Cast your eyes skywards on a clear night and, if you’re lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of a small pod circulating in near earth orbit. Contained within that small capsule is a group of people who – twice weekly – produce a master-class in football punditry, namely, The Football Weekly.
Sir, as a young(ish) journalist, I was once deployed to ask you questions about the forthcoming World Cup. Instead, we ended up nattering about Serie A for 45 mins and I ended up with a tape full of fascinating, but ultimately useless material. Firstly, does this happen a lot and secondly, how do you maintain your passion for Italian football in the face of so many scandals? (Iain Macintosh,football writer and author) First question; not as often as it should. Second question; if football leagues are like girls, Serie A was, back in the 90’s, the one we all desired but thought was way out of our class. That she then turned out to be a bit of a tart underneath made her, for some of us, all the more intriguing.
How did you pitch up at Football Italia for Channel 4? (Footie and Music)
Funnily enough there was an actual girl involved. I met a young lady from Rome, as the old limerick goes. This lead to me learning Italian, which led to a desperate tv exec calling me in a couple of weeks before the show launched to have a go at being a football reporter. Doesn’t scan very well, does it?
From your time covering Italian football, what was your most memorable match? (Swiss Ramble) Sadly, Genoa – Milan in 1995. A Genoa supporter was murdered, the game was suspended and an angry mob took over the streets around the Marassi. After we filmed a bit of the disturbances we were surrounded by Ultras, causing my film crew to drive off at high speed and me to get a genuine black eye. Jimbo on the front line! However, so abject did I look to the burly fellows responsible that one of them was delegated to escort me out of the area, which he did, conversationally pointing out the fleeing police cars and burning vehicles as we passed. A very singular afternoon.
Is there any chance of a reunion with Elvis Costello on the Football Weekly pod? Elvis, I’m ready to ditch our current grumpy irishman whenever you give the word.
There are huge cultural differences across Italy, so when you had to present the show outside the northern “heartlands” were you treated with suspicion like us southerners are when we go up north? Not in the least. Almost everyone was very welcoming.
Do you see Serie A having a renaissance period in the UK? Similar to the one we saw from ’92 onwards. Or, what’s stopping that from happening? (Tim Hill, Talking About Football) Not in the next decade. Why? Money.
What one lesson could the English Premier League learn from Serie A? (Ollie Irish,Who Ate All The Pies) Oh dear. At last a huge opportunity to answer back all those jingoistic premier-centric English clichés about the Italian game. Open net! Must. Not. Miss… Er, home grown owners?
Who are your favourite group of fans in Italy and what sets them apart from English fans? (Andy Hudson, Gannin’ Away) I don’t have one to be sincere. Perugia supporters are a decent bunch, as can Neapolitans. Any support with a healthy dose of self irony, basically.
Italy were effectively eliminated from the World Cup by a Marek Hamsik-led Slovakia. I was wondering what that result did to enhance Hamsik’s reputation in Italy and what effect did it have on his popularity throughout the country? And how is he doing at Napoli this season? (Dan Richardson, Britski Belasi) There was no Ahn-type backlash at all that I’m aware of (the south Korean who scored the penalty that put Italy out in ’02). Still, it was an entirely different set of circumstances; Italy were so abject this time that they barely noticed who put them out of their misery. Wasn’t that the best 10 minutes of the Cup though – when Italy suddenly decided to go for it at the end of that game and Quagliarella scored that blinder? Frustrating.
In your opinion who was the better side – Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan ‘Immortals’ of 1989 & 1990, Fabio Capello’s Milan ‘Invincibles’ of 1991 to 1994, or Jose Mourinho’s treble winning Internazionale of last season? Oh, and could you have a look at this? (David Hartrick, I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was) Sacchi’s side! Woof!
Why do we see so little of you? Does being so well know as the Football Italia man hamstring you in terms of mainstream presenting gigs? (Dan Brennan; World Soccer magazine, Libero Language Lab) It must be that. It’s really putting my Hollywood career back too.
For many years I’ve considered it one of life’s travesties that you don’t present Match of the Day, and I know I’m not alone in thinking that. Have you been offered the chance to present the show and is it something you’d like to do? (Jeff,In Bed With Maradona) I would absolutely love it. LOVE it!!!
What were you thinking letting me in the pod bay doors that time James? Anyway, would you consider giving up waiting on British TV and coming overseas to host a North American targeted show on ESPN? (Richard Whittall, A More Splendid Life) Come back Villasupportgroup, by night known as Richard; you were excellent. All well in Toronto? Give me a bell when this ESPN thing is sorted, it sounds like fun.
Have you ever considered going into radio? Have 5Live or the geezers on Talk Sport ever come knocking? Ok, let’s just simplify this: I’m available and will often work for cake.
You sing (arf!) the praises of some 80’s bands on the pod. Did you ever want to be a music journalist or is football your first and only passion? When I was little, I very much wanted to be a Dee Jay.
Do you have a favourite football league team or any fond memories of watching any football outside of the Premier League? (David Bevan, The Seventy Two) I remember going to see Swansea City at Spurs on – I think – boxing day in 198-whatever it would have been for Swansea to be in the First Division. Not a particularly fond memory though, compared to some I could mention.
The thick end of 10,000 people sign up for your monthly tweet. Twitter is not really for you is it? I genuinely would like to tweet more but I have the twitter version of stage fright.
How do you keep Barry Glendenning awake during your Serie A round-up on the pod and what was it like sharing a room with the ‘rebels choice’ at Euro 2008? Electrical currents. Far be it from me to shatter illusions, but Barry is no rebel in the domestic environment. Despite his punishing schedule of bar-frequenting in Vienna he would squeeze time in between hangovers to keep our apartment spick and span. Until I destroyed the place by accident on our final night, that is.
Why do fingers and toes wrinkle when left in water? (Beat The First Man) Time actually passes faster in water than it does in air, so what you’re actually witnessing is old age in preview. Fact.
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