July 25, 2012
FWA Spotlight: Busby’s other ‘Babes’ did Britain proud
MATT BUSBY stroked his chin, took a puff of his trademark pipe and delivered his verdict. "Most of the players were strangers to each other," he said. "My first task was to shake hands all round and try to remember some of the names. I wondered what I’d taken on. I realised right from the start that many hectic weeks of hard graft lay ahead."
Ten years later the Scot was to build the Manchester United side nicknamed the Busby Babes who were set to dominate Europe before the Munich Air Disaster saw eight members of the squad perish in the plane crash.
Busby will forever be linked with United but in 1948 he accepted the job of managing the Great Britain football team at the London Olympics. Instead of players who had become household names in Britain, Busby had David Kelleher, a Northern Irishman whose daring getaway from a PoW camp near Bremen influenced the movie The Great Escape; Eric Fright, who overcame infant paralysis to play with leading amateur side Bromley; and an 18-year-old Scottish goalkeeper called Ronnie Simpson who had made his Queens Park debut against Clyde at Hampden Park aged 14 years and eight months.
As was the tradition in those days, Busby did not select the squad which was recruited by a committee who had forgotten about Cyril Martin, a nippy winger who had helped Olympique Marseille win that season's French League title.
While Stuart Pearce's Team GB squad have the best training and hotel facilities as they prepared for London 2012, things were more spartan in 1948. The Great Britain training base was a country mansion near Sunningdale golf course where the players found some racquets and started to play tennis. They then kicked a ball over the net, having to make the most of what was there. With rationing still in force special rations, including tinned fruit from New Zealand, were brought in to build the players up. This provided some compensation for missing work - all the players were left out of pocket as they had to take their annual holiday entitlement to coincide with the Olympics.
"I handled them as I would professionals," said Busby. "I worked them like slaves and not once did I hear a word of complaint. It was a pleasure to work with such men."
Three warm-up games had been arranged. The first was a defeat by Holland in Amsterdam, next stop was Basel where the players were amazed by the goods available in Swiss shops. One player, Angus Carmichael, said: "There was nothing in our shops like the watches they had there. When I got engaged I couldn't even get my wife Anne an engagement ring."
After the match the squad were offered watches at knock-down prices, some players buying a dozen. When the squad ambled into the entrance hall at the airport, Busby took the customs guard to one side and explained that as his charges were poor footballers they had nothing to declare. No questions were asked.
The last game was, according to Football Association records, a 2-1 win for GB. Busby recalled the match finishing as a draw while newspaper reports suggest a 3-2 win for GB.
And so to the opening ceremony on July 29 at Wembley stadium, Busby's gentlemen leading the entire GB squad out. The war was over three years ago but danger from the skies remained, albeit of a milder kind. "There was this American, not an athlete, walking around the ceremony with a trilby asking all the athletes for a dollar," said Carmichael. "He said 'whoever was hit by the most pigeon shit gets what's in the hat.'"
Great Britain started with a 4-3 extra-time win over Holland when Bromley's Tommy Hopper, his face covered in blood after an over-pyhsical challenge from a Dutch opponent, carried on regardless. It was later discovered he had played almost the entire match with a fractured cheek-bone.
France were next after they had beaten India who arrived with only two pairs of boots; the other nine players had to do with bandages and plasters on their feet, a 2-1 loss respectable under the circumstances. The French were not much better organised, forgetting to bring a ball which made training interesting. A Bob Hardisty goal at Craven Cottage saw GB reach the semi-final at Wembley where 40,000 fans watched Yugoslavia triumph 3-1.
GB lost the bronze medal play-off 5-3 to Denmark but Busby was full of praise for his squad's efforts. "As manager of the British team I did a job of work which I shall always regard as one of my best," he said. "Steering Manchester United to the championship of the Football League first division was child's play beside the problems of sorting out a winning team from 26 spare-time footballers drawn from four different countries."
When Busby's players had left their Uxbridge headquarters the manager told them to keep their official track-suits. Shortly afterwards the Football Association wrote to all the Olympians, who had give up a month without pay, asking them to stump up £5 or return their track-suits.
Adapted from GB United? by Styeve Menary (Pitch Publishing £15.99)
Tags: Olympics, Sir Matt Busby, Team GB
July 18, 2012
Graham Nickless fit and well
Graham Nickless is fit and well again after making a remarkable recovery from a brain hemorrhage which he suffered in the United States on May 13.
Graham told footballwriters.co.uk: "I had a brain bleed which nearly killed me yet the burst blood vessel healed itself and the cause was never found. I was in the right place at the right time in that I enjoyed first class US treatment and care.
"I know that quite a few of the England reporters heard about my plight during Euro 2012 and I would like to let them, and others around the country, know that I am nearly back to full fitness apart from a bit of tiredness and weak and aching muscles.
"I would also like to thank all those colleagues who sent me good wishes during my seven-week enforced stay in Naples, Florida."
We look forward to seeing Nico at Barclays Premier League matches in the near future.
Tags: Graham Nickless
July 17, 2012
FWA Spotlight: Tahiti – It’s a family affair as minnows prepare to take on world’s elite
THEY WILL be the ultimate minnows, the Tom Thumb of international football, David v Goliath to a new dimension but next summer Tahiti will be rubbing shoulders with football’s elite in the Confederations Cup in Brazil.
Yes Tahiti, the deluxe honeymoon destination comprising 118 islands eight and a half hours from Los Angeles. Tahiti, the locale for Mutiny on the Bounty, originally starring Errol Flynn with Marlon Brando heading the cast for a remake. Whatever your image of Tahiti, a hotbed of football is unlikely.
With 146 clubs and 11,201 registered players, football is the most popular sport among the 245,405 inhabitants. Marama Vahirua is Tahiti’s most famous footballer having made a name for himself in France with Nantes but thanks to the goal by Steevy Chong Hue as the Iron Warriors defeated New Caledonia, Eddy Etaeta’s side became the first team other than Australia (no longer part of OFC) and New Zealand to be crowned Oceania champions.
The win saw Tahiti rise 41 places to 138th in the latest FIFA rankings but they are not so much a national team as a family side. Lorenzo, Alvin, Teaonui and Jonathon Tehua are regulars for Tahiti, which is believed to be a world record. The Tehuas scored nine of Tahiti’s goals in the 10-1 win over Samoa in the opening tie of the OFC finals with eldest brother Jonathon, 24, scoring a double, twins Lorenzo and Alvin netting four and two respectively, and their 19-year-old cousin Teaonui one.
The Tehua boys chose football over taekwando because of the proximity of AS Tefana – it was the closest sports facility to their home and school. Alvin said: "I’m very proud to play in the national team with my family. We are a unit within the national team. I think it helps the side as a whole." Lorenzo added: "I’m happy we play together – it’s taken a long time for us to come together in one team."
International football anoraks will have noted that the rise and rise of Tahiti started three years ago when their Under-20 team broke the country's qualifying duck by reaching the World Youth Championship in Egypt.
But with Australia now in the Asian Confederation, any Oceania tournament should provide New Zealand with what amounts to a free pass to the finals. Yet the All Whites drew with Solomon Islands before losing to New Caledonia, opening the way for the mother of all underdogs to qualify for Brazil 2013.
Team Tehua will no doubt make alternative headlines next summer and while the days of double-digit scorelines are virtually extinct at major finals, the 2013 Confederations Cup will surely see the elite of world football using the Tahitian upstarts as a football punch-bag.
Etaeta, understandably, took a positive approach and said: "We may play against the likes of Brazil and Spain which will be amazing for our country. We will enjoy this moment for now and then start planning towards the future. We’re happy with what we have achieved but we are in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup Oceania qualifying stage three. That was our main objective, our main goal. Everything else from here is a bonus for Tahiti."
Football Writers’ Association members who travel to Brazil for the Confederations Cup may also be reporting on Tahiti when the most successful country in football stages the 2014 World Cup finals. The top four teams in the OFC Nations Cup - Tahiti, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Solomon Islands - move on to a home and away series with the team winning the most points going through to a play-off against the fourth-placed team in CONCACAF (the North, Central American and Caribbean Association) for a berth in Brazil.
While this may not raise too many eyebrows around the world, New Zealand, with their comparative wealth of professional experience, will be given a run for their money by the amateur teams of the smaller Pacific Islands nations.
Tahiti at the World Cup finals sounds unlikely but then so did Tahiti taking part in the Confederations Cup.
Tags: FWA Spotlight, Tahiti
July 9, 2012
FWA Q&A: James Ducker
JAMES DUCKER, Northern Football Correspondent of The Times, on Bruce Lee in the mixed zone...doing a chicken dance for Geri Halliwell...and drinking a £500 bottle of Disney wine
Your first ever job in journalism?
I did a week's work experience on the Manchester Evening News sports desk about four months after starting at university in Sheffield. Someone must have been feeling charitable that week because they asked me back and gradually I started to do more and more to the point where I was working regularly in a freelance capacity on sport by the time I reached my third and final year at university. I remember having to ask the sports editor if he would write to one of my lecturers requesting more time to complete my dissertation as I'd worked almost non-stop one Christmas for the MEN and neglected my degree work in the process. Fortunately, the lecturer took pity on me. I can still vividly remember my relief. The MEN then sponsored me through a journalism diploma at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and when I finished there I started as a full time staff news reporter.
Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
No, I'm not sure any other profession would have me.
Most memorable match?
Difficult one that, I've been fortunate enough to cover some pretty great matches during my time on The Times. It's a somewhat unoriginal choice but Manchester City's dramatic 3-2 win against QPR on the final day of last season will probably stick with me forever, for numerous reasons. Manchester United's 4-3 win over City at Old Trafford in September 2009 also left a mark on me, not because of the see-saw nature of the game and Michael Owen's exquisite 96th minute winner in "Fergie time" but also because of Ferguson's post-match press conference when he came out with all that stuff about "noisy neighbours". Memorable match for the wrong reasons? England's abject goalless draw against Algeria in Cape Town at the 2010 World Cup. God that was bad.
Borussia Dortmund's Westfalenstadion and the Bernabeu.
...and the worst?
Doncaster's old Belle Vue ground. It wasn't the worst stadium per se, but it felt like it in December 2005 - a few days before Christmas - when, with no power point and no internet, Arsenal were taken into extra-time and I had to file a big match report and back page splash via a copytaker in zero time. It should have been a great game to cover and the atmosphere in the ground was electric but I just remember it being complete misery. So my view of Belle Vue was forever (and probably unfairly) skewed after that.
Your personal new-tech disaster?
How long have you got? Things actually seem to have picked up technology wise over the past year or so but I will always remember being at the Nou Camp to cover the first leg of Manchester United's Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2008 and Craig Tregurtha, my football editor at the time, coming on the phone an hour or so before kick-off and saying, 'James Ducker, sure to be the busiest man at the Nou Camp tonight'. I didn't mind that at all at the time. There was no wi-fi, or if there was I couldn't access it, but my 3G was working fine so I was still pretty relaxed when the order came over: ratings of 80 words per man per team plus 30 words per substitute - in effect about 2,000 words - which needed to be filed about 20 minutes before the final whistle. And also a big technical breakdown in six separate 100 word chunks - so another 600 words. The first-half was fine. Then when I went to file some copy towards the end of half-time the 3G shutdown. The words "technical error" followed by a series of terrifying looking numbers and letters screamed at me. I faffed around in a state of nauseous shock for about 15 minutes - way too long, in hindsight - and then got on to copy. At those moments, you pray you get a copytaker who knows something about football. Inevitably, I didn't. 'How do you spell that again?' was all I heard for the next 45 minutes or so. The conversation went something like this: Copytaker: "Can I just check, so that's 'Abigail'?"; Me: "No, it's 'A-BI-DAL'. A for alpha, B for bravo ... You get my the idea. I got there in the end, just, but it was one of the longest nights of my life. At least Neil Custis and Ian Ladyman cheered me up later but attempting to recreate a scene from a Bruce Lee film in the mixed zone. I'll never forget Laydo's kung-fu pose. Priceless.
Most embarrassing moment in the job?
I was working at the MEN when the news editor suggested I should 'audition' for Pop Stars, one of the predecessors to X-Factor, and write a story on it for the next day's paper. I've the worst voice imaginable so I was torn between trying to sing a notoriously tough ballad while giving the impression that I thought I was really good like a lot of lunatics on those shows do or just doing something silly. In the end I did a chicken dance while singing Jingle Bells in front of Pete Waterman and Geri Halliwell. She didn't even laugh. She just looked at me with complete contempt. They later rang me up to request permisson to use the 'footage' on the highlights package but, regrettably or thankfully, I'm not sure which, my one shot at stardom never aired.
Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Err, I'm not sure I should admit this but I encountered a Liverpool supporter once who was convinced I was Dietmar Hamann. He - the supporter that is - must have been smoking something. My close mates thought this was hilarious as they were always taking the **** out of me for apparently looking like him (No James, you should not have admitted this – Ed).
Most media friendly manager?
Wigan's Roberto Martinez, by some distance. Very good manager, even better person.
Best ever player?
The best player I've seen live on a regular basis over a decent period of time is Cristiano Ronaldo.
Best ever teams (club and international)?
The current Barcelona and Spain teams in my lifetime. It's hard to argue otherwise.
Best pre-match grub?
No contest. Manchester City all day and everyday. Even I could get fat dining there.
Best meal had on your travels?
It was actually not while away covering football but on a press trip to LA courtesy of Disney. I just remember eating like a king for a week at LA's best restaurants and washing the stuff down with £500 bottles of Chianti with a group of equally disbelieving newspaper reporters.
...and the worst?
I had a sort of stew once in Riga, Latvia after which I was evacuating at both ends for the next 24 hours.
Best hotel stayed in?
I'm sure I've stayed in some nice ones but they all tend to blur into one in the end. Does that sound ungrateful?
...and the worst?
My last actually - an apartment in Kiev while covering the Euros that cost £360 a night but which I decided would make a perfect location for a low-rent slasher film.
Favourite football writer?
I can't believe I'm bringing myself to write this but Danny Taylor on the Guardian writes a terrific feature. I accept cheques, Daniel, but no cash in the post please. For all round capability, my Times colleague Matt Dickinson takes some beating.
Favourite radio/TV commentator?
TV pundit would have to be Gary Neville. He's injected some much needed quality and incisive analysis into TV punditry. I like Ian Dennis and John Murray on 5 Live.
If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
In some respects, I think we're past the point of no return. Players and journalists are never going to have the relationship they once did for a whole raft of reasons and football clubs want more and more control over communications now as the sport becomes an ever bigger business. But I think it's important there is a relationship between journalists and the hierarchies at all clubs. Of course, that relationship won't last or work if there is not mutual trust and respect and that has to be built up over time but it would help to cut out some of the spurious rumours and duff information that routinely circulate.
One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
I'm not sure I can pick just one. A title fight between two great boxers in Las Vegas would be pretty special to watch as would the Wimbledon final or the 100m final at London 2012. I'm not a fan of American Football as such but attending the Super Bowl would be some experience.
Last book read?
I'm reading two at the moment - Stuart Maconie's brilliant Pies and Prejudice and the last in the Millennium triology, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.
Favourite current TV programme?
I've just finished Series 5 of Mad Men, which was probably the best yet. I'm two episodes in on Hit & Miss, which is very good.
Your most prized football memorabilia?
I used to love that kind of thing as a kid but I have no interest in it now.
Advice to anyone coming into the football media world?
I'd look at new opportunities opening up via social media and things like that rather than just focusing solely on trying to get into the media via traditional routes such as newspapers, radio or TV. The industry is facing some tough changes and challenges and it's imperative you weigh up all of these things very carefully before deciding what avenue to pursue.
Tags: FWA Q&A, James Ducker
July 3, 2012
The football match that was more like a night at the opera
When Richard Fleming travelled to North Korea he almost started a diplomatic incident because he could not pay his five-star bill for his one-star hotel...
EXPENSES – a word to strike fear in football writers during these times of recession with sports desks eager to cut costs wherever they can. No more flying at the sharp end of a plane, go over £25 for dinner at your peril and any wine is vino plonko.
When Richard Fleming went to Pyongyang, capital of North Korea which is rated 199th out of 276 cities in the cost of living index, the amount of spending money he should have needed was hardly likely to have the BBC accounts department reaching for their worry beads.
Wrong. In a country where stories of people having to eat grass or the bark of trees are common, Fleming’s week-long trip proved to be so expensive it almost caused a diplomatic incident. Welcome to the world of the most secretive nation on the planet.
Fleming travelled to Pyongyang to cover a 2006 World Cup qualifying tie between North Korea and Bahrain. FIFA regulations stipulate that the media must be allowed in to cover the game and representing the World Service, Fleming obtained a visa. “I was the first sports journalist from the BBC inside North Korea,” said Fleming with mixed pride.
Football-wise North Korea will forever be remembered as the team that beat Italy 1-0 at Middlesbrough in the 1966 World Cup finals, Pak Doo-Ik scoring the goal that makes him his country’s most famous sportsman ahead, even, of Kim Jong-il, the Dear Leader who shot an amazing 11 holes in one in 1994 to achieve an unprecedented 38-under par round on a regulation 18-hole golf course at his first attempt at golf. Not a single person in North Korea doubted this.
Fleming flew to Pyongyang via Beijing, the last leg of the flight on Air Koryo, the national airline of North Korea. “Ours was the only plane on the runway when we landed,” said Fleming. “Passengers walked to the terminal building which was like something out of a James Bond movie. It was cold, grey and absolutely emotionless.
“There was someone with a BBC sign waiting to greet me. I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride when three people picked me up from the airport, a driver and two National Olympic Committee members.
“The match was on a Thursday and I arrived the previous Saturday. The rest of the travelling media didn’t turn up until Tuesday so for the first three days I was the only member of the press in the hotel which probably housed around 500 guests.
“The main problem I had was that I did not know the cost of the hotel or food, there was no way of finding out. In terms of being able to budget for the trip, it was virtually impossible.”
Estimating for a worst case scenario Fleming doubled what he thought his week in Pyongyang would cost.
He said: “You have to pay in hard currency, no credit cards, and I took dollars. On the Monday or Tuesday there were some questions being asked about my bill. One of my minders, because that’s what they were, came to me and said: ‘Mr Richard, we have to sort your bill out.’
“I told him ‘no problems’ and he would then change the subject. When it came to the Thursday, the day of the match but two days before I was due to leave, the minder said: ‘We need to sort out your bill but first you must pay for your accreditation.’”
That, he was told, would be £500. Yes, £500.
The accreditation cost, which the media are never charged for, was in fact to help offset Fleming’s bill. “The final cost of £2,000 was three times what I’d expected. And remember I’d doubled the estimate. The hotel was basic, with stodgy meals comprising dumplings and potatoes.”
The bug in the room so the person listening to Fleming’s phone calls came at no extra charge,
Not only did Fleming have a huge bill, he also had a big problem. He did not have sufficient funds to cover the extortionate cost of staying in what was, at best, a hostel charging five-star hotel prices.
Fortunately Fleming had arranged a meal with the British Ambassador, David Slinn, plus the nine surviving members of the North Korea 1966 World Cup squad. Fleming’s minders, who never allowed him to leave the hotel alone – drove him to the embassy compound.
“A guard with a semi-automatic rifle came over to the car, the window was lowered and one of the so-called members of the National Olympic Committee opened his jacket and showed a badge at which point the guard stepped back and we were allowed through. It was obvious these guys were secret service.”
Fleming’s concern was that if he could not pay his bill he would not be allowed out of the country
“When I met Slinn the first thing I said was: ‘I have a problem.’ He said: ‘I know, let’s go and have a drink.’ And he handed me a Boddingtons.”
As you do in Pyongyang.
“I asked Slinn if he was in a position to help me get out of Pyongyang. He asked me how much we were talking about, he went to his personal safe and came back with the money. This goes against what ambassadors overseas are advised to do. If a Briton abroad has his cash stolen the embassy support would normally take them to an ATM but that was impossible in Pyongyang.”
The financial crisis seemingly averted, Fleming sat down for dinner and through an interpreter chatted to the players, last seen wearing the North Korea shirt but who were now in Army uniforms.
“They were all given high-powered positions within various state-owned companies. I spoke to Pak Doo-ik at great length and he still has very fond memories of his time in the north-east. They still have their shirts and some they swapped with other players. They remember the warmth of the Middlesbrough people and their broad smiles when they recalled Ayresome Park made it obvious how much it still means to them.
“He is not really aware of his world fame because superstars do not exist in North Korea, apart from the Great Leader and his son [Kim Jong-il].
“One of the things they could not get their heads around was the money footballers make these days. They had recently returned to Middlesbrough for a TV documentary, The Day Of Their Life. When it was shown to the players it was censored despite being non-political and extremely positive about the country.”
Match day was another grey day. “The national stadium was soulless, packed to the rafters but with little or no atmosphere, no scarves, no songs...it was colourless. The spectators would clap at the right times, it was almost like being at the opera.”
There wasn’t much too much to clap as Bahrain won 2-1.
Fleming looks back on Pyongyang with frustration, mainly because of the restrictions placed on him. Wherever he went a minder would follow, even when he went to the toilet which was darkened because of power cuts.
“They obviously became jittery leaving me alone. As I stood at the urinal, the next thing I knew a minder was on my shoulder with a lighter. ‘You can see now Mr Richard,’ he said.
“I was taken to various places, always under supervision. I went to their equivalent of Hollywood with a film set they thought depicted Western Europe. It was like something from the Sound Of Music. Their US city was more like Havana, they were just trapped in a time-warp.
“The Great Leader was a massive film buff and would often turn up at the studio and take over the directing for an hour.
“When I went to the mausoleum where Kim Il-song lays in state it was incredible. Once a year North Korean people must go to pay their respects...there was a kind of conveyor belt ferrying people along and not one would make eye contact with me. The fear factor is terrifying.
“They had five or six television channels, all but one in Korean. I remember the newsreader on one channel always shouted the news. I could also access a very grainy BBC World until mid-way through the trip when it was scrambled. It was only when I returned to the UK the penny dropped. It was because Condoleeza Rice, the US secretary of state, was visiting South Korea.
“I was not allowed to bring in a mobile phone or lap-top so I had no form of communication with the outside world. The landline in my room was bugged. I had in effect no contact with anyone outside of North Korea. I was completely unaware of what was happening elsewhere.
“Of course for most North Koreans it’s been that way all their lives. Their history books run along different lines to the rest of the world. In 1945 their belief is that Kim Il-sung and his band of merry men, like a sort of A-Team, ousted the Japanese from North Korea. “
The bill was eventually paid, its inflated price including the cost of his three minders’ salary for the week, their leather jackets and Armani glasses not in keeping with the attire of most North Koreans.
Fleming said: “It was a fascinating if worrying insight into how an entire nation can be brainwashed and remain so isolated from the outside world. Sport is supposed to unite the divide but the coach of North Korea’s 2010 World Cup side was punished for the team’s poor performances in South Africa. He was last heard of breaking rocks.”
And not in the hot sun.
Tags: North Korea, Richard Flemming