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We belong to Jimbo

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.

Rallying those troops together in an attempt to reawaken Blighty with some European footie news interspersed with the odd welcoming pun is James Richardson, AC Jimbo to his mates. He brought us gold with Football Italia in our teens, delivered frankincense with the aforementioned podcast and European football newspaper round-ups, and completed the hat-trick with a long overdue presenting stint on Match of the Day ITV4 darts.
I wanted to do something special for this: the holy of holies. So, in a nod to Cash for Question in Q Magazine, but without the cash bit, I asked some friends of EFW to pitch the great man a question. Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me no greater pleasure to welcome James Richardson to European Football Weekends:

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?

I’ve heard that you didn’t care for football until you got the Football Italia gig, is there any truth in this? How long did it take for you to fall in love with the game, if at all? (Rocco Cammisola, The Football Express) I’m not sure I am ‘in love’ with the game. Sometimes its unpredictability can take your breath away, sometimes it can feel like history unfolding before your eyes, but sometimes it’s FIFA world cup 2010. So I like it – love it on occasions – but not always.

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.

For on the pitch business, I remember doing a Sampdoria Milan game with Ruud Gullit turning out for ‘Doria that was a bit of a cracker. Then that Milan – Verona match in 90-something when George Weah went off on his pitch-long scoring run, and Inter Brescia at the start of Ronaldo’s first season there, when Alvaro Recoba made his scene-stealing debut in. Plus Roma – Parma, when Roma won the title and Channel 4 cut to a black and white film before the match ended.

In recognition of your legendary “duet” with Elvis Costello on Football Italia, what is your favourite Costello album? Elvis Costello’s Greatest Hits. Failing that, Armed Forces or This Year’s Model.

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.

When Gazza moved back to the UK did you think “Well that’s the end of this cushy number?” (Stuart Fuller, The Ball is Round) Actually no; Paul hadn’t been involved too much in the show anyway through his injury-ravaged final season at Lazio. Plus Paul Ince was just arriving.

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’s your favourite cake? (Andrew Gibney, Gib Football Show) A proper home-made Panettone, or anything with chocolate.

Do you ever actually eat the cake/ice cream? (Jacob Steinberg, Guardian, Football Weekly) Do I ever!

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.

Do you still get a Christmas card from Gigi Casiraghi after eulogising him on Football Italia? (Andy Brassell, All or Nothing TV) Gigi was my love that dare not speak its name. The time I asked him to rub my face in a plate of cold spaghetti, and he complied! Do it again, Gigi! Do it!

During your time as anchor of Football Italia did you interview anyone who was visibly inebriated? Or did you encounter any particularly annoying/awkward guests? (Rocco Cammisola, The Football Express) In answer to your first question; visibly, no. But I worked with gazza for 3 years. Annoying guests were few and far between, although I remember Alen Boksic being rather difficult. And Christian Vieri used to refuse to speak English to me.

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.

Just how bad is the violence and racism in Italian football? (James Boyes, Lewes Football Club) Ugh. Bad enough. Still waiting for the happy ending on this one.

You continue to be a big influence on The Football Ramble. We all remember your Gazzetta Football Italia stint with great fondness. What we’d most like to know is, which player from your time reporting on Serie A would you most like to share an ice-cream with, and why? (Luke Moore, Football Ramble) Beppe Signori. Just an all-round star, on and off the pitch.

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!!!

If you got the *whispers* MOTD gig, how would you change it and who would be your wingmen? (Damon Threadgold, The Real FA Cup) Adebayor and Shearer. And it would be all about Serie A.

Were you flattered by the Internet campaign to get you the MotD2 gig earlier this year? (James Maw, Four Four Two magazine) I was very flattered.

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.

Have you ever actually seen/met Sid Lowe or does he exist in your world solely as a voice from yonder like Holly (the computer) from Red Dwarf? What a silly idea. That’s Jonathan Wilson.

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.

Do you?
You’d be mad as a box of frogs not to download the Football Weekly podcast from The Guardian.
Follow James and European Football Weekends on Twitter
Like this? Then you’ll probably like other EFW interviews with; Barry Glendenning, Sid Lowe, John Ashdown, Sean Ingle, Jacob Steinberg and Raphael Honigstein.
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Oh Manchester, so much to answer for
Ever fancied being a football journalist? Then think again. Consider covering the World Cup for a national newspaper to be just about the best job in the world? Then think again – well sort of.
In this candid interview, Daniel Taylor talks about the life of a football journalist, the willy-waving between fans of Manchester United and Liverpool on forums and, his love of all things Nottingham Forest.
Dan has been The Guardian’s football man in Manchester for ten years covering both City and United – you may have heard of them? He was also out at the World Cup where his work on the paper coupled with his highly entertaining Twitter feed brought him wide acclaim.
Brilliantly, Dan agreed to become the latest star name to talk to EFW:
It sounded like you had a good time in South Africa. Any high or lowlights other than the actual games? The World Cup was fun but it was tough too. I did 17 flights overall in just under a month and I reckon I slept an average five hours a night. Which is what happens when your hotel is directly opposite the fanzone (yes, boo bloody hoo!). I know how ungrateful that can make me sound and you do feel privileged being out there. The most memorable moment was the night I arrived, looking out the window of my hotel and seeing about 3,000 people – no exaggeration – marching along the beachfront. That was the first time I heard the vuvuzelas. It was the night before the first match and there was just this enormous sense of excitement and anticipation. Lowlights: leaving my bankcard in an ATM in the first week, eating in Nando’s as my ‘farewell’ meal to Durban, being told off for swearing within earshot of schoolchildren before Spain v Switzerland. Particularly humiliating.
Your Summer bromance with George Caulkin of The Times both on Twitter and in his diary caused much mirth and hilarity. Will that continue over the course of this season? I have taken out an injunction. He’s back on the Hull/Middlesbrough circuit and we won’t be hearing from him any more. But I do miss him.
We now have to pay to read his online work whereas yours can be had for free. That can’t be right can it? I don’t think so, though I know why they are doing it because the newspaper industry is generally on its knees, people are losing jobs and the papers need to get some money from somewhere. That said, I read it had cost them 90 per cent of their online readers and it doesn’t surprise me. The worry is if it starts a trend and other papers follow. And then how long before football365 or one of the other big sites start to charge?
You cover both Manchester United and City, presumably you’ve got it in the neck from both sets of fans in the past? I suppose that’s the nature of the job. United fans tend to think the press is against them, whereas City fans think the press are in love with United. City’s supporters are a lot more sensitive than United’s but that’s with good reason when you think about the number of years they have been knocked in the media. You realise over time – and I’m generalising here – that fans mostly just want to read nice things about their clubs rather than news stories that rock the boat.
How much time do you spend reading the comments section underneath the articles you post and do any negative comments reduce you to fits of paranoia? It varies. Sometimes I read them, but more often than not I don’t. In fact, I don’t think many of the journalists do these days. You can get 1,000 comments for a single blog and, while the majority add to the debate, you get people on there who just want to start fights rather than offering anything themselves. It descends into Manchester v Liverpool willy-waving, with the same people every time. And, not wanting to sound too precious, but there are only so many times you are either an ABU or in Alex Ferguson’s back pocket.
If City continue to spend big money for the next few seasons will they eventually trump United and go on to be the bigger club? I think they will win the league, not this season but in the next few years, and that will make them the more successful club of that time. But it will be many years before they are a bigger club than United. Even this summer, in the World Cup, there were people in South Africa referring to United as simply ‘Manchester.’ It’s changing, but United have got several decades’ headstart.
If they don’t get immediate success and Mansour and Al Mubarak up sticks, would you then fear for City’s future given the enormous wage bill? I don’t think it will happen. I genuinely think they are in it for the long-term.
Shay Given or Joe Hart? That’s tough. Given doesn’t control his penalty area well enough from corners and setpieces but he’s an amazing shot-stopper. Avoiding the question here, aren’t I? OK, Hart. No, Given. Seriously, I can’t decide.
Despite primarily penning articles on the big two in Manchester, you actually support Forest. Do you still get to see them much? When I can. United and City often play on Sunday for television, so the opportunities are still there. I spent my birthday last season watching them lose 1-0 at Coventry City, a freezing Tuesday night in February. So the old urges are still there.
There is a triangle of rivalry in the East Midlands with Forest, Derby and Leicester. Are Leicester just trying to muscle on the other two or is that game just as big as the Derby/Forest derbies. Leicester would love that to be the case but, genuinely, it is hardly even a big match for Forest. They really don’t register highly in our thinking, which I guess is what winds them up so much. Forest’s rivals historically have been 1) Derby and 2) Liverpool. Strangely enough, I have a soft spot for Leicester. I covered them as a freelance during the Martin O’Neill years.
I was at a match in Ilkeston a couple of weeks ago and a Forest fan told me he went to the 1979 European Cup final in Munich sporting a pair of Nottingham Forest trousers. What is the most treasured bit of sporting memorabilia you own? Anorak alert here. I do tend to keep all sorts of things, including the entire NFFC programme collection under Clough, but most treasured is a framed shirt from the 1979 European Cup team, signed by all the players. I could carry on, but I would scare you.
Talking of Ilkeston. It’s Non-League Day on September 4. As there are no Premiership or Championship games that day fans of those clubs are being urged to go out and actively support their local Non-League side. Is this something you’re aware of and will you be giving it your support? I am aware of it but I can’t lie . . that sounds like a day off for me. If it makes it any better, I have given FC United of Manchester a lot of good coverage.
Do you have a favourite stadium other than the City Ground? Camp Nou. Fergie said something a while back about there being something special about Champions League nights abroad, the different smells and noises, the cigar smoke and the rich ladies in their expensive perfume. If you have been to Barcelona, you will know what he means. (Yep – Ed.)
You were on the World Cup Daily a couple of times with the ever brilliant James Richardson, will you be appearing on Football Weekly podcast this season? They have never invited me (he says trying not to sound at all bitter or resentful). Nor would I expect them to after my rambles from the World Cup. But it’s not a huge ambition.
You’ve embraced Twitter and have got *has a quick check* 7,519 followers as we speak. That’s more than EFW and George Caulkin combined you swine! It’s a bit of a time killer though isn’t it? More than George? (coughs unconvincingly) I didn’t know that. And to think, he started at least a year or so before me . . to answer your question, I am addicted, yes. Though not as bad as Sid Lowe. He really needs to get out more.
Can you sum up Brian Clough in a tweet of 140 characters or less? Just glad that we had him for 18 years.
And Sir Alex? Maddening, hypocritical and often vile but one of the first men I would like at a fantasy dinner party XI. Not that he would come.
Football journalists are capable of excellent analysis and expression. Do you think any of them could actually do a job as a manger – including yourself? Haha. No, but a few would like to think so. Some of the journalists’ egos are bigger than the footballers.
Do you have any advice for wannabe football journalists? It’s not particularly advice, but the newspaper industry is struggling and I don’t see any job openings, just people being laid off or contracts not renewed. We’re getting people going through journalism courses when there are no jobs out there at the end of it. It’s not great.
Follow Daniel Taylor and EFW on Twitter
Taylor has written books on Sir Alex Ferguson and Nottingham Forest
You can read his work at The Guardian HERE.
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Argie Bargy
What’s a blog called European Football Weekends doing in a country like this? Well, we’re a lot more global here at EFW these days but with staff too lazy to change the name. Argentina is going to be the setting for a month long football sojourn for me soon when I set off to celebrate my 40th birthday.
So, who do we dial up when it comes to all things on Argentine football? Joel Richards of course. Joel is a freelance reporter who regularly produces award winning copy for the likes of FourFourTwo magazine and The Guardian. He moved to Buenos Aires to be in the thick of it after a spell in Madrid.
It was good of Joel to give up his time to talk to EFW this week. I say that, but following his stint out at the World Cup he probably had a bit of time on his hands. It’s not as if Diego Maradona was going to resign and go a bit bonkers this week was it, oh:
Hi Joel, thanks for talking to EFW. I guess we have to kick off with El Diego. A suitably shambolic ending to a chaotic reign no? It’s a pleasure, EFW. I think you’re absolutely right about the ending. Maradona being in charge of Argentina has been utter chaos from start to finish. That is in part because of him himself, and he just cant help himself, but it’s also because of the way AFA operates. The role of Bilardo, which has only been to destabilise everything from what I can see, was also a major problem. It was destined to fail.

Many Argentineans did not rate his chances with the national side when he took over and they didn’t exactly inspire during qualification or at the World Cup. Is he still a national hero in Argentina? One thing that’s always struck me about Maradona is not just how people admire him as a player, but how Argentines love him for what he did for the country. I’ve heard this from lots of different people. That said, very few people thought him becoming coach was a good idea. A better draw against an easier side, against England for example, might have helped in the quarters, but the way they lost to Germany confirmed most people’s suspicions about how him being in charge. Lots of Brits suggested it was like gazza being in charge of England. It was actually a mix of Gazza and Keegan.

Will the national team be better off without him and his questionable tactical nous? It’s very easy to assume so and we’ll soon know. Things will certainly be calmer, but The Copa America is next year which will be very competitive, plus Argentina are hosts so the pressure will be on. It’s easy to forget that despite people saying that Marcelo Bielsa is a god, for example, his side went out of 2002 in the group phase. Coaching Argentina is not an easy gig, and it is not just tactical genius that helps coaches succeed.

I’m guessing sales of natty grey suits will nosedive in Buenos Aires? I think they were out of most of us mere mortals’ budget in the first place. At least they all looked good when it went pear shaped.

Messi. Not as good a player as Maradona was is he? Ha ha, the best thing about Messi is how long we still have to enjoy watching him. He has a fairly major image problem in Argentina, because of his performances for the national side, which frustrate the average fan, but I’d say it’s naive to expect Messi to play as well as at Barcelona for any other club or international side, with the exception of Spain. Brazil 2014 will be huge for him. If he never kicks a ball again he’ll already be considered a legend, but he does need a great world cup to be compared to Maradona.

How did the Barra Bravas behave during their paid jollies to South Africa.English hooligans had to hand in their passports, In Argentina, I read that some were even on El Diego’s flight over? They behaved pretty badly. You had three sets of barras there. Some were self-financed, some pooled cash via their scandalously formed NGO. Then you had the ones who, they themselves admitted, dealt directly with Bilardo and Maradona. They were the ones on the plane with the squad. It’s disgusting, but barras are worse than hooligans as they more institutionalised than hooligans. Some were deported, I saw some just being aggressive and lairy and growling as they wandered around at the World Cup, but it’s probably just as well there wasn’t an England Argentina. Any excuse…

Rupert Fryer has been in touch with EFW. He wants to know about your encounter with Socrates out in South Africa and also, somewhat mischievously asked about your views on Kirchner? Well the encounter with Socrates never happened. I was supposed to be interviewing the great man but the security guards clearly had no idea who he was, his accreditation wasn’t up to scratch and wouldn’t let him into the TV compound… As for Kirchner, I assume he’s referring to Cristina, not Néstor, and I’m not so sure he’s asking about what I think about the policies, so I’m avoiding that one…

Did Argentineans switch their support to Uruguay after were dumped out by Germany.Rightly or wrongly I compare Argentina and Uruguay’s relationship to England and Scotland’s. I think most Argentines wanted the Charruas to do well, even if the were a bit envious. Just as in the analogy, the opposite does not tend to occur.

How will Brazil 2014 differ from South Africa 2010? Will there be a South American feel to it or will FIFA stifle it out in their quest for bland commercialisation across the world?South Africa was such a commercial success that’s it’s very unlikely that FIFA or the sponsors will change much. Hopefully there’ll be less vuvuzelas, and I’m sure that the Brazilian culture and football culture is do strong that it will still come through, how much so depends though…

Argentina are due to host ‘ Copa America’ in 2011. Surely the stadiums there will need a makeover? I do not think many have had a lick of paint since 1978 World Cup. You’ve been listening to Diego, I see. He said the changing rooms at River Plate’s Monumental hadn’t been done up since ’78, which is why the Brazil qualifier ended up in Rosario. Grounds in Argentina are in chronic need of investment, although if its just paint you’re after, the previous River Plate president sold a percentage of three player’s transfer rights to drum up the money to repaint the stadium a few months back.

Argentinos Juniors won the Championship last season. Is the league there more open than Premiership or is it mainly a case of Boca Juniors and River Plate swapping titles.It is one of the most open leagues in the world right now. The last eight tournaments – don’t forget they have two league’s for one ‘normal’ European season – have produced eight different champions. Many think it’s a sign of the lack of real quality in the country, but it keeps things interesting. River and Boca were both dire last year. Its not a good time for the big clubs. To give you an idea, not one of the Big Five qualified for the Libertadores. It’s like Man U, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool not making the Champions League. And not just one of them, all of them.

I read in ‘When Saturday Comes’, talk of introducing ID card schemes in Argentina. Is this scheme is still on the table and how will it effect football tourists picking up tickets?. Will they have to rely on expensive tour agencies? The idea gained some momentum about a year ago but has gone off the boil. It will no doubt be brought up again soon, and it will almost definitely mean more expensive tickets for tourists. Boca charge the gringos $400 to see the superclásico with River at the Bombonera. That’s the upper limit, but a standing ticket to games is around £5, so tourists may be prevented from buying the same tickets as locals.

I’ve been told that the best way to experience a match for football tourists out there is to buy a local a match ticket and let him/her be your guide for the day. Is that something you’ve heard of? It’s not something I’ve heard about, but I’m sure locals would be delighted to be given a ticket. Buying tickets and getting into games is pretty straight forward so I’m not sure it’s necessary.

What is the best derby match you’ve been to in Argentina? The superclásico really is brilliant for the atmosphere, but in the past couple of years they haven’t produced great games, and after half an hour things tend to die down a bit. For tension and atmosphere, lots say the Rosario clásico is a probably the most violent of all. I did go to a very highly-strung huracan- San lorenzo, which was such a potentially dangerous game that one taxi driver refused to take me to the ground. If it’s just singing and drums you want, you’ll get it at most games.

Does anything else come close? Lots of people consider a Real Madrid – Barcelona game up there, and I’ve been lucky to see that game both at the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou. They’re great, but for different reasons. For atmosphere there are few places that come close to Argentina, in my opinion.

Is it safe to watch football in Argentina? Yes and no. Its probably not a very good idea to go to games waving around lots of money and big cameras. Football related violence and murders are on the up and make lots of headlines, but it has nothing to do with tourists- they are internal wrangles between the barras. Just be sensible about where you go is my advice.

What is the worst trouble you’ve seen at a match?Unfortunately I have probably become slightly far too used to things that go on at games, so have stopped being surprised by things like the huge brawl and riot which I saw on the final day of last season at Huracan.

Do you still get scantily clad cheerleaders at league games over there?You certainly do, and a thriving wag culture on the back of it. You also have the sight of girls paid by the sponsors to stand behind players in post match interviews, do you have a sweaty player talking about the game, flanked by two buxom Lycra-clad beauties staring at the camera.

EFW will be over in Buenos Aires in 2012 for a few weeks. Aside from the football, what else is there to see? Lots of good museums and galleries, good shopping, lots of over-sized steaks, lots of tango, goods clubs and bars, lots of great wine… I’m sure you’ll keep yourself busy.

How did you find yourself in Buenos Aires making a living out of reporting about football? Well I was living in Spain, doing the same thing as i am now, more or less, before coming to a bit of a cross roads. My girlfriend is Argentine, so we basically decided between London and Buenos Aires, and the vote was a clear cut 2-0.

And finally Lukey Moore from the rather splendid Football Ramble has been all over Twitter saying he marked you out of a recent game you played in. Any excuses Mr Richards? I’ve had plenty of opportunities to have to find excuses throughout the course of my playing career… I did actually put us ahead at 2-1 in that game, but also suffered the onslaught of cramp at the same time, which I think is roughly the moment when Mr. Moore decided he would mark me. Say no more.

Follow Joel and EFW on Twitter
Read his work at both FourFourTwo and The Guardian HERE and THERE.
Is that enough plugging? Is it ‘eck as like. EFW has done some more gubbins on Argentine football which you MIGHT ENJOY.
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Ingle all the way
Sit up straight, arms folded, behave yourself and no talking at the back. We’ve only got the Guardian.co.uk’s Sports Editor (Editor!) on the line. Sean Ingle, for it is he, has been doing that job for six years, been working there for ten and, furthermore, he’s bloody good at it.
You’ll know by now that I keep going back to the well marked ‘Guardian’ for these interviews. That’s because to my mind, nobody comes close to matching their output. Factor in the Football Weekly podcast and The Fiver and it not only enriches our knowledge and enjoyment of football – it makes us chortle along the way. What’s not to like in that?
If you’re aware of a better career progression than Sean’s – starting with working for Motor Cycle News, Fore! and Total Sport before becoming Guardian Sports Editor and sitting in on Maradona press conferences at World Cup finals – then drop us a line. Anyway, enough of me for now, aside from some mandatory poor questioning, it’ll be Ingle all the way:

Hi Sean, thanks for talking to EFW. Are you looking forward to the new season or do you need a long break after the World Cup? No worries – I am a big fan of the site. When I was younger I travelled as a punter to Milan, Prague, Rome and Madrid to watch games with mates so I know where you’re coming from. We’d always book the most ridiculously cheap and early flight, usually from Stansted, sleep three to a room, walk around a city till our feet were red-raw and blistered and take in a match, on the terraces if possible. Sound familiar? Being pelted with coins and bottles by away fans while watching the likes of Zidane, Nedved and many greats as Lazio took on Juventus in 2001 was one of many, many highlights – and it’s not every day you’re flashed while walking back from the San Siro with Sid Lowe after watching Milan v Juve … but that’s another story for another day.

Regarding the break, I personally think that the one good idea Sepp Blatter has ever had is a global calendar with one month off every year – and I certainly wouldn’t mind a bit more of a break before the new season. This piece written in 2006, sums up how I feel: “Football has become a year-round fandango, the baton passed from one season to the next with the blurring speed of a sprint relay … Football in the summer months used to be anonymous. Players would run hills and shed pounds, amble through a few low-key friendlies and then the season would start. TV companies were rarely interested in pre-season matches. When ITV started showing the Makita International in the late 1980s it was an exotic curiosity, like Andy Cole in an Arsenal shirt … [But] there are better things to do in July. Enjoy the summer sports, go to the seaside, become reacquainted with your family – anything. Because it is only when you are deprived of something you love – and, yes, that includes football – that you truly miss it.”

What was your World Cup highlight both on and off the park? The best game I saw in the flesh was Uruguay v Ghana, although I was also fortunate enough to be at Slovenia v USA, Spain v Chile and Cameroon v Denmark. Of the 13 games I went to, there were only two absolute stinkers – Slovenia v Algeria and Paraguay v Japan – so I was pretty lucky. An off-the-park highlight is trickier, because I only had one day off in four weeks and my routine was basically get up, live blog for a few hours, drive to a press conference/write a preview piece for the paper, report on a match, bed, and repeat. So, from a small list, it’d either be the giddy exuberance in South Africa when Bafana Bafana drew their opening game or visiting the Apartheid museum.

You had a few problems finding your seat at a couple of matches which caused a bit of amusement back here. Was the tournament well organised or organised chaos for the media? Apart from two incidents in Pretoria – being assigned a seat No13 that didn’t exist (there was a 12 and a 14 but no 13!) and being given a ticket in row of seats that just weren’t there – everything went fairly smoothly. The media are spoilt at World Cups: there are TVs on every desk that show highlights and live stats, wifi to research and file, and you even get free bottles of water when its hot, so we can’t complain. But reporting from games is generally much easier than it was when I started out. For evening games back in the day reporters had to phone copytakers – always lovely Northern ladies – before the match with teams and formations, at half-time with half the copy, on 70 minutes with another chunk of text and on 85 minutes with the top and tail. It wasn’t easy doing it from places like Millwall when you could hardly make yourself heard over the din – and it was a nightmare when nothing happened before half-time and then there were lots of late goals.

So how long after a match are you expected to have your report online? We have to file on, or sometimes just before, the final whistle, which is fine for match reports but sometimes trickier for blogs/sidebar pieces when an obvious subject doesn’t suggest itself in the first half. There were a couple of times when I had 400 words still to write with 20 minutes to go and experienced mild panic – until several shots of adrenaline kicked in and everything was suddenly all right. I should also mention that we get an hour after the final whistle for a rewrite, which allows us to bring in managers’ quotes and – hopefully – add a little finesse to the prose.

Move over Paul the octopus, you were the real star of the World Cup predictions weren’t you? I did pretty well tipping Spain to beat Holland in the final, England to be knocked out in the second round, Uruguay to do better than everyone expected, David Villa to be top scorer, and the lack of technology ruining a couple of big games. But while watching a lot of world football certainly helped realistically assess most teams’ chances, I’m not kidding myself: there was a lot of luck involved too.

A lot of the television pundits took a critical kick to the jubulanis. Would you like to exchange your laptop for a place on the Match of the Day sofa? No. Anyone who has seen my infrequent appearances on TV would agree that it’s best that I stick to editing, writing, and occasionally podcasting on Football Weekly.

A recent report in the New York Times suggested online journalists are facing an early burnout becoming frantic and fatigued at the fast moving nature of new media. How is your health old chap? I was a bit frazzled after the World Cup, but that was only to be expected after so many 12-16 hour days. And it’s the World Cup so you’ve got to give it everything. But journalism is changing: there are very few ‘paper’ and ‘online’ journalists at the Guardian any more – most people work for whatever platform needs them. That clearly brings certain challenges, but the Guardian is very conscientious about paying back lieu days and making sure its staff get adequate time off. And it is certainly sounds a nicer place to work than some other publications I know of, where 9am-9pm shifts can be the norm.

Do you have time to read any football blogs? I read several regularly – including yours, Zonal Marking, Arseblog etc – as well as popular club message boards.

The Football Weekly Podcast is an absolute gem. Do you get time to listen to your competition; Football Ramble, Game Podcast, Two Footed Tackle, The Real FA Cup etc and indeed etc? Not as much as I probably should. I usually listen to Football Ramble and the Game podcast most weeks but that’s about it.

Nailing our colours to the mast, we belong to Jimbo here at EFW. Do you? James Richardson is brilliant. He’s knowledgeable, funny, stiletto-heel sharp – and, just as importantly, he’s just like that off screen too. I’m amazed that a mainstream broadcaster isn’t paying him gazillions to front their football coverage. I’ve heard it said he’s too highbrow for the mainstream but that’s surely ridiculous. Do we really want to live in a world where presenters and pundits trade cliches and monosyllables?

I couldn’t agree more. Anyway, hang on a minute – what’s all this about a ‘Pirate Shop’ in Kings Cross that you visit? Is that Glendenning on the wind up or is there something you should be telling us? Barry is definitely winding you up there. What else did he tell you?!

Erm….*thinking quickly* I hear you’re actually quite a handy player yourself? I was decentish when I was a kid. I played in goal for my county from U13 to U19 level and had trials with a couple of league clubs, but ultimately I just wasn’t good enough.

With respect to, ahem, Motor Cycle News, you must be happier covering football nowadays. Do you follow any other sports? I hated living in Kettering and knew nothing about motorbikes, but I learned a hell of a lot at Motor Cycle News. Several of the staff were 30-something blokes who had worked on national newspapers, and so standards were high. I could have done without being ridden around the outskirts of Kettering on a Honda Super Blackbird at 155mph as part of my initiation, mind. As for other sports, I follow pretty much all of them – particularly boxing, tennis and darts – although F1 does nothing for me.

As we speak you’re approaching 10,000 Twitter followers – incidentally, you have 100 more than Barry Glendenning – is the Guardian office a competitive place or do you pretend you’re not too bothered by it all? Is it that many? I use TweetDeck so it’s not immediately apparent. Let me check on Twitter.com now. Ah, you’re spoofing me – it’s not even 9,000! I can honestly say that Barry and I have never discussed our number of Twitter followers. Our betting success, or lack of, come Monday morning on the other hand …

Should we pay to read your online work on The Guardian website? ‘Should we pay’ is less important than ‘Will people pay’. Because the evidence so far suggests they won’t, unless it’s specialised content. I’m not ideologically opposed to the Times’ paywall. It’s just a practical thing: people have got used to getting content for free and I can’t see that changing any time soon. So, we’re left with the billion dollar question: can newspaper websites sites make enough in online advertising and sponsorship to cover the decline in paper sales and classified ads? That’s the road the Guardian has gone down and, for the sake of all of us in the industry, I hope it works. If not, my fear is that there may not be a right way; and that all roads – paywall, free, whatever – will lead to the same ending. Death.

Philosophically I agree with David Mitchell’s recent piece in The Observer that “we have to find a way of continuing to pay journalists and editors for professionally produced content”. Because without adequate recompense, how does David Leigh have the time to expose Jonathan Aitken’s lies? How can David Conn afford to spend days digging through a football club’s accounts to expose wrongdoing? And Jonathan Wilson, good though he is, would not know nearly as much about football tactics if he hadn’t spent years interviewing the likes of Arrigo Saachi and other top coaches across Europe. Good journalism usually costs.

That’s it Sean, thanks again for your time and keep up the splendid work old chap. No worries. But I’m surely not that old – I have a couple of years on Barry Glendenning, Rafa Honigstein and James Richardson!

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Rafa the gaffer
Anglo-German relations are extremely healthy here at European Football Weekends. Germany is unquestionably our favourite country for watching football and we’ve made scores of friends on our many travels there. Now, to further cement that relationship, ta da….Raphael Honigstein has agreed to be the latest star name to talk to us *punches air with delight*.
Honigstein writes about German football here in England and about English football for the German media. His work can be found in The Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11 Freunde (influential magazine in the style of WSC) and he not only appears on the fabulous Football Weekly podcast but is also the go to man for German football news for Sky and Setanta.
Mentioning no names *cough* Alan Shearer *splutter* Alan Green, football is awash with awful pundits. You don’t have too delve to deep to find quality elsewhere though. Rafa certainly slips into the quality bracket, he’s one cool cat and, that’s why we’re delighted he agreed to speak to EFW:
Hi Raphael, thanks for talking to EFW, how did you enjoy your time in South Africa? I enjoyed the people (incredibly nice and helpful), the food, a bit of Texas Hold’Em, the stadiums, Cape Town and Durban and most of the football. Didn’t enjoy driving past certified “hijacking hot-spots” on a daily basis, lack of street life, cold evenings and slight sense of isolation.
What was your favourite moment both on and off the pitch? Favourite moment on the pitch was Germany v Argentina. Off the pitch: BBQ in Durban on the eve of Spain v Germany in a beautiful setting.
Sounds splendid, did you learn anything new from this World Cup? Hard pitches, weird ball and altitude make bad teams even worse. Tactical formations expressed solely by numbers are meaningless. Japan can play a bit. England are still England under Capello.
There were expecting 2m fans from overseas but in reality around 400,000 turned up. Did you notice a different class of fan at the tournament? Affluent rather than passionate maybe? I think the real affluent ones stayed away, that’s why there were lots of empty corporate boxes everywhere. I mostly saw South American fans where I was based (Pretoria) but most of the time, you didn’t really see any fans at all because they had nowhere to go apart from the stadiums on match day.
Did you experience a game at any of the fan parks? I’ve heard that they were largely empty. I drove past the one in Sandton (Johannesburg) before the final – 90 per cent empty. The South Africans didn’t really see the point of standing in front of a screen in the freezing cold, apparently, unless SA or Ghana were playing.
Talking of the locals, they were priced out of attending and there were empty seats at every game more or less. FIFA will have learned a few harsh lessons from this right? I’m not sure they’re too bothered. It’s all about TV. A few hundred empty seats don’t make any difference to them. I’m also not quite sure that cheaper tickets would have made that much of a difference. The locals were very proud that the World Cup was there but their interest to see Slovakia v Paraguay live was strictly limited, I felt.
Germany returned from the tournament as both likeable and popular. Who’d have thought? I had a feeling that they would play in a more open, entertaining style but wasn’t quite sure if they could do it successfully. The rapid progress of the team has surprised me along with everybody else, including the players and managers as well, probably.
It’s a shame they were Müller lite (sic) in the semi final though eh? Big shame. And for such a minor offence. The ref in the Argentina game was actually very lenient, a fact that made Müller’s yellow even harsher. He would have made a difference, for sure. But the real problem, if you want to talk individuals, was that Mesut Özil had nothing left in the tank against Spain. He was a virtual passenger. I also think that Löw got the “Trochowski instead of Kroos” bit wrong.
Who is the bigger star in Germany post World Cup: Thomas Müller or that bloody octopus? Müller. Paul the octopus will retire now but Müller could have three (THREE!) more World Cups ahead of him. Frightening.
If Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ had been awarded in the Germany match, England would have gone on to win the game and the tournament. Agreed? No. I agree that they would have had momentum and that the game could well have finished differently. Where England really went wrong wasn’t Bloemfontein but in the group stage. One shitty little more goal in any of the three games, and they would have muddled through to the semi-final at least, past Ghana and Uruguay. I honestly believe that. But perhaps it’s better for English football in the long run to have failed in this manner rather than to celebrate another false 1990 dawn.
Our ‘root and branch’ reform after not qualifying for Euro 2008 was to blow £6m a year on a foreign manager. Germany promoted from within for a fraction of the price. And he’s wears nice clothes. England really are a sorry state compared to Germany no? I wouldn’t go that far. The main problem is the adversarial nature of English football and culture on a whole – it’s all about fighting it out. It’s club vs country and the media against everyone. There’s very little taste for compromising and doing things for the greater good. The FA alone can’t change too much unless clubs are willing to do their bit, too. Apart from that, it’s obvious that England needs more qualified coaches. They have about a tenth of the numbers that Spain and Germany have. Not good.
EFW is no Zonal Marking. We don’t have a clue about tactics. That said, even we know that Chile did well with their 3-3-1-3 formation and Spain’s two (two!) holding midfielders squeezed the life out of other teams. Is it the case that everybody – Maradonna aside – is so tactically aware now that games cancel themselves out and are becoming *ahem* a bit boring? I’d say that most teams are now fit and tactically astute enough to make life difficult for most teams. Those who practise attacking moves extensively and/or play with a fully functioning team of good to very good individuals will still find a way , generally. It might just take a bit longer.

Even though Germany did well, most fans there would rather see their team win the league than the national team win the World Cup presumably? I’m not sure that’s true, I guess it very much depends on the teams involved. If you asked a Bayern fan, another championship means little. For 1860 supporters though….
Did you return to England with a couple of souvenir vuvuzelas and some oversized comedy spectacles? Certainly not. I was flirting with the idea of bringing home a zebra hide but then thought my two little girls would probably cry. Was not sure about HM Customs’ position on this, either.
Do you prefer covering English football in German or German football in English? I really like both but not at the same time, preferably. England v Germany at the World Cup was a little bit hectic.
A lot of fans I know have turned their back on the Premier League and now watch their football abroad in Germany. Can you get your head around that? Of course. Bratwurst, beer, terraces, cheap tickets… what’s not to like? (Oi, that’s our catchphrase – Ed.) It certainly makes for a very good “second” league.

What do you think is the main difference in fan culture between the English and Germans? I’d say the similarities are bigger than the differences but the whole Ultra thing is getting quite strong in the Bundesliga, with choreography, constant singing etc. Also gentrification and the crowds getting older is less of an issue.
In light of the fans ownership and history of German football, what’s your view on the enormous debts English clubs have saddled themselves with? We’ve had plenty of clubs in Germany who nearly went bust as well over the years. What we don’t have are leveraged buyouts, the worst possible thing that can happen to any club. That should never be allowed. Stadium debt and (merely theoretical) debt to sugar daddies is less problematic in my view.
Do you watch any English and German football other than the Bundesliga or Premiership? You’re always welcome at Lewes FC you know! Thank you for the kind offer. I used to watch the championship (old division one) on the telly when I was at uni, that was a great way to wake up on Sundays. Now it’s strictly Buli and PL.
Which teams do you actually support? Germany, naturally. I’ve never hidden my club affiliation too much but wouldn’t like to repeat it here for fear of losing the last smidgen of my journalistic credibility. I can confirm that I have no team in England though. I like/dislike them all the same. Honestly.
We are unapologetically obsessed with football grounds at EFW. Do you know how many you’ve been to and futhermore what are you favourite stadiums? No idea about numbers, actually. I’d guess about 100? My favourites – in no particular order – are: Old Trafford, Westfalenstadion, St James’ Park, Cape Town, Durban, Soccer City, Bernabeu, Estadio da Luz, Allianz Arena, Anfield (on CL nights), San Siro, Craven Cottage, St Jakobs Park.
Do you just go where you’re sent by editors to football or do you often attend matches just for the fun of it? I’m mostly able to chose the games I go to, or they’re kind of the obvious ones, like Man Utd v Bayern at Old Trafford. I very rarely go without the need to report though.
How much football do you watch a week? If it’s a CL week, it can be easily ten full games. Mostly on the box.
Who is the most famous person in your phonebook? Mila Jovovich. I also have Evil Knievel’s number somewhere but he’s sadly passed away.
Is it difficult to extract award winning copy out of mundane footballers press conferences? Award-winning copy? What award was that? (Oh sorry, that was us, silly me – Ed.) Press conferences are mostly useless, of course, unless Mourinho’s in town or JT gets the hump. I’m lucky because I don’t have to churn out previews and match reports on a weekly basis but can often concentrate on wider themes instead.
Have you had a run in with any footballers? Jens Lehmann was once not very nice to me, but I think he confused me with a colleague at the time. The rest of them have been well behaved. Or simply oblivious.
Always the ones you least expect. Talking of run-ins. What was it like to be patronised by Nicky Campbell live on national radio? I didn’t take any offence and didn’t feel patronised. He obviously didn’t know me so there was no “intent”. It did throw me a bit, however. “When did you move to England?” was the one question I wasn’t prepared for.
Twitter. Useful journalistic tool or hideous time waster? Hideous journalistic tool and useful time waster. And very addictive.
That’s it Raphael. Thanks once more for taking the time to talk to EFW and keep up the very good work old chap.. Thank you, Danny. You too, matey.
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JACOB’S UPWARD LADDER

Regular readers of these pages will know that we unapologetically like to cock an ear to the Football Weekly podcast. Our heroes reside there; James Richardson, Sid Lowe, Glendenning, Ingle, Doyle, Ashdown., Honigstein, Duarte, Ronay, Dart and too many more cool cats to mention. The newest addition to that illustrious list is Jacob Steinberg who has pitched up in near earth orbit for their World Cup Podcast which they’re spoiling us with on a daily (daily!) basis.

I normally watch my football live but on the *blink* odd occasion I watch it on the box I’ve found that I can no longer just sit and stare gormlessly at the screen. The way I watch football is changing; telly on (tick), mobile in hand to check Twitter (tick), laptop at the ready for the minute-by-minute report (tickity, tick tick tick). Steinberg and his pesky mates have made their Twitter feeds and MBM’s so bloody good that simply watching the action is not longer good enough. Action yes, interaction better.

As he has been responsible for eating up so so much of my time, I thought I’d turn the tables on Mr Steinberg and see how he likes it. Contacting him for an interview was easy – he’s always on Twitter. So, want to read about John Terry’s buffoonery, near misses with Damon Albarn and why James Richardson shot him an odd look on his Football Weekly debut? Of course you do:

Hi Jacob, thanks for talking to EFW. How are you enjoying the World Cup? Hi EFW, good to talk to you. If I had to use one word to describe this World Cup so far, I’d use ‘bipolar’. I can’t remember a tournament which had this much hype leading into it and with that, it was always going to be difficult to live up to the massive expectations. Ok, watching some of the opening games was like being forced to sit through the entire back catalogue of James Corden’s World Cup Live, and we’ve had complaints about empty seats, diving, the Jabulani and the vuvuzelas. Put all that together and you’d have a strong argument that it’s not a great tournament, but even when the games were bad, there were still three of them every day for about ten days. If you can’t enjoy that, you can’t enjoy anything. Not even James Corden’s World Cup Live. Anyway there have already been some memorable moments: Lionel Messi’s performances, Diego Maradona threatening to self-combust, France going on strike, the goals by David Villa and Maicon (he didn’t mean it), New Zealand stunning Italy, Greece going out… It’s been fantastic and it’s only the opening round. I’ve been really impressed by the smaller South American sides. They play a brand of fresh, attacking football that looks painfully modern compared to England’s outdated efforts. At times it feels like they’re playing a different sport. It will be interesting to see how far they can go – I’ve tipped Paraguay and Uruguay to reach the last eight at least. And I tipped Paraguay to win their group. I’m pleased with that one.


Are you an England fanatic or can you take a backward step and laugh at the circus that surrounds the team? One of the first ever games I went to was England v Holland at Euro 96 and I cried when they went out to Germany in the semi-finals. I still get a bit of a lump in the throat if I watch the Argentina match from 1998, and when they were struggling to qualify for Euro 2000, I couldn’t imagine the tournament without them. Cut to 2007 and I was genuinely delighted they weren’t going to Euro 2008. In the last decade the team has become depressingly loathsome and I find it hard to back players who I can’t stand or who play for teams I hate. It would be two-faced to boo Frank Lampard when he plays for Chelsea and to cheer him when he plays for England and I’d rather not see Ashley Cole attain any sort of happiness. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to support them but it’s not for me. Sometimes I’ve actively supported the opposition, particularly during the last World Cup because they were so mind-numbingly dreadful. I can’t be bothered now and would rather not jump on the bandwagon should a pig fly past my window and England win the World Cup. It’s relaxing to watch the football without having to support anyone in particular, it can make you more objective and level-headed about what you see, although I don’t think you can ever be truly neutral during any game. I usually support the team playing the best football and let’s face it, England don’t fall into that category.
So no England car flag on your motor then? Definitely not, although I do have an England mug, which is currently sitting on my desk with a load of pens in it that are emptier than John Terry’s rhetoric on Sunday.

I didn’t think it would be long before his beak was mentioned. JT, or England’s brave and loyal John Terry as he must now be called: Caged tiger and born leader then or a bit of a knob jockey? I think you know the answer to that question. I am enjoying the buffoon’s self-inflicted demise immensely. I love that he tried to paint himself as some deep-thinking renegade, only to be exposed as utterly out of his depth when he came up against Capello. What did he actually achieve? He secured one beer. I bet the boys were delighted when he told them the good news. It’s like having your union run by Homer Simpson. In fact it reminds me of an episode of Scrubs when the put-upon lawyer, Ted Buckland, tells Dr. Kelso that he’s quitting only to be told that he’s staying to do “busy work”. “Ok, but I’m getting a soda from the vending machine first!” he replied. All that aside, John Terry’s nothing more than a playground bully, to referees, team-mates, managers and opposition players. He’s got the loudest voice, but that just means he talks the most rubbish. For some reason people have followed him blindly but bullies always expose themselves and eventually they get left on their own. More and more people are turning on him now and it would take too long to list all of the reasons why here but two words should suffice: Wayne Bridge. If I was the England manager, I’d get rid of him after the World Cup. He’s not a talented enough footballer to justify the repeated disruptions.
Silly old Fabio eh? Wear red, name the team a bit earlier and we win the World Cup. What was he thinking? When you put it like that it sounds so simple! And what does Fabio Capello know about football anyway? I am amused by the attempt to blame Capello for England’s woes. He’s a serial winner and our players have a proud record of under-achievement. This is the same group that missed out on Euro 2008 remember. It seems that people will use any old excuse to try and escape what is blindingly obvious: England don’t have a very good team and never really have. Individually some of the players might be outstanding but football’s a team game. I don’t think anyone could argue that Italy had the best set of players at the last World Cup – or, indeed, that Germany ever do. But these teams have a plan. England either never do or they are incapable of carrying it out effectively. We focus too much on individuals rather than the whole, and look to scapegoat and deride players who aren’t an instant fit. Capello doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone, not that he cares either way.
You’ve eased yourself seamlessly onto the Football Weekly panel. How are you enjoying that? Well I’ve listened to the podcast for years so to appear on it is – platitude alert – a dream come true. It’s actually quite nerve-wracking to have a microphone plonked in front of you. I can wax lyrical about football as well as the next chancer, but it’s weird to be aware that what you’re saying is being recorded. You’re conscious of making a fool out of yourself, and if you’re a bit nervy it’s definitely easier to do that in speech rather than in print. You can become flustered very quickly. On my debut I said that Robert Green is one of the best goalkeepers in the world which drew an odd look from James Richardson, but what I meant by that was that contextually he’s a member of an elite group, not that he’s the equal of Iker Casillas or Julio Cesar. But when you’re speaking it’s easy to lose the run of yourself, so you have to be careful, especially when there are comments open on the article. I’m still trying to get used to hearing myself talk as well. Apparently I’ve got a lisp. Who knew?
I belong to Jimbo. Do you? Without a doubt. When I was younger I didn’t have Sky and wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch Match of the Day, so I would actually watch very little English football. That meant my football fix would come on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons thanks to Football Italia. So I’m sure James will be delighted to hear that I’ve been a staunch admirer of his work since the grand old age of seven. What a pro.


What’s it like working with people’s champion Barry Glendenning? As Barry is the deputy editor of the site I work for, I don’t think there’s a good answer to this question! I was quite proud to win a fiver off him last week though, especially as he’s The Guardian’s betting ‘expert’ during the World Cup.

Previously on these pages, we’ve established he (Barry) is mates with Dara O Briain whereas John Ashdown and Barry Chuckle are virtually (chuckle) brothers. Which famous punters do you knock about with? Sadly I don’t have anyone too famous on speed dial. I do know a chap who plays for Millwall who goes by the name of Scott Barron. He played in the play-off final recently – a left-footer filling in at right-back at Wembley. And on that pitch too! Damon Albarn goes to my gym and is responsible for the acquisition of a table-tennis table. I’ve never seen him in there though (minor detail – Ed.). But I have seen Jeremy Paxman there. That was an awkward little episode. I’d just arrived and he was getting dressed in the changing room. I sort of knew it was him but couldn’t be sure so I was staring at him quite intently, only for him to clock on and throw me a dirty look. We’re not best mates.
Talking of comedy moments, aren’t you a West Ham fan? Indeed. I’d rather not talk about them now though. We’ve had a thoroughly depressing time of it on and off the pitch and it remains to be seen how things are going to turn out next season. In fact someone asked me the other day and I said it’s too early to tell – we have to wait and see how we do in the transfer market this summer. At least no one’s going to want Robert Green.
Are you an armchair fan or do you pitch up at the Boleyn Ground every now and then? I had a season ticket for seven years before going to university in Manchester. When I was up there I was also able to get to loads of away games, but the most I’ve ever been during a season was when we were in the Championship between 2003 and 2005. I barely missed a match then. It’s tougher now. I’ve got a membership which means I can get tickets easily but work can get in the way. Plus I play football on Saturday afternoons, which makes it even more difficult. You might say I’m not missing much but there’s nothing quite like going to a football match, even if they’re regularly somewhere on the scale between atrocious and dismal.
How did you end up at The Guardian? The usual route. I did some work experience there after I graduated two years ago and I was fortunate enough to be offered shifts on the web’s night team by Gregg Roughley, who was the co-night editor at the time and is now the sports desk’s Official Scouser. You’ve probably heard Gregg more on the podcast recently and if you haven’t you should. So I regularly work until the early hours, which is why people might often see me talking to myself on Twitter at 2am. That works fine for me though, I can cope with the nocturnal lifestyle. It means you can sample the many delights of Kings Cross when your shift ends at 3am.
Should people pay to read your online work? People should definitely pay to read my online work. It’s a tricky subject – the web does seem to be the future but it has to be profitable. But in doing that, you have to ensure you don’t lose your readers if you do set up paywalls. I’m not sure if The Times website will work that well, you have to have something that sets you apart. Currently why would you pay to read what’s on their site when you can read something similar on The Guardian’s for free? Charlie Brooker’s said much the same thing too. I’m not cheerleading on behalf of The Guardian’s content, just offering a realistic perspective. In terms of football coverage, Gabriele Marcotti is excellent, especially on European football, but then so are the likes of Sid Lowe, Paolo Bandini and Raphael Honigstein.
You seem to have embraced Twitter and unlike some, mentioning no names (Henry Winter) you reply to your followers. It’s addictive though isn’t it? It’s remarkably addictive and my output has only increased since I purchased a Blackberry in March. I think that may have been the beginning of the end for me as a functioning socialite. You’ve got to reply to your followers haven’t you? That’s the whole point of it. If you don’t you just make yourself look a bit snobbish. Replying can really boost a writer’s reputation too – I’ve had some illuminating debates with Honigstein and Marcotti recently. Mark Segal wrote a piece in last month’s WSC about journalists on Twitter and pointed to how it’s given more exposure to very good writers who aren’t as well known as the ones on, say, Sunday Supplement. And usually they’re the ones who reply. There are some exceedingly intelligent people on there too, people who know their football inside out. For example I only found out about the sublime Zonal Marking website thanks to Twitter.
Any other sports take the Steinberg fancy? I’m quite obsessed with football and always have been, but I also love tennis. I want to find the person responsible for putting the World Cup and Wimbledon on at the same time. It’s like people who schedule a wedding in August and end up missing the first day of the new season. That’s why God invented July. I’m really into boxing too, particularly since I started putting the gloves on myself.
How much sport do you watch each week? Too much. When we’re at work we have multiple screens so if there are matches on at the same time you can watch them side by side. One weekend I watched a German and Italian game at work on a Friday night, the early Premier League game at home on a Saturday lunchtime, I went to West Ham in the afternoon, then at work I watched the 5.15 game and followed it up with two Spanish games and the Serie A clash, before tuning in to Match of the Day, and polished it off on Sunday with two afternoon Premier League matches before going to work in the evening and watching two Spanish games. (And Match of the Day 2.) I could probably have found a way to fit in more. I think I’d get on well with Marcelo Bielsa.
It must be like ‘living the dream’ getting paid for watching sport? Despite the answer above, sometimes when you’re being paid to watch sport, you’re actually doing the opposite. If you’re in on a busy night, then you’ll actually end up so caught up with the work that you’ll probably only catch bits of the game here and there. The same’s true of the minute-by-minutes. You spend so much time looking at your keyboard, you can’t focus 100% of your attention of the match. So when angry readers email to ask us if we’re even watching, the answer is … well, sort of.

Aren’t you the chap who sets those fiendish sporting questions in The Guardian? Give us a couple that our readers can have a stab at in the comments section (below). As it’s the World Cup, here’s a couple from my World Cup thrashings quiz on Tuesday. By the way someone from When Saturday Comes took the trouble of compiling a graph of all the quizzes we’ve done and apart from Rob Smyth’s, mine are the most difficult. So if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. I’ve also been accused of making them a little too West Ham-centric.
By what score did Scotland lose to Uruguay in 1954?
A) 9-0
B) 6-0
C) 7-0
D) 8-0

How many goals Miroslav Klose score against Saudi Arabia in Germany’s 8-0 win in 2002?

A) Three
B) Four
C) Five
D) Six
So without punching them in Google, have a stab at answering the above in the comments section below. Interaction see. It’s the way forward I’m telling you…..

Money isn’t everything is it. 80 large a week, playing and watching football, darts, snooker, internet and gaming and the England players are still bored. Can you offer any excuses for them? It’s terrible isn’t it? Then again you’d be annoyed if you had to spend your holiday with John Terry, I imagine he might be a keen follower of the ‘What goes on tour stays on tour’ way of life. I suggested on the last pod that maybe the players could read a book in their free time, but that just brought a snort of derision from Paolo Bandini. I don’t know, even if it was just something like the Mr. Men series … I think they might all enjoy that, especially Wayne Rooney. They could race to read all the books. Last one to finish has to issue another public challenge to Capello.
Can you sum up the World Cup so far in a tweet of less than 140 characters? Forget the vuvuzelas, the Jabulani, the diving, the boring opening games and James Corden. It will all be worth it in the end #worldcup

That’s it Jacob, thanks a million for your time and keep up the very good work old chap…Thanks, it’s been a pleasure.
Well, the pleasure was absolutely all ours. I’m doffing my EFW sombrero to Jacob as I type. You can hear more of our new pal on the Football Weekly podcast, read his stuff at The Guardian here and the Daily Mirror there. He’s also minute-by-minuting during the World Cup at the Football Fanhouse and of course he’s written for WSC whose award they dished out to EFW still gets polished on a daily basis.
Follow EFW and Jacob on Twitter
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ASH FOR QUESTIONS
John Ashdown is a burglar. He is in fact part of a sophisticated team of burglars who operate from a Kings Cross hideout in London village. John and his pals use their cunning skills to rob of our time everyday. How many times during your working day have you tried to shield your pc from your boss because instead of rolling the Yen you’re sneaking a look at the sports pages on the Guardian website?
“Everything is hunky dory, Japan can sleep tight” I say to the aforementioned boss whilst trying not to scratch my nose or blink. These lies are for a good reason though. Ashdown has got a shoe in each of the following delights; The knowledge, Today In Sport, The Fiver (of course The Fiver), daily transfer gossip and a plethora of other gubbins and, furthermore, the whole Jewson lot is bloody marvellous.
So clearly, John Ashdown – like Manchester before him – has so much to answer for. So without further ado (get on with it you lemon – Ed.) here’s an EFW exclusive with the man they’re calling John Ashdown:
Here is a little tip for you chaps at The Guardian that you might want to think about covering: the World Cup in South Africa 2010 – starts today. If you take that on board, what are they likely to have you doing for it? They’ve already brought out the manacles. We’ve got reports, blogs, live coverage, podcasts, videos, tweets and news galore. Personally, I’ll be concentrating on perfecting my pretending-to-work-while-surreptitiously-watching-the-football schtick.
Likewise John, likewise. What’s your favourite World Cup memory? David Platt’s goal against Belgium in 1990 ‘in the last minute of extra time’. Nine years old. In the White Hart (with my dad, I should add). Way past my bedtime. And one of the most criminally-underrated goals in World Cup history. Magic.
Do you think En-ger-land will win it?Fraid not. Quarters, probably. Semis, possibly. I have a sneaking suspicion it’ll be Holland’s year.

Enough of the World Cup already. You’ve given EFW some welcome coverage on the Guardian pages. Are there any other football blogs that tickle the Ashdown fancy? Twohundredpercent is a fantastic site, one that gives plenty of exposure to the little guys of the football world. Their series on Chester during the winter was exceptional. One other I have a real soft spot for is Tony kempster – a stats site keeping track of scores, tables and attendances right the way down the league pyramid. If you want to know how many came through the turnstiles for Pease Pottage Village v St Francis Rangers in the Sussex League Division Two in the 2004-05 season (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t), it’s there (35, by the way). It was run by the eponymous Tony until he died last year (almost exactly a year ago now) and now stands almost as a memorial, like a stopped clock.
How did you end up at Guardian Towers? Same old story, I’m afraid – not what you know but who you know. A university lecturer helped me bag two weeks work in the summer of 2002. That turned into a month. Then the season. I’m still clinging on.
Clinging on and going great guns but it’s 2010 and you’re not on Twitter Mr Ashdown. Time to get down with the kids no? It’s bit poor isn’t it? I tend to use it quite a bit (@badjournalism is a particular favourite) so I’m beginning to feel like a Twitter leech (or Tweech, if you like) – taking what I want out of it without putting anything in. I’m sure I’ll be on there soon, though the thought of Barry Glendenning ‘following’ me is slightly unsettling.
The Knowledge on the Guardian website is a thing of rare beauty. Are there any cunning or inane questions and answers that stand out? My favourites tend to fall into two categories. There are the deep research ones – an afternoon with my head stuck in old Rothmans or Guardian archive pages is something close to my idea of nirvana. Of that ilk the recent question on the pointlessness of taking three goalkeepers to a World Cup is a perfect example – it’s not something I’ve ever seen anywhere else and it was an excuse to spend all day looking at every single World Cup line-up since 1930.
The other category of great questions are the ones where you get fantastic anecdotes or info from readers. Have any football matches been captured on Google Earth? Well, yes they have. From which train trip in Britain can you see the most league football grounds? This one, actually. You just couldn’t do those questions without an army of trivia-loving readers pitching in.
 
And occasionally you get emails out of leftfield that really make your day. The one from David White’s dad, for example.
Genius, surely there is a book in that isn’t there? Why, yes there is! Available in all good bookshops etc and so forth. My Knowledge colleague James Dart put it together so he scoops all the vast royalties.
Stinker. Who is the biggest football anorak at The Guardian? Smyth. Without question. Though I did once out-anorak him at a football-based quiz by knowing that Edgeley Park is the closest ground to the Mersey and recognising a bearded early-80s Martin Jol.
Has anyone ever disagreed with Jonathan Wilson on a ‘football tactics’ issue or do you all just agree with everything he says and then pass it off as your own thoughts down the pub? I find it rarely pays to disagree with Jonathan about anything. He seems to know pretty much everything about about pretty much everything. We once spent a four-hour train journey from London to Sunderland together and he regaled me with stories of the various features of the north-east coast as we went past, pointing out of the window at some 14th century castles and revealing who lived there, what they used to have for their tea and what their dog was called. When I went to Amsterdam for a weekend last year he recommended the Indonesian rijsttafel. Now I’m a bit of a gourmand, but I’d never heard of it – turns out it’s ruddy amazing. So in the face of such knowledge I’d never dream of questioning him on tactics, and, yes, in the right company (ie people who haven’t read much of Wilson’s stuff) dropping ‘Actually I reckon the full-back is the most important player on the pitch’ into a conversation can make it sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Rather embarrassingly Mr Fuller from The Ball is Round and I got locked inside Wembley Stadium a few weeks back. You’ve got previous in this department have you not? Alas, yes. It’s happened twice, with varying degrees of embarrassment. Basically on both occasions the shoddy broadband at Loftus Road and Hillsborough meant I had to pop back to the press box to file match reports rather than utilise the press lounge. And on both occasions, I returned to the press lounge to find doors locked and lights going off. At Loftus Road I accidentally scared my other half by ringing her and saying I was ‘stuck in the ground’. She thought I’d fallen down a hole. After wandering round the pitch I managed to get out through the players’ tunnel. That wasn’t an option at Hillsborough – it was locked for a start, but I’d also left my keys in my bag in the press lounge. I don’t really want to go into the unedifying details. Suffice to say they include increasingly frantic banging on a door, increasingly loud and colourful swearing, and, eventually, rescue from a understandably nervous looking local journalist.
You like your cricket as well. Would you prefer an afternoon at Lords watching England rip through the Aussie card or a seat at the World Cup QF watching England unexpectedly overcome Portugal on penalties? I’d have to say Lord’s. I’m not an England-hater, but I do find it increasingly hard to get behind the national side. Too many dislikable characters. That said, even when I was a kid I’d have taken a Sheffield United FA Cup win over an England World Cup victory. 
My wife wouldn’t agree but I don’t actually digest that much football media during the week. The thing I do make a point of listening to each week though is the Football Weekly Podcasts. Are they as much fun to record as they are to listen to? Probably more. It’s far more shambolic than you’d ever imagine having downloaded from iTunes, which is a testament to the skills of Producers Pete and Ben. That sitting around chatting to such footballing brains as Raf Honigstein, AC Jimbo and others is an occasional part of my job is a real privilege.
Do you have a favourite James Richardson pun? There was that one about Sharon Stone and Nicklas Bendtner. But as we don’t have the option of bleeping it out, it probably can’t be repeated here.
How do you think Football Weekly differs from TheGame podcast and The Football Ramble? I suppose on a spectrum of seriousness, if you had the Game at one end and the Football Ramble at the other, we’d be floating in the middle. I imagine if you like football and enjoy podcasts you probably subscribe to all three. I certainly used to, though it’s just FW and the Ramble for me these days.
I don’t suppose you all queue up to do those minute by minute reports do you? They’re wonderful to read but no so good for repetitive strain injuries I’m guessing? I genuinely always enjoy doing them, although it’s very difficult to get a proper impression of the match because you’re always watching them out of the corner of your eye. And, yes, they do make you yearn for a touch-typing class.
How much sport do you watch a week? Not as much as you might think. When you work in a sport environment all day it’s nice to get away from it when you leave the office. For example, I’m currently listening to a Radio 4 report on krill. That said, it’s probably still far too much.
Barry Glendenning is bezzy mates with Dara O Briain (check him out). Who is the most famous person in the Ashdown mobile? O Briain? Pah! I used to have Barry Chuckle’s number in my mobile. I curse the day a bike-riding local youth nicked it (the phone, not the number). Glendenning and Dara can keep their dry Irish witticisms. As far as I’m concerned comedy reached its zenith with ‘to me, to you.’
Tee hee, thanks a million for talking to EFW John and keep up the good work old chap. Cheers. It’s been a pleasure.
So there you have it folks, John Ashdown is not only a top man (see above) but, he won’t mind me telling you that he recently cemented his ‘football guru’ status by predicting Blackpool would be relegated from the Championship last season, Oh. I’m off to get a train from Plymouth to Aberdeen, 11-and-a-half hour journey that takes in 20 (twenty) league grounds in case you didn’t click on the link earlier. £180 well spent and no mistake.
Read up on John’s work at The Guardian HERE. To get tip-top satirical daily football email The Fiver delivered to your inbox click THERE and you’d be an absolute radish if you didn’t download the Football Weekly podcast – again for free – HERE each week.
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