into groups of five; my group consisting of James, Aled, Chris, Alastair and myself, and straight away I made it my duty to organise an interviewee for us.
Who would I be able to get? Who would be a perfect interview? My first idea was to try and get Nicky Weaver; he’s my hero and has made a fantastic comeback since his injury crisis. There was a real story with Weaver and it would have made for a great interview. Then I thought about the one story that has consistently reared its head throughout the past year or so and refused to die. A story that has yet to be concluded, one that graces the sports pages regularly and involves one of our best players.
Sylvain Distin has been at the centre of persistent media rumours for months now. His failure to sign a contract has been met with anger by many City fans; he was stripped of his captaincy and squad number and still refuses to put pen to paper. Why? If he goes at the end of the season it will be on a Bosman so he can then demand ludicrous wages…but why? That’s a story I wanted. No tabloid bollocks, no internet Chinese whispers- I wanted the truth from Distin himself.
Whether I could actually get the interview though was a different story. I informed the lads of my intentions and they looked sceptical at the suggestion of being able to get a Premiership footballer. But I remained quietly confident and began to make a few calls, through my City contacts, in the hope that I could scoop an exclusive.
I waited for a reply for days, and days. The lads questioned me on a regular basis on my progress and all I could do is shrug my shoulders. Our assignment deadline was looming and my anxiety was spilling over. I checked my emails all the time…then there it was. The email. I clicked ‘open’ and closed my eyes. Then opened them: “Sylvain will be very happy to meet you…” Sylvain. Very happy. I will admit at this point that I have met him before on numerous occasions, but the prospect of getting an interview with him seemed such a long shot. Now it was a reality.
When I informed the lads of my success they were collectively gob-smacked. Even more shocked when I revealed that we had been invited to watch them train before conducting the interview. I was so excited; the lads supported Cardiff, Everton and Spurs so I was the only blue but it was a dream opportunity. For any sports fans, the idea of meeting a professional at the top of his game is just something to savour- and I was determined to do just that.
When the day, Friday 16th February, finally arrived I was unusually nervous. I’d never been to Carrington before and I was very much looking forward to watching the lads training as well as conducting the interview. I drove all the lads in my group down to Manchester; it was a typically rainy day and I reached for my umbrella as I stepped out of my car.
The lads and I were really excited as we all walked up to reception. Arrangements had been made for us, and we were all given a visitor sticker and asked to take a seat. Competition winners from City’s various sponsors (Budweiser, Orange etc.) waited anxiously for their chance to watch the training and we were informed that training had been delayed while City watched a video, presumably on Preston North End.
So we used this time as an opportunity to test our equipment. The lads were messing about saying it was broken and, as I laughed, I noticed a smartly-dressed man walking up the path. A very smiley man. A very, very famous man. As he entered the reception area he was met with a collective gasp: “Hi, how are we all doing today?” He casually asked as he shook the rain off his coat. The lads and I were stunned. Steve McLaren had just entered the room. The England manager. Yes yes he’s shit, but he’s still the England manager. He was greeted warmly and disappeared through a side door. Our morning was off and running.
When Psycho finally finished his pep talk, we were directed outside onto the muddy grass. It was drizzling consistently and one of the lads out of our group, Chris, wandered casually onto the grass holding a huge corporate City umbrella that he had taken from reception. I looked at him and just laughed as we all played spot the player during City’s warm up session. In no time we were joined by a sheepish-looking Steve McLaren; he stood just yards from us, himself sheltering under a similarly big umbrella.I did wonder what McLaren was doing there. After 20 minutes he was joined by John Wardle and for the entire training session they stood together engaged in deep conversation. I found watching the session very interesting; Samaras didn’t score one goal at all, the tackles were flying in and Psycho really wasn’t as hands on as I thought he would be. The majority of the training was conducted by Wigley and the now-departed Flowers as Psycho stood on the sidelines.
As a massive City fan it really was fascinating to have an insight into the pre-match preparations at Carrington. The final part of training involved a 30 minute ‘match’ which turned into a passionately-fought battle between team-mates. DaMarcus Beasley was the star (and mouth) of the show as Flowers provided what was almost a running commentary on the action. McLaren observed with interest and Psycho piped up every now and again as Wigley animatedly barked out instructions. Richards and Distin really did get involved in some brutal, crunching tackles and, with Weaver in one goal and Isaakson in the other, it looked like Psycho had quite a lot on his mind.
When training came to an end, just after noon, we began to discuss the morning’s action. As soon as the session concluded, McLaren approached Richards and engaged in what looked to be a light-hearted banter along with a pat on the back and words of encouragement, before Richards headed to the showers. Chris, Aled and James wanted to meet Barton therefore stayed behind to watch him finish practise (he and a couple of others insisted on staying out) so Ali and I headed back to reception in anticipation of starting the interview. We walked back alongside McLaren, who strolled casually in the rain, looking lost in his thoughts. The silent was apparent, until I broke it with a humorous question: “So Steve, what football team do you support at the moment?” He turned around, smiled and began to laugh: “Well it’s got to be England at the moment hasn’t it”. With that, he headed inside and disappeared through that trusty side door. My impression of him had been that he is a man clearly relishing being employed in such a powerful and public role. He had a swagger and self-assurance about himself in front of an audience that bordered on cocky, but looked completely different when alone. Almost insecure. He should be. Much like Psycho in the under-21 role, he was far too unproven for the England job and his appointment was completely premature. Only time will tell what will happen.
It was really chilly outside and I was glad to be back in reception away from the cold, not to mention that it had been lashing down for a couple of hours so I resembled a drowned blonde rat. Umbrellas were definitely the order of the day and the receptionist commented on the sudden lack of them in the umbrella rack:“Where have they all gone?” She bemoaned as she chatted to a smartly-dressed man. “The chairman had to go back to his car for an umbrella after all of ours went missing.” Ali and I looked at each other knowingly and laughed. Chris had taken John Wardle’s umbrella. Whoops.
It was only a couple of minutes until we were ushered through the side door ourselves. I really wasn’t nervous as I’d met Distin many times before- he greeted all of us warmly as we entered an interview room. Every question I put to him was answered in a friendly manner, although when I questioned him about the ongoing contract saga he did look visibly fed up.
The interview was over before we knew it and, after Distin posed for photographs with our group, we made our exit. The morning had been a close encounter and highly enjoyable: City had treated us with the upmost respect and I was thrilled to be able to be a spectator during training. It was hopefully a taste of things to come.
Emily Brobyn xx